With great regularity I hear people complain about what an albatross their church building is. Always in need of repair; spending money on bricks and mortar, while the needs of the hungry and homeless go unmet.
I have also heard a clamor for moving church out of the building and bringing it to where the people are. Some are even saying, “Jettison the building and move your ministry to the streets. That is where Jesus did his ministry.”
These are compelling arguments for trying to do “church” differently. They are even more compelling, if you are not able to maintain your church’s edifice.
If you are now nodding in agreement, imagine my amazement as I find my church challenging itself to put a major new addition on our church building. We have made the decision to increase the size of our building, even as we struggle to make financial ends meet, drawing too much from our endowment in order to cover maintenance and other costs. Why are we doing this?
The major motivator was the “ah-ha” moment of realization that our building is not accessible. Our church bulletin states, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” If you have ever been in our coffee hour after worship, you would know that we live this statement out. But our building is not accessible, so our welcome is limited. If we are going to continue to serve our community and the world in God’s name, then our building has to be as welcoming as our spirit.
There is another reason for making our church building accessible and more attractive and why we should invest so much time, energy, and money into the building. Our physical structure is a reminder of God’s presence in the world, just as much as we are. It is a constant presence to all who pass through Tiverton that God is real and available to offer welcome and encouragement, comfort and support.
People can drive past our church building for years and not even remember it is there, even though it sits prominently on a main road in town. Most people do not go to church; they have no need of church. But, when planes fly into buildings, when ten-year-olds die of cancer, when 45 year-olds die in car accidents, people don’t run to the local coffee shop or the mall. They find a “place of worship.” For these and many other reasons our church buildings are anchors in the communities in which they sit.
So, if you are feeling as if your church building is an albatross, take a second to reconsider. This is not a millstone you are feeling around your neck. It is an anchor keeping your community steady in the storms of life.
Thanks be to God for that!
The Rev. William A. Sterrett
Amicable Congregational United Church of Christ
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