For 274 years, the people of Norwich and the surrounding communities have worshipped at Christ Episcopal Church, Norwich (CEC). A "colonial church," CEC has weathered many storms, from the Revolutionary War, to the changing demographics of the once wealthy city of Norwich, to an explosion at the chemical warehouse across the river which badly damaged the building. Through it all, CEC and the people who have called it home have faithfully participated in God's mission in Norwich.
Over the last few decades, CEC has found its membership aging and its funds dwindling. This, coupled with the significant expense of maintaining a large, historic structure, has led the parish to consider how God is inviting them to continue to live faithfully into God's mission.
After months of talking and discerning together, thirty-five parishioners met via Zoom on Sunday, April 25, 2021, for an All-Parish Meeting. After a time of prayer and reflection, followed by the opportunity for questions and responses, a resolution to close the parish was presented and seconded. The vote in favor of closure was unanimous. Christ Episcopal Church, Norwich will have a final service planned for Sunday, May 30, 2021.
Many at the All-Parish meeting spoke about their sadness and grief at CEC's closing. Many also expressed their hope and belief that God is still "up to something" in Norwich and the parishioners are still being invited to participate in God's mission in Norwich and the surrounding communities.
Long-time parishioner and Vestry member, Mary Elizabeth Lang described her experience of the past few months this way, "As we prepare for our final service, I feel as though we have removed the respirator from a beloved friend who has already died but who was being kept alive artificially. The grief is there, but we think instead of what a long and useful life our friend had, and we remember Psalm 30:5, "...joy comes in the morning."
Priest-in-charge, the Rev. Stacey Kohl, who has walked with CEC through this process, also described the process as death and also filled with hope. "We believe this is the next faithful step for our parish. Is it sad? Yes. Death is sad, and we are experiencing the death of our parish. And, we also know we are resurrection people, followers of the resurrected Jesus. We believe in resurrection; even if we don't know what it looks like right now. We know God is still moving in Norwich and in each of us."
Bishop Laura Ahrens shared, “I have been inspired by the faithful parishioners of Christ Episcopal Church who have prayerfully walked this holy journey. For centuries, they have shared God’s love with the City of Norwich and beyond. The sadness in this moment is real and so too is the wonder and curiosity about how God is calling us to share the message of new life in new ways. We are a people of hope and resurrection and we will continue to walk together to listen to God’s call.”
Christ Episcopal Church has been meeting virtually via their YouTube Channel since last March. They will continue to share services via YouTube until May 23. A closing service is planned for May 30. Register to attend CEC's closing service.
We hold Christ Episcopal Church, its Vestry, parishioners, and clergy in our prayers as they walk these final weeks.