Even before the pandemic, I started recording and sharing a short video each week for our congregation to introduce Sunday’s Scripture and sermon, ask a few discussion questions, and share worship news and events. I record almost all of them in our church’s sanctuary. However, during a sermon series entitled: “The people in your neighborhood,” I was inspired to try some new locations. The first week I did not go very far — recording the video from the church nursery to highlight the children in our neighborhood. The next week I was a bit bolder, recording two segments for the video in my office and then driving around the neighborhood to take pictures of other churches.
I suspect you can imagine the pictures that I took. I went looking for the churches in our neighborhood and I took pictures of buildings. That might have been your first inclination as well, but now that I have raised the question, perhaps you are beginning to see a problem.
The Reformation claimed that what people had known and experienced as “the church” for generations was fatally flawed and worth reforming. The critique had very little to do with architecture. Instead, our Presbyterian ancestors like John Calvin and John Knox suggested one could recognize a “true church” by three marks or characteristics:
The Word is purely preached and heard.
The sacraments are rightly administered.
Christians are living a disciplined life as disciples of a crucified and yet risen Lord.
These marks have nothing to do with the buildings and everything to do with people experiencing and bearing witness to Christ’s death and resurrection.
So, if I really wanted to take pictures of the churches in our neighborhood, I did not need to go looking for buildings — I needed to find people being the church, proclaiming and practicing resurrection. I needed to go and find people who are participating in the in-breaking of God’s resurrection power amid a world focused on death, division, and decay. I needed to go and find people living with hope for they know the end of the story is that Christ is coming and coming soon. I needed to go and find communities of faith committed to a new way of life together.
We are the church. We are witnesses to the resurrection. Where we see others doing that, whether they are Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, or none of the above, we recognize “the church.” We are not in this alone. As we seek to join the mission of God, the first steps outside the walls of our buildings might be to become better partners and colleagues with the churches in our neighborhood.
I encourage you to be on the lookout for the church in your neighborhood this week. Where do you see new life springing up? Where do you see neighbors working together in surprising ways? Where do you see truth claimed and falsehood abandoned? Where do you see love and mercy? Where do you see hope? Where do you see buildings being used in transformative ways? For the church in my neighborhood and yours is alive and well if we have eyes to see it. Are we willing to join in and do our part?