Hello it’s me, your church building. I’m writing to you today to try to clear the air. To be honest, I’m not sure that I understand the growing animosity between the two of us. If I have done something wrong, I hope that you will forgive me.
Let me start back at the beginning. It must’ve been decades ago, but I can still remember when you laid my cornerstone. What a beautiful day that was! The sun was shining, everything felt fresh and new and full of promise. My kitchen had the latest and greatest appliances and my walls had a fresh coat of paint. Most important of all, our sanctuary was beautiful with stained-glass and pews designed to be comfortable but not too comfortable; that feature has sure been handy for many a sermon.
Over the years, I must admit that I’ve gotten a little bigger. Things were booming in the 60s and that educational wing seemed like a good idea to me as well. I’d love to slim back up, but I know you understand how hard it is to lose those extra pounds once you’ve put them on. I really do appreciate all those cosmetic touches we’ve worked on together. I think we can agree that the new church sign was really important even if the reader board messages are a bit crass from time to time.
All that said, can I get to the point? It feels sometimes as if you don’t love me anymore.
Over the past few years I’ve heard more and more conversations, mostly in the parking lot, where you use words like ‘burden’ and ‘unfit’ to describe me. Apparently my little leaky roof has gone a shingle too far. Just last week the pastor suggested in her sermon that I was “getting in the way of real ministry.” Apparently, and this is news to me, Jesus was homeless and never had a church building! Can I confess that all of this talk is a bit upsetting to me?
So I am hurt but I’m willing to talk about it. Can we do that?
Let me start by conceding the point. Maybe the pastor is right; maybe real ministry doesn’t need a building. I spent some time the other day reading one of those underused Bibles in my sanctuary, and lo and behold, Jesus never told his disciples to construct church buildings.
Mind completely blown!
On the other hand, Jesus did make use of synagogues for his preaching, and he visited a fairly large Temple a couple times. Jesus did talk about destroying that temple but then he mentioned rebuilding it in three days. What a great metaphor for that next building fund campaign!
So ministry isn’t really about the building. It is all about the people. I can relate to that. You can’t imagine how sad and lonely it is to remain empty between Sundays. To me, a full house is a happy house. Looking to hang out? I am ready to go 24/7. I’ve hosted soup kitchens, homeless folks, Alcoholics/Narcotics/Overeaters Anonymous, Youth Group and Scouts, even the rare Bible study. I used to do more but I remember the committee meeting where it was discussed that I needed to always be clean and available for “church stuff.”
In those meetings and parking lot conversations, you often use the phrase ‘sacred space’ to explain my importance and preservation, which I suppose I should find flattering. But if you don’t mind me saying, it reminds me of those early stages of dating where you pretend that your partner doesn’t pass gas like every other human being since the beginning of time.
Here is the truth. My sanctuary is drafty, there is a leak near the back above Thelma’s pew and some mice live under my chancel. Nothing about my space is sacred when you aren’t there bringing the Spirit with you in prayer and praise (or filling my vestibule with that stimulant you drink so much of).
The way I see it, I’m not the one who changed. I may be accessibility-challenged and have some maintenance issues but you used to take care of me with a joyful heart, knowing that I was the investment your ministry needed. That new church that is growing while renting space at the elementary school would die to have some of the problems we have together.
I guess it just feels like we are that couple that stays together for the kids, except that our ‘kids’ never come to church anymore. I was designed for a much bigger vision of ministry than we have today; and yes, some of the choices we made together weren’t as future-proof as we had hoped. But again, I wonder if I am really the problem. Am I really the thing keeping you from ministry or am I the only thing keeping you in the game at all?
If you want my opinion – and why wouldn’t you want the opinion of a church building that can write? – I hope you’ll think twice the next time you complain about how I’m keeping you from doing real ministry. As your building, let me free you of that notion. You aren’t doing me any favors underusing my sanctuary and neglecting the roof I used to be so proud of. I think I’d rather be sold, demolished, and converted into a Starbucks if it meant more money for ministry to those in real need.
But if you decide you’d prefer to stop blaming me, buckle down and get to doing some real, sacrificial, ministry stuff again, I’m here.
After all, I’m just a building. What choice do I really have in the matter?
By Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries
Image Credit: “Covey Church, O’Brien County, Iowa”, some rights reserved, by Flickr User keeva999.