COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. (Gray News) – A struggling local church grappled with national attention after an area newspaper reported it was telling its elderly parishioners to make way for the young.
“This week our church made the news for all the wrong reasons,” said a letter to the congregation signed by Lead Pastor Dan Wetterstrom and Associate Pastor Kelly Lamon.
The pastors said the coverage “did not accurately portray what is happening” at the Cottage Grove campus of the church.
The congregation has long struggled; about 30 people attend worship on Sunday.
There’s no full-time pastor. A member delivers the weekly sermon.
Last year, the church leadership voted to relaunch the Cottage Grove location in an effort to attract more people.
The plan is to shut down the church in June and reopen later this year with a new pastor, new programming and building updates “aimed at engaging more members of a growing community.”
A memo recommends that current members stay away for two years, then consult with the pastor about reapplying, the Pioneer Press reported.
While older members will not be physically barred from attending, the expectation is that they will not.
“We are asking them to let this happen,” Wetterstrom said. “For this to be truly new, we can’t have the core group of 30 people."
Membership has lagged at the church despite Cottage Grove being one of the fastest-growing cities in Minnesota.
Regional United Methodist congregations are paying $250,000 to fund the restart.
The church letter says they’ve been invited to serve on a transition team and worship at the Woodbury campus of The Grove United Methodist Church, about 8 miles away.
The church has also offered to help the parishioners find a place to worship as a group after the building closes in June.
The whole situation doesn’t sit well with some in the congregation.
“I pray for this church, getting through this age-discrimination thing,” 70-year-old William Gackstetter told the newspaper.
His wife Cheryl sees it as an insult.
“This is totally wrong,” she told the Pioneer Press. “They are discriminating against us because of our age.”
In the church’s response to the national attention brought by the story, it reminds the congregation that its members are “precious and beloved children of God,” the letter’s closing paragraph says.
“We are committed to working through this time of transition in relationship with you all.”