Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Name Is Church

I wrote "My Name Is Church" in  2007. I just read a blog that reminded me of this- the Title is "Are You Breaking Up With Me?" byBy Patrick Scriven, Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.Here is the link:

My Name Is Church
by Sandra L Hire 

My name is Church.
I’ve been here, in this spot for over one hundred years. Once, I was young and beautiful. My stained glass windows were new and the sun streamed through the colored glass and played like jewels over the people who filled the sanctuary each Sunday.

When I was created, I was created for a purpose. The men and women who laid my bricks and painted my walls had a vision for me. A vision to be handed down from their generation to the next.  I was created as a place of worship. A place of sanctuary. A place to teach the next generation to love God with their whole heart and soul and voice.

When I was in my early, childlike years, people came to me eagerly. They wanted the words of the scriptures. They loved to sing the hymns and they passed this love down to their children. They taught Sunday school. They filled my pews. They prayed for their faith to grow.

In my teens, I caught on fire. I was ablaze with the flame of the passion of the saints for the Holy Spirit. My rooms were filled on Sundays. If you were outside and walked by me on a Wednesday night, my stained glass windows looked like they were glowing from within. But chances are, you too would have been worshiping in my sanctuary. The flames of faith burned bright for many years. But eventually, they slowly started to fade.

 In my middle ages, I literally caught on fire and burned. Loving hands and joyful hearts rebuilt me. There was never any talk of letting me die; I was too important in their eyes. Their whole lives revolved around me as they continued the conviction stories of their lives and passed their faith on to their children and grandchildren.

I’m getting old now. Some of my paint is peeling and my carpets are threadbare. My rooms don’t get as much use now. The sun still shines through the colored glass of the stained glass windows. It still shimmers like jewels. But there aren’t as many people to see the dazzling colors. The talk now is whether to put me back together or let me die a slow death.
Sometimes I feel like I am dying. I no longer feel the fire burning in the souls of the people who worship here. I miss that.

Once, squirmy, wiggly  young children filled my pews. They spilled their drinks on my cushions and crushed cheerios under their feet into my carpet. I yearn for those days! I used to smile at the little ones, knowing someday they would stand up at the altar, oh so somber and still, while they promised to love God, take care of me, take care of each other and the world beyond my doors.

I really didn’t mind the knocks and nicks and the scrapes and the scratches. I knew those blemishes were really beauty marks; a history of my use by the people who loved the Lord and used me to worship Him.

I’ve heard the people raise their voices to God in praise many times. I’ve heard the wonderful word of God. In worship services, bible studies, Sunday school and other activities; the scriptures have been acted out, taught, and preached. The music has been played and the songs sung. And they still are, but there is something missing.
I can feel something that the people don’t seem to be able to feel. It is the great cloud of witnesses. It is the faith and the love of the people that came before and that have gone on to be with God. That faith, that love is still here, within these walls. Those saints have gone on to be with God, but their prayers, their love is still here.

When these people come up to partake in communion, they are communing not just with those who attend our local church or worship our way: they are communing with the universal church, all members of the church, not only on earth at present (‘the church militant’) but those already in heaven (‘the church triumphant’). It is not just a fellowship between people, but with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This fellowship is experienced and expressed in the whole life of the church: in prayer, preaching, reading the scriptures, sacraments, music, witness and service.

Sometime between my birth and now, people lost track of the purpose. The purpose of being a church.  The purpose of passing on faith to the next generation. Or was it that the next generation disappeared and moved to bigger and better things?  Whatever it was, the fire isn’t staying strong. The promises are still being made, but there are few to receive the torch as it is passed.

I wish I could figure it out; I wish I could figure out what happened. How did the faith sharing stop? What caused the fire to start to die? I wish I had an answer. I wish I could whisper a solution to the pastor. But churches can’t talk.

Sometimes I do feel a hint of hope. A few weeks ago the pastor read the word of God and taught  about faith. The pastor read from the book of Luke. The words were bold.

The pastor read:

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ He replied “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, Be uprooted and planted into the sea and it will obey you.”

As the pastor read those words, I could feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit slowly seeping into the church.

And the Sunday before, the people sang a song, an old song that reminded this old church of something forgotten.

Let us plead for faith alone, faith which by our works is shown;
God it is who justifies, only faith the grace applies.
Active faith that lives within, conquers hell and death and sin,
hallows whom it first made whole, forms the Savior in the soul.
Let us for this faith contend, sure salvation is the end;  
heaven already is begun, everlasting life is won.
Only let us persevere- till we see our Lord appear,
never from the Rock remove, saved by faith which works by love.[i]

There was hope there. Hope that those singing would hear the words formed by Charles Wesley many years ago.

Today the pastor is again talking about faith and talking about passing faith on to the next generation. But the people don’t see there is another generation that is to follow them. They think because their children have moved away, their grandchildren go to another church in another town, they have no one to pass the torch to. But that’s not so!

I see the children go by me on their bikes. I hear people outside speaking as they walk by me.  “Welcome!” I want to say to the children. “We will clean up the toys and open my Sunday school room doors to you.

Good Morning!  Come to church with us!

I long to say that to those strangers beyond my doors. But a church like me has no voice. It is the voice of the people, the voice of the descendants of those people who first built me that must reach out to those beyond my doors.

Listen- can you hear what the pastor says today? The people are listening. The pastor is talking again about faith. The faith about which Paul wrote to Timothy. Faith that is inherited. Faith that came from the mother and grandmother of Timothy. It is faith that Paul encourages his adopted spiritual son to fan into flame.

The pastor speaks of the need of this generation, the need of these descendants to pass on that torch of faith to a new generation. A generation of sons and daughters. A generation that may be adopted, but to who faith is no less important. A generation who will not be ashamed to testify of the faith in Jesus Christ. “For,” says the pastor, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and self-discipline.”

I can sense a stirring. There is a glowing ember of understanding.  A spark of interest that could ignite into a fire- not a fire of destruction, but I feel a sense that a blaze could resume. I can tell by the thoughts of the people here. I can feel the hope. They can fan this spark into a flame. And through this flame, my purpose can be revealed to a new generation.

[i] The United Methodist Hymnal ©1989 Hymn # 385 Words by Charles Wesley

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