Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come. - Acts 27:29 (NKJV)
Following Hurricane Irma in 2017, Pass-a-Grille Community UCC, located just yards from the Atlantic Ocean in St. Pete Beach, Florida, sustained damage to its building, including the steeple, so they embarked on a fundraising campaign to rebuild it.
The missing steeple prompted phone calls and donations from people who are not members of the church and have never even been there. They're boaters and sailors who want the steeple rebuilt because it's a landmark they are accustomed to using for navigation.
This is a pretty good metaphor for the role of church in many people's lives. Something fixed in the landscape to look toward for reassurance that you're headed in the right direction, even if you don't know anything about the conditions ahead. Something to steer by through the chaos at sea level. Something that rises above the sometimes featureless landscape, providing inspiration.
There's something to be said for church just being there. It's why there's a special despair reserved for the destruction of a church—any church. It doesn't have to be Notre Dame.
I know that the church is not a building, it's the people. I also know that there are critiques of spending money to rebuild a steeple or a cathedral so that non-church-going folks can have a landmark.
But to a certain degree, the meaning of church and the role it plays are inseparable from the buildings it has been housed in for centuries and the things attached to them—like steeples.
Hear the many prayers of gratitude from those who look to church to keep from running aground in the fog or during a moonless night. Amen.
Christina Villa is Philanthropy/Communications Consultant at The Pension Boards-United Church of Christ, New York, NY.