This is partly in response to Sarah Kift’s blog from June 17 entitled “Stop Going to Church”, but this conversation took place before Sarah’s blog came out.
Sandi: There are so many meanings of church! It can be a building, a Sunday morning event, an institution, a reference to the universal body of Christ that includes Christians of all nations and ages… Sometimes I think we get confused between the different meanings, and forget that we ARE the church of Christ whether or not we are gathered in a sacred building. Sarah has highlighted this by controversially suggesting "we stop going TO church."
And yet the gathered church on Sundays is so important. I visited a monastery in Mission B.C last year and one of the monks gave a very good answer that I didn't understand at the time. He said the monastery exists primarily as a 'sign.' It points the way. It witnesses to the fact that there is something worth giving one's whole life for (i.e. GOD and His kingdom). I have mulled over it ever since then and conclude that the same can be said of the church. We exist as a sign to a future filled with hope and to a present marked by love despite our shortcomings. That we would give up our Sundays to gather is a witness to its importance, and to the goodness and greatness of God. What would you say church is, Laura?
Laura: What you say resonates with me, and I love the picture shared by the monk, but it also strikes me that we so often fall short of actually being that sign. It makes me sad to think we have the opportunity to be this sign, but we so often get distracted by disunity within our own community. I don’t have an answer for that, but being reminded of our calling to be that sign is powerful.
Something else I might add (thoughts partly spurred on by a recent lecture at Regent College by some brilliant person whose name I do not remember) is that church, when thought of as a gathering of believers usually meeting once weekly, is a place we go to renew our understanding of our identity. Through communion and worship, we renew our identity as a family and as a body united. Thus, life without church is dangerously individualistic. It feels like life without church can become selfish – I miss out on the chance to serve the family.
Sandi: That is true. How do you think that we can approach church less individualistically?
Laura: Good question. Perhaps one thing is to change the way we think of it. Not coming to be filled and leave again, but rather coming to fill others, and be filled together. Maybe coming to a place where I can be worshipping and growing, without having my needs met. Committing to a group of people, people who are not like me, no matter how I am being served. Being united with people who are not necessarily like me – united by the Spirit, not necessarily by shared interests or attributes. And for me that is something that happens on Sunday morning gatherings and during the week – although I must confess that I do tend to spend time with those who are like me. What do you think is important about being part of a weekly gathering of believers?
Sandi: I think of the verse that says that we will be known as Christ’s disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). This love is not a feeling, but rather a lot of hard work! I think that church is probably a great place for us to practise love, not judging, putting others first. I feel like a novice…
I have also wrestled a lot with skipping Sundays because of my summer work at the B&B. I’ve had to step off my pride pedestal and become one of “them” who skipped church on Sundays! I could catch up on the receiving part by worshipping with a CD and listening to a podcast message, but like you say I miss out on the fellowship, the doing life together, the knowing and being known, the giving & serving aspects of church. I haven’t come to a final conclusion, but I’ll be making a midweek gathering (prayer group / oikos) a priority this summer. And I will work with excellence at the B&B on Sundays. I guess what we're saying is that gathering together is a HUGE part of church, but it is not all there is to it.
Laura: I’d be interested to know what others think (that’s all you people who have been eavesdropping).
What is church? What does it matter? What does it mean in your life?
LAURA BULK AND SANDI MALLINSON
Laura and Sandi met at Redemption Church when it was still Church at the Hollywood. They enjoy a weekly walk together and cherish the time to exchange their thoughts, feelings, joys, and struggles. They also often exchange their latest baked experiments.