I know some of you have a love/hate relationship with your church buildings. Your church’s floors may have asbestos in them and the roof may leak and the sanctuary is not wheelchair accessible. Maybe you are secretly hoping for a strategically placed tornado.
Or maybe you should sell your building? Wouldn’t that make life easier?
Whenever something sad or evil happens in the world, I think of the church. I mean, that particular church on the corner, up the street, where there may be a pastor, weak or strong, and a congregation, weak or strong, a little band of pray-ers and lovers and singers and sinners.
We played “Stump the Pastor” at my church recently. Everyone wrote down a question about the bible, the church or theology, and I drew them out of two baskets—one for kids and one for adults—and tried to answer them on the spot.
Of course, we only got a few answered in the 15-minute sermon slot. The rest of the questions were left on my desk to rummage through on Tuesday morning. Some were designed to trick me (How many animals did Moses take on the ark?); some were skeptical (How many mistakes has God made?) and some were sad (If we are spirits in heaven, how will I recognize my loved ones?). And then, one question made my heart skip a beat.
At first they sounded to me like the names of medieval cricket teams, but it turns out that mendicants and anchorites were actually two different types of ancient monastics. Mendicantswere nomadic monks who never acquired property. They travelled around and lived by begging from strangers.
I casually asked a parishioner the other day how he lost his hand. I knew it happened when he was a young man, so I didn’t expect him to get emotional. But as he told the story, his demeanor began to change.
We have seen a lot of death around here lately. Last summer, our neighbor came by to tell us he was throwing a block party. Two weeks later, he had a heart attack and died. His wife threw the party anyway. We planted a tree for him in his yard and drank lemonade.
About a week after my mother-in-law died, I went by her house to borrow her sieve. Every year, my daughter and I borrow grandma’s sieve to make applesauce. Then we take some applesauce back to her. I was hoping the sieve was still there. I knew my mother-in-law was gone, but I wanted to find the sieve. Maybe it was still in the house.
It happened again today. I drove up to one of my favorite cafes in a nearby town and was shocked to find it closed. I don’t mean closed today. I mean closed forever. But they knew me there! They knew I liked those vanilla creamers and my eggs poached hard! I sat with the engine running, hungry and caffeine-deprived, wondering where I would go for breakfast. Why didn’t they warn me? I would have come by to say good-bye.
Anthony Robinson said it well in a recent Stillspeaking devotional. Maybe the future of the church is a lot simpler than it is today. Breaking bread, prayers, learning about the word and caring for the lost are the simple acts Jesus led his little band to engage in.
Sometimes, when one church is struggling, another church helps out. One church I interviewed (for the From Death to Life project) was a new ethnic church development that was
given a building, basically for free, from a church that died. But we
all know you get what you pay for, and the building they got had more
than a few structural problems. They received some support for the
pastor’s salary from their denomination, but the building was weighing
them down with repair bills.