What Is Church?

I had already planned to write about Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 in this space when I heard the shocking report that Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral had been engulfed in flames. The next morning, I tuned into the Today Show as Savannah Guthrie discussed the tragedy with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.

“I kept thinking this morning what I was always taught, that when two or more Christians gather in Jesus’ name, that’s a Church. And of course, that is what the Church is,” Savannah observed. “However, this place means so much to so many people.”

“Doesn’t it?” Bishop Dolan responded. “The church building—the church with a small ‘c’ is extraordinarily important. But what goes on inside is The Church with a capital ‘C’—community, faith, prayer, worship, charity, hope, art, nobility, the lifting up of our mind and heart to God through Jesus—that’s what goes on within the church with the capital ‘C’ and that can never be destroyed.”

The Notre Dame tragedy causes us to reexamine our understanding of church. There was a time when church was something that happened on a Sunday morning. And while we’ve always known that “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people,”* it has nonetheless been hard for us to shake the notion that church is something that happens at a particular time and in a particular place. Church is so much more than that.

Over the past several decades, the importance of church has been changing, not only in our congregation, but across the Western world. People are not as committed to the church as they once were, and many of those who were most committed have entered “The Church Triumphant.” That’s certainly true in our congregation. So how might we respond to these dramatic cultural changes? One way is to embrace our understanding of Church with a capital C, for if we limit our understanding of church to only what happens on Sunday morning, we can easily become discouraged. But Church is so much more than that.

Thursday, May 2 will mark the first anniversary of our Thursday evening worship services. What started as a simple experiment has exceeded my hopes and expanded our understanding of Church.

Our Connect program further expands our understanding of Church. We used to be a church; now we’re a church and a community center. How is that impacting our understanding of Church?

By going “live” on Facebook every Sunday, we touch 50 or more lives every week. How is that impacting our understanding of Church?

When does Church happen? It happens when our Tuesday evening and Thursday morning Bible studies meet. It happens when our choir director, Andrea Cooper, invites us to pray for one another at the end of choir rehearsal. Church happens when our various committees and circles meet for the purpose of ministry. Church happens when children come to Sunday school, even though they might not be able to attend morning worship. For that matter, Church happens when two or three gather together in Christ’s name at the local restaurant. Indeed, every time “two or three gather together in God’s name,” whether in a Sunday school class or a committee meeting, or a music rehearsal, we ought to affirm the presence of Jesus who is shaping us into Church. That means every time we gather, whether in the sanctuary or a classroom or the MAC or even the local restaurant, Church happens.

Yours for the mission,

Pastor Dave

*United Methodist Hymnal No. 558, vs. 1.

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