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Over the past couple of days I have been thinking about a lot of “how” questions. How will I pay for school, how can I keep from procrastinating in my studies, how will I ever remember all the names of the people here… the list goes on. One particular question seems to resurface more than others. Surprisingly, it isn’t “how will I pay for school” but rather “how can I be a better christian?”
This question, paired with discussions on church buildings-more specifically the extravagance of some churches- has resulted in some quite peculiar streams of thought. I think about all the different ways $4 million + dollars could be spent rather than on Tiffany stain glass windows (a local church), how much more involved churches could be in the community (both here and at home) if they didn’t have as many debts or obligations. What could be done in the world to possibly end world hunger if more people helped fund programs rather than spend money on extravagant houses and expensive foreign cars.
I can’t help but feel guilty when I worry about money that it is because I still worship money too much. I am still tethered to money’s influence. I use it to buy new clothes (though my budget has plummeted since starting school) pay for food, pay off loans, even pay for school. It seems that money is always finding a way to creep into my life. I know I’m not the only one suffering from this, either. Everywhere I look these days money is making it’s presence (or lack thereof) known in one way or another.
Back to those stain glass windows. My first thought is “why.” I mean, I understand that they are truly magnificent to look at, even when the sun isn’t shining, but I can’t help but think that the money could have gone to better things. I have been in my fair share of church buildings in my life, and I must say that the ones with the pristine windows, polished to a shine, detailed woodwork and gold-covered everything don’t usually do as much for me as the cramped and simple rooms with just enough space for a plain altar. Maybe there’s something in the gold plating that screws up my Holy Spirit reception, but man can those little, plain-jane buildings pump out the good vibes and energy.
Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely felt the presence of God in a variety of places with a different decoration levels. I just don’t see having an ornate meeting place as a requirement for getting in touch with God. I mean, think about the early disciples. They were meeting in shabby houses of believers, secret areas of the cities, often in fear of being caught. They couldn’t afford to have some ornate building to gather in, or it very well could have been their last gathering.
I think one big thing people keep forgetting is that the true “church” isn’t the building. It isn’t the place with the wooden pews, a decorative altar, an organ, brick and mortar and Tiffany stain glass windows. Going back to Greek, I learned the original definition for Synagogue meant “assembly” or “meeting.” That’s what really makes up the church. The is in the people who gather together and praise God for all that he has done. It’s in the work done by believers to take care of the sick, the suffering, the poor, the needy.
I saw one church while watching the Churchwide assembly (in between classes and studying) that didn’t even have a building. They met in a square in the middle of the city with a simple table for an altar. Their “church” was comprised of many homeless people, and they worked hard to spread the word in whatever ways possible. Most of the time that meant a lot of walking and a lot of talking.
They went out into the community and engaged others. It didn’t matter that the people of the church didn’t have a lot (or in some cases, any) money to share. They still had a major impact on the community and brought the word to others. They didn’t just wait for someone to come through their doors to hear the Good News. They proclaimed it wherever they could.
So when I think about how I want my “church” to look, I don’t look to the outside or inside of a building. I don’t think about gold-plating or Tiffany windows. When I think of churches, I think about our actions, our service to others, the way we interact with other people in the world and how we can make this world a better, safer place for all.I think about how I can get out there in the community and become involved.
I am going to be a confirmation guide this year for Lord of Life church in Asbury so that I can reach the youth there and hopefully fill them with the Holy Spirit. I greet everyone I meet while shopping with a smile or a head nod, and love talking with strangers about my calling. This week I am told I will be going out into the community and talking with others about their lives to learn more about them.
I am being church in this community. Are you? God Bless!