Wednesday Word: Gathering Place
“The church building is not, per se, the place where God dwells. Rather, it is a meeting house where the community engages with God and one another.” – The Shackles of the Present, Matthew Alderman, The Living Church, September 21, 2014.
We have been doing this COVID thing now for about four months. It seems a lot longer to me, and maybe it does to you as well. And over that time we have lost some things, but we have also gained some things.
We have lost our ability to come together and worship God in the beauty of holiness. We have lost our ability to come together and be with each other over a Monday morning breakfast, Sunday coffee hour, or any number of times and places where we had normally gathered.
We have also gained a new understanding of what church is or can be. We have learned to connect with people in different ways. Some of us have been calling others on a regular basis to check in and keep up. People who didn't normally cross paths have gotten to know each other in new and meaningful ways. We have developed our online presence and are continually working to improve that aspect of worship.
But still . . . we miss our building. I get that. Episcopalians love their buildings. Sometimes, though, that love of building can fall into a type of idolatry. I have a friend who, when he was having a particularly bad week at the church, would say, “Maybe we just need to burn the thing to the ground so we can learn what church is all about.” I don't really know anything about that congregation other than what he told me, but it seemed like that group of people had fallen into the trap of building idolatry.
I don't think we suffer from that here at Saint John's. We certainly love our building, and we do our best to care for it so that future generations may appreciate its beauty. But we also know that there are plenty of times and places and circumstances where we encounter God, and others encounter God through us, outside of our building.
We know that God is not confined to a building. We know that we don't need a building to do a lot of the things we do. But the church building is the place where the Beloved Community gathers to intentionally engage with each other. We have learned that worshiping alone is hard, worshiping with others via the internet is hard, connecting with others outside of this space is also hard. That's why our building is important.
The good thing about the COVID quarantine is that we have learned we can do this. We can be church without the church, so to speak. But it has also taught us just how precious and important our communal engagement with each and and God is to us.
The building isn't where God dwells. The building isn't where church happens. But the building is where we intentionally engage with God and others.
Through all of this, I want you to know that I am hopeful that, sooner rather than later, we will once again be able to engage with God and others in that sacred and holy space we all love.