I walked into my office this morning to find two banners posted on my door.
Both of the banners advertised the new “Take 5” Saturday evening service that I am tasked with launching at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, but each of them did so in a subtly different way. The first banner was crisp, and clean, and stated boldly that something new was going on. The second banner maintained the same boldness, but tied it into the existing life of the community by including the “Praising, Learning, and Sharing God’s Love” tagline that precedes my coming to St. Andrew’s. At first, it’s hard to notice the difference. When our (amazingly talented) Communications Director, Emily asked me “do you notice the difference?” I was shocked at how subtle it was. Then came the difficult question “which one do you prefer?”
The question is deceptively simple; however, in that moment time seemed to stand still as I wrestled with the implications of this deeply existential and ontological question. I was genuinely flummoxed by the subtle profundity of the question (okay, to be clear, I inserted this sentence because I wanted to use the word “flummox”). Go with me, for a minute. In asking the question “which one do you prefer?,” Emily was essentially asking “what do you want this community to be?”
The Church (big “C,” global Church) has been asking this question for the past few decades. The rise of post-modernity where nothing seems to hold meaning and value and where everything is contextual and relative, the advent of nuclear armaments that threaten global annihilation at the push of a button, the horrors of humanity at its worst, the failure of traditional religion to be a voice of faith in fearful times, the general apathy and insulation of individuals, all of it has created an interesting climate in the Church. The demographics of the Church in America are frightening. Shrinking attendance. Diminishing importance. Faltering influence. As I said in my sermon this past Sunday, “the Church just might be dying.”
But I like the (subliminal) question that Emily asked – “what do you want this community to be?” That question is forward thinking and positive. It is aspirational and hopeful. It is a question of faith, not a statement of fear. It leans into the fear of the present with the hope of a brighter tomorrow. It says that who we are is not who we will be.
And that’s not to say that there is something fundamentally wrong with who we are. Sure, there are parts of the Church that can stand to be done away with. Dogmas that discriminate. Theologies that isolate. Legalism that obfuscates love. Liturgies that resemble more of an obligatory checklist than a lifeline to God. But fundamentally, at the root of it all, the Church is an community of loving faith seeking to serve God and God’s world through the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that. I think it is important to believe that. I believe the Church has the best intentions, even if she makes mistakes every now and then.
Even still, there is much about Church that we must rethink. In essence, the critique that society is giving us with the lack of attendance and interest in the Church is that we must reChurch. In the words we say, the sermons we preach, the prayers we preaching, the songs we sing, the projects we undertake, the scriptures we study, and the (insert your appropriate “church noun” and related “church verb”), we must do so with the thought in mind “what do we want this community to be.”
The tagline for the new Take5 Saturday Evening Service is “Belong. Become. Believe.” It just came to me as I was thinking through the service and the order of the words matter. It flips conventional church on it’s head. The flesh out the entirety of these three words is another blog (it’s forthcoming, I promise); however, the central word, become, honors a journey that we are all on. We are all becoming something else. A Midrashic interpretation of the Divine Name revealed in Exodus (the Tetragramaton) interprets it not as “I am who I am,” but “I am who I am becoming.” Who are you becoming? Who are we becoming?
Ultimately, I settled on the version of the banner that tied the new service into the foundation of St. Andrew’s. Who we are becoming is not going to be complete dismissal of all that we are now. Rather, who we are becoming is taking the faith that has been passed on to us and continuing that dynamic faith journey for the next 100 years and beyond.
Keep the faith, and make it colorful!