Friday, October 29, 2010

The Heart of the Church

Ever since the fire at the VTS Chapel a week ago, I've been thinking about the nature of this thing we call the church. Fr. Tim Schenck points out in his blog, the chapel was and is the heart of the seminary, so the heart of both the seminary and the people that have found a home there, is wounded. Adding to that thinking process has been the recent dust-up at Executive Council regarding the remarks of the Presiding Bishop regarding the need to change the way the church is governed. We are also in the very beginning stages of putting some flesh on the bones (perhaps appropriate for Halloween!) of the vision and mission that we have discerned for St. Edward's. Now, the question becomes: What do we actually want to do? What is the heart of who we are as a church and how do we communicate that?

Whether one is planting a church or re-planting one, as we are, there is the perennial question: What kind of church do we want to be and how do we live that out in what we do? I've blogged about those issues with respect to St. Edward's, but I'm also doing some personal reflection as well. I'm a 42 year old man, raised in both the church and in Silicon Valley, married for almost two decades, and with two children. In many ways, I'm exactly the kind of person that the church--any church--most wants to attract and keep. Somewhat ironically, my own position as Priest-in-Charge at St. Edward's is at least partially dependent on attracting and keeping people like me. The question then becomes, what do I want in a church and what would cause me to come, join, and stay at one?

Others are thinking of this as well. George Bullard wrote a recent article about the "back door" of churches, or why newcomers that are warmly welcomed at the front door, slip out the "back door" and leave the church within a year. He writes about the need for people to "make attendance a habit," by which he means attend between 39 and 42 Sundays a year (in this modern, mobile culture). He also suggests that people need to be given the opportunity to get connected with a small group or Sunday School class, to develop deep relationships (some of which hopefully have predated their arrival at church), and to "get to work"--becoming actively involved with a ministry of the church.

After reading that article and reflecting on my own situation, it strikes me that the biggest challenge I have with being a Christian is one that I'm sure I share with others my age--the fact that I have both very limited time and the fact that the pace of the world is frantic enough that it often seems to preclude opportunities for deep prayer, introspection, and relationship-building. I haven't personally been in a small prayer and sharing group for more than eight years, and while I pray and study the Bible as a professional, it is also true that I sometimes come to the end of the day without having had a personal time of prayer and study. Obviously, involvement in a ministry of the church is not a problem!

What it boils down to for me, and, I suspect, for my contemporaries, is that the church needs to both offer the opportunities for relationship-building (with God and with others), be very clear and obvious that it is doing precisely and intentionally that, and convince people like me that it is worth my time to set some aside in order to take advantage of those opportunities. We are not a service club, a college, or a restaurant. We don't simply offer volunteer opportunities for their own sake, teaching for its own sake, or serve food (unless you count either bread and wine or the occasional potluck!). What we do offer, at our best, is a relationship with God and others that is potentially transformational. Hopefully we can communicate that!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Loss of the VTS Chapel

Today at 3:55 p.m EST (12:55 p.m. my time) the chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary, my alma mater, burned to the ground. While it is true that it appears as merely bricks and mortar, the chapel  has been a special place ever since it was built 129 years go.  All of the usual things are thought and said--"it was only a building," they will rebuild," and "thank God no one was hurt." All are true. However, they do not lessen the sadness I feel on this night. Unlike some others, I was neither married nor ordained in that chapel. Yet I spent three years praying there each day in the fourth pew back on the right-hand side, looking at all of the memorial plaques from those who had gone before, listening to the organ, and allowing the decades of history to seep into my soul. The chapel is literally a shell of its formal self now, and I grieve its loss.