All useful. But we’re not yet digging deeply enough. I could offer a view of church from the pews, but even that is a profoundly limited — and limiting — place to start because, in fact, church often happens beyond sanctuaries. For me, church regularly happens miles outside the walls of the building in which my own congregation gathers for worship on Sunday.
For instance, church happens starting at 6:45 each Wednesday morning at the home of a friend. Seven or eight of us gather there — as we have for some 30 years — and do church. Well, we don’t exactly think of it in that way, but that’s what’s going on.
We have juice and pastries, coffee and tea. As members of the same congregation, we talk about whatever is on our minds for half an hour or more. Eventually we read a chapter in the Bible in our ongoing attempt to read through the whole of it together at least once before we’re all dead. As we say, we aren’t too good at this, but at least we’re slow. Then we pray, each in turn. Thus fortified, we head into the world.
If church is the community that God calls into being to grow in faithfulness and go into the world to share the Gospel, then what happens at my friend’s house each Wednesday morning is church.
Similarly, church happens each Thursday noon at a downtown Bible study I help to lead. We bring a sack lunch, converse, read and discuss whatever book we’re digging into. Then we close with prayer. The group includes people from Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist and Lutheran churches. Sometimes we share moving personal stories. Sometimes tears. Often laughter.
But, in the end, we share church — ecclesia, that called-out community that is asked to treasure the treasure that is Christ and share that treasure with the world. Studying the word of God together helps to prepare us to do just that.
If we limit our understanding of church to what happens when we sit in the pews in our sanctuaries on Sunday mornings, we cut ourselves off from much of the world, its pain, its needs.
Church can happen almost anywhere — indeed, if we Presbyterians don’t want to disappear into irrelevancy, we must work to help make church happen in lots of places, from homes and offices to camp grounds, bars and restaurants.
And we must be willing to entertain the idea that our sturdy old sanctuaries may not feel welcoming to young people beginning to wrestle with the eternal questions. For them, we may have to do church somewhere else.
The early Hebrews were nomadic, moving the tabernacle with them. God’s feet were not nailed to the floor. As we tell people in our radically mobile world about a God whose hands and feet were nailed to a cross, we’d do well to emulate that nomadic model.
Tammeus is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog here. Read about his new book here. E-mail him at [email protected].