First Christian Church of Whittier officially closed its doors on December 31, 2019. This message from Pastor Layne Beamer, originally posted on Facebook, answers questions asked frequently about the future of the church and its buildings.
Dear Friends of First Christian Church of Whittier,
It is with mixed emotions that I share this bittersweet final notice regarding the closure of the visible ministry of the FCCW congregation. I say bittersweet because in the presence of the obvious sadness and even grief at the closure of a125-year Christian worshipping congregation, there is also a very real pride and celebration of the way that this congregation has exemplified good stewardship and conscientious self-governance throughout this final chapter of its long and fruitful history.
Allow me to answer some frequently asked questions that I have heard in the past months:
FAQ #1: How did this happen so suddenly?
It didn’t. Our congregation has been in active and prayerful discernment about the current state of our ministry vitality and the likely projected future for well over four years, and actively working toward our planned closure for over two years.
FAQ #2: Why are you ending your ministry?
For many reasons, some obvious and easy to explain and some more complicated and hard to explain. In a nutshell, we are tired and do not wish to have our final public witness as a Christian fellowship be one of merely “hanging on.” While our three-building campus, including the landmark 1923 sanctuary, 1952 youth building, and 1960 education building, is increasingly expensive and difficult to maintain, this is not the primary factor in our decision. If we were capable of a more energetic and mission-oriented ministry, we could have chosen to sell the campus and simply relocate to a smaller and more easily maintained location. While this option was favored by a small number of our members, the majority wisely realized that an ever-aging and diminishing group of leaders were bearing the load of all the work that it is to “be church.” Those tasks would have traveled with us wherever we might have relocated, and it is time for these faithful servant-leaders to sit among another group of worshippers and to be served themselves. Good stewardship of the resources that have been placed in our care by many previous generations dictates that we not spend down our endowments so that we might be comfortable and “coast out” a final chapter.
FAQ #3: Where is the congregation going?
Lots of places. We will not move anywhere as an intact body, but will rather make individual decisions based on the many factors that all of us consider when we choose a worshipping community. While a fair portion have indicated that they will be worshipping with Hillcrest Congregational Church, there are others who will be with our sisters and brothers at various other Whittier-area churches.
FAQ #4: What will happen to the buildings? And other assets?
Unlike many other ministries, our campus and all assets are completely and solely owned by the members of our congregation, and therefore the decision as to what happens with the physical and financial resources rested completely with our formal membership. Guided by the laws of California for non-profit corporations we have decided to gift everything to various local, regional, and national ministries and service agencies.
In terms of cash allocations, we have made concluding grants totaling nearly $100,000 to local groups in different percentages. Whittier First Day, East Whittier Christian Church (our local sister DOC congregation), the Saint Matthias Lunch Hour, Whittier Area Literacy Council, Family Promise of San Gabriel Valley, Interfaith Council Cold Weather Shelter, Academy of Music for the Blind, CHOICESS, and C.A.P.C. among others have already received welcome year-end gifts that we feel will live on as a legacy of our ministry. Additionally, over $400,000 will remain invested with our Disciples of Christ Christian Church Foundation and will pay yearly income to various ministries of our Regional and National Church.
Regarding the buildings, it was our majority decision to partner with Christian Church Homes (CCH), a ministry of our national church, and our Regional Church to provide affordable and low-income housing as an ongoing legacy ministry. We believe that Jesus meant it when he said, “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.”
Our Regional Church will continue to do business in the name of FCCW and will be stewards of the campus as conversations between CCH and the City of Whittier progress regarding the specifics of this redevelopment proposal. PLEASE NOTE: THE LANDMARK 1922 SANCTUARY BUILDING WILL REMAIN INTACT, with remodeling occurring in the various classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, etc. to accommodate apartments. There will be NO alterations to the landmark exterior and its prominent features, including the beautiful stained glass windows. All interior remodeling will be done in such a way as to preserve the building’s “bones”, preserving the possibility of some future restoration to the original formation.
We, like you, will be excitedly awaiting a final decision regarding this proposal and will look forward to participating in conversations between CCH, the City, and community. In the meantime, the buildings will not sit vacant. Several tenants and The Whole Place community partners will continue to use the buildings for the many community events they sponsor. Sunday morning worship services will continue to be held by Lighthouse Ministry in the main sanctuary and by New Testament Church in the Youth Building they currently occupy. The Catalyst Free Store will remain open, among other activities and events.
FAQ #5: What will happen to the Rosales Pipe Organ?
We have offered it as a gift to St. Matthias Episcopal Church. They are very interested, but it will not fit in their empty organ loft that once contained a smaller instrument. A firm has been retained to study the possibility of installing it in the choir loft balcony at the rear of their sanctuary, and we are hopeful that it will be determined that it is both large enough and structurally strong enough to hold the over 3,000 pipes and cabinets.
FAQ#6: What will be next for you, Pastor Layne?
I will enter into a search and call process whereby we Disciples of Christ and UCC Clergy meet congregations seeking a new pastor. Our secretary, Ellie Laretz, and I will remain working in the church offices through March of 2020 as we wrap things up and then she and I will both trust that God will be part of the discernment process as we find our next calling. While my wife, Michyl-Shannon, and I would very much love to stay in the Southern California area (and would love to not even move from the beautiful home we rent from the First United Methodist Church of Whittier) my search will most likely be a national one.
I’m sure that this post, although lengthy, will not have answered every question. Feel free to contact Ellie or me at the church office between now and March 31st.
On behalf of the current membership and the many previous generations of First Christian Church Whittier, we wish you well, and pray for God’s continuing blessings upon us all.
Pastor Layne Beamer