What is a Church

What is a Church

April 01, 2019

            When I was a junior in college I spent a semester abroad in London.  One of the perks of the program I participated in (not to mention the three day weekends every week) was the amazing class trips.  As a history major, I relished the opportunity not only to take classes focusing on medieval Christianity and British history but attend the associated classes that took us to some of the most marvelous churches England had to offer, Canterbury, York, Westminster, Durham.  On my weekend travels, I visited the Church of the Holy Rood in Stirling, Scotland, St. Patrick’s and Christ Church in Dublin, and Notre Dame in Paris, to name a few. 

I remember at the beginning of the semester thinking that visiting all these stunningly beautiful churches would provide for me a spiritual awakening.  By the end of the semester I was sorely disappointed and left feeling empty.  I’ve used this example of hope and disappointment in many a sermon about church and community, where I had come solidly down on the side of the “church not a building” camp.  I see this discussion playing out in the aftermath of the fire at Notre Dame in Paris.  And until recently I separated the spiritual from the physical. 

While I still hold that the community of people gathered, the Body of Christ, if you will, is what comprises primarily the Church.  I see now the separation between the Church gathered and the Church physical isn’t a realistic one.  Why?  Because of the sacraments for starters.  We are baptized, confirmed, married, ordained, and sometimes our lives are celebrated in our churches.  Every week we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, are forgiven, corporately and individually, and share in the remembrance of the Lord’s supper, Holy Communion.  These events, these moments knit us together as members of the larger body of Christ and in many ways help us find our identity in the Lord.  I struggled to find God in the vast cathedrals of the UK and France because in some ways they were devoid of the more immediate context of my life in Christ.  I wasn’t looking in the right place. 

I understand mourning Notre Dame, the three most recent churches burned in St. Landry parish, Louisiana and any other building, plain or ornate, small or magestic that provided a meeting place between ourselves and God.  I feel a deeper connection to St. Paul’s cathedral in OKC now, having been ordained there and saying goodbye to my brother there.  Yes, these places are just buildings, but what happens, and WHO happens in them is what sets them apart. 


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