Episode 45: The Church Has Left the Building

The Church has left the building.

I heard David Vasquez-Levy, President of the Pacific School of Religion, speak those words last week.

At first, I misheard him. I thought what he was saying was that the Church as we know it is no longer an entity. We’ve left the building. We don’t matter anymore.

As I listened more deeply to what he was saying, though, I realized I missed the point. Then, I got pretty excited.

The Church has left the building.

We live in a time when religious bodies are seen as less and less relevant. That perception is fueled by many things; among them the Church’s pre-occupation with our buildings.

Many who seek a relationship with the sacred agonize over the time, money, and attention churches invest in their buildings.

I have seen churches for whom their de facto mission has become their building. All of their remaining assets get spent to maintain a facility that sits largely empty the entire week, and mostly empty during their worship hours.

I don’t want this to be a rant about buildings. I can confess that my faith has been enriched by physical spaces where art and architecture conspire to inspire. In stained glass, handcrafted woodwork, spired cathedrals, beautifully adorned altars, multi-ranked pipe organs and other such accouterments I have found true delight. My heart and soul have been stirred by such.

But I also deplore the manner in which the preservation of those buildings hinders more meaningful and substantive mission from taking place.

I have a brother who was incensed when his local church spent millions to erect a gold covered statue commemorating a religious hero rather than use that money to feed the poor.

I have sat with church leaders who meet to determine how deeply to cut the pastor’s salary so that they don’t have to cut the funds needed to sustain the physical property.

I have seen spiritual seekers whose only connection to their faith ends the moment worship closes and they leave the building.

So when I finally heard what David was saying, I rejoiced.

The Church has left the building.

The Church is reawakening to its call to engage in mission. It is again conspiring to respond to the unmet needs of those who inhabit their community.

It is taking the faith as they know from the building into the streets.

I celebrate this.

I applaud this.

It gives me such hope, and no small amount of joy.

Gentle listener, no matter where you find your inspiration or how you commune with your sacred – be it in the vast wilderness of the great outdoors or the bejeweled architecture of your local Church and its sanctuary: love your neighbor. Take the faith to the streets. Leave the building. Meet the fellow traveler on the way, who like you is struggling to find her way Into the Mystic.

Categories: Column Into the Mystic

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