Church – is it the building? Or the people?

I went to church today.  It has been a long, long time.  While I pray daily, and read and study scriptures regularly,  I have only been to church a handful of times in the last two to three years.  I think that today was only the second time that I’ve taken communion since the day before my dad died.

It has been over a year since I attended the church that I still think of as my “home” church. It has been closer to 3 years since I attended any church at all on any kind of regular basis.  I have not been out of fellowship with God.  But during the last few months of my father’s illness, I did feel abandoned by Christian leadership – an elder that I had turned to for help, and was refused.  And when my father died, and I no longer had the responsibility of weekend care for him – I thought “ah – I can start going back to church” – and I didn’t.  For over a year, now, save the rare visit to another congregation, I have not attended church.

I didn’t understand why I wasn’t going back to church.  I enjoyed church.  My home church had an awesome preacher.  I had friends at church.  But I found it so much easier to simply not go.  To sleep late.  To allow the headache to keep me home.  Even on days that I actually got up, got dressed – I would find myself listening to a sermon on the radio, rather than get in the car and go.

I simply didn’t want to go to church.  And as I pondered this, I realized that I felt hurt, abandoned, and angry over the fact that the elder that I had asked to arrange – not to do it himself, but to put up a sign-up list – to bring me and my father communion had turned me down.  At the point in time that I asked this elder, this church leader, about arranging communion, my father and I had not been to church in almost a year.  My father had reached the point in his illness that he needed someone at the house all of the time.   Unless I was out of town on business, I usually was at dad’s house on Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, and Sunday, plus other times during the week.  When he felt up to it, I would drive him to his church.  He had not felt up to going to church for nearly a year.  We both missed communion.  My father’s congregation was very tiny.  Some services, less than 30 people in attendance, and mostly female.  My congregation was much much larger – hundreds of people.  So I asked an elder if he would set up a sign-up sheet for people to bring us communion.  I said “Once a month, even, is better than nothing.”  And he said no.

As I pondered why I wasn’t going back to church, I realized that this sense of betrayed trust from a person whom I respected as an elder and leader of my home church, had resulted in a deep hurt and hidden anger that I had not allow myself to acknowledge.  And this hurt and anger was a huge reason why I felt no desire to return to services.  So I started working on it.  I prayed about it.  I talked about it to my counselor.

And finally, today, I went back to church.

The singing was great.  The sermon was inspirational.  The announcements…

Well, some things had happened, that I hadn’t even noticed.  One of the things that I had always liked about this congregation was the fact that it has tended to be a little more casual in some ways.  People could bring water bottles in with them.  Or travel cups of coffee.  Little snacks for their children.  I’ve always thought that was rather nice.  But today, one of the announcements was that the church had replaced the pews and the carpets recently, and in order to keep them looking nice for as long as possible, do not bring any food or drink into the sanctuary.

I looked around.  I had seen the new decorations on the wall behind the pulpit.  I had not even noticed that the carpet and pews were different.  I had been more interested in people, rather than in furnishings.  When I looked around at the new carpet and pews, I saw several water bottles that people had brought.  And the thought crossed my mind…

Is church the building?  Or is it the people?

And that thought reminded me of another congregation in the area, of the same non-denomination as my “home” church.  Several years ago, I saw that they were putting barriers up over the driveways into the parking lot.  Now, I thought at first that maybe they were going to be sign posts.  But no signs appeared on them.  After pondering what they might be, I actually called the church to find out if my supposition was correct.  To my immense sadness, it was.

They were putting up barriers to prevent tractor trailer rigs from coming onto their parking lot.  They were afraid that such heavy vehicles would tear up their parking lot and they would have to spend money on repairs.  My first thought was “What a wasted opportunity for evangelism.”  My second thought was “I wonder if that is what Jesus would have done.”

Jesus ate with publicans and sinners.  Jesus took opportunities to teach.  Jesus gave us a law of love – to love all people, everywhere, to do good to those who harm us.  He spoke on beaches, hill-sides, in people’s homes, in the synagogues, by wells…where ever he was, he taught and he healed, body and soul.

Is church the building?  Or is it the people?

If church is the building, then by all means, let’s spend money on decorations.  Let’s spend money on carpets and new cushioned pews.  Lets spend money on barriers to keep out people that we don’t want in.  Let’s put rules and regulations into place designed to keep things looking pretty.  Let’s build huge churches, so everyone will know we are there.  Let’s ban water for those who are thirsty, and food for those who hunger.

If church is the people?  Let’s meet their needs, whatever they are, in the best, most loving, Christ-like way that we can.

Is church the building?  Or is it the people?

 

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