When Church Happens


January 29, 2015

Sometimes I just can’t help it.

The prelude or the anthem is so invigorating, dislodging me from the earthly plane and whirling me into a sense of bursting joy that I just have to stand up and yell, “Now we’re having some CHURCH!”

And it is a taste of when church is happening.
Part of what church is supposed to do is to remind us that there is something deeper and higher than what we perceive on the surface of things.

But it’s more than that.

If what happens at church does not stir us to deepen and stretch our souls so that we are good for this world, it’s not much use.

Yes, we are about the care of souls.
We try to challenge, nurture, comfort, dare, awaken, shake up, and give legs to the souls in our community.
So that they will be conduits of compassion, voices for justice, people who embody grace in a world that is parched for it.

There’s a lot of conversation about whether we are inward looking or outward looking in the life of the church.
That implies that there’s a choice to be made between, say, eating right and going to work. How about both?
At church there is inward work to be done.
There are wounds that need tending, egos that need rattling, and fears that need the kind of love that casts them out. We come here for that kind of work.
And there is outward work to be done.
There are woes that need addressing, support that needs lending, and the needs of others that cry out for advocacy. We leave here for that kind of work.

And sometimes church places the opportunities for that kind of work right in your lap.
Gives you the address. The instructions. The date and time. The coaching.
Here’s where you can advocate for the hungry.
Here’s where you can tutor kids or grown-ups who need help. Make a tasty dinner for folks at the shelter.
Sign a petition or a letter.
Give someone a ride.

The church is being the church
when it helps to shape people into the kind of people
who are good for the world.

If it’s not doing that,
it’s just another institution begging to be propped up for the sake of sentimentality.
We don’t need more of those.

If church is not helping people to get in touch with the Love that breathes the universe into existence, if it does not makes them more compassionate and less arrogant, more forgiving and less angry, more peaceful and less stressed out, then it's not church.
It needs to work inwardly and outwardly, or it’s useless.

There’s another angle, too.
That outward part also needs to be about letting people know that church is a place where they can come for the kind of soul care that is practically impossible to get on one’s own.
Soul care takes community.
It takes conversation and prayer and people who will get one another thinking, asking questions, and sharing stories.  Even a religious hermit has a spiritual director.
Spirituality was never meant to be a purely private thing.
What use is it if it doesn’t affect life? And life is not purely private.

The biggest danger to churches today is that they – we – forget to make church happen, and instead bring our devotion to a building and a local history rather than to the living God whose Spirit transforms life.

They – we- sometimes worship the institution instead of the Reality that inspired it.
They – we – seek to perpetuate the institution, find the money for propping it up, wish for the people who will take over our tired tasks and pay for the future.

Occasionally I find myself doing this, obsessing over the workings of the institution and catering to comfort.
And then I am embarrassed and then really, really sad.
If that’s what church work is, then I would chuck it and walk away.
I never signed on to perpetuate an institution.
I signed on to serve God and care for souls. And to keep on growing myself, and learning and unlearning and growing…

Meanwhile, I see church happening. It's what keeps me going.

When I hear a ten-year old announce that she made friends with the new girl in her class because she didn’t want her to feel lonely, I see church happening.
When a college student tells me he wants to tithe what he makes at his job as a waiter because he thinks it’s important to his spiritual health to give in a tangible way, I see church happening.
When I hear three elderly friends talking about death and what makes for a meaningful life, I see church happening.
When I see a 70-something woman gather friends to go to the State House to take a stand against human trafficking; when I see people staying after church in the pews to talk and cry and hold one another; when I go into a hospital room to visit and find two of their church friends already there praying, church is happening.

Church is where we go to grow our souls.
Church is who we are when we forgive and let go and embrace.
Church is what we do with these precious lives we’ve been given.

If it's not doing those things, it's not church. Let church happen.

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