Monday, July 25, 2011

Have Church Will Travel...

The congregation I serve got its start in a 7th Day Adventist building -- a perfect match since they did not use the building on Sunday!  But such symbiosis is not always possible.  So where do you go to look for a place to start a church?  Many look to school gyms and cafeterias and theaters -- spaces that sit empty most weekends and therefore are prime real estate for those who want to set up a congregational space close to where people live but without the messy business of building, buying, or paying for a building.

In years gone by, it meant folding chairs, a temporary altar, and a lectern with perhaps a backdrop of some kind and a piano.  Now the tent churches are a bit more high tech -- the chairs are cushier, the screen is for projection, the keyboard replaced the piano, the praise band brings their own instruments and sound system, the altar is gone in favor of a stage, and it all packs up into a 24 foot dual wheel trailer that you can haul to where you need to go.  As long as their is a Starbucks on the way, you can get it set up and going in time for a 10 am praise-a-thon and still have time to lunch on a veggie sub and some pita chips...

Some years ago we hosted an Anglican mission looking for a permanent home.  They stayed with us a while and were grateful for the old A-frame chapel.  It was not a cathedral but we were reminded that "Anglicans don't do well in empty boxes..."

Now that same chapel hosts a very small Orthodox Mission that had to leave their digs on Ft. Campbell when their priest and Army Chaplain got orders.  When they first arrived, they were also grateful for a more churchly home which was made even more churchly by the addition of many icons and a great deal of holy smoke.

It seems to me that many Lutheran missions are no longer looking for a churchly home and even when they get real estate it looks more like a warehouse or mall gathering space than the holy place where God's people meet Him in the means of grace.  In fact, it is a surprise that stained glass craftsmen and others who trade in church appointments are still in business with the number of plain boxes with exposed guts that pass as churches today.  They have become so comfortable with God in a U-haul or a tent that they no longer beg to build Him a home worthy of Him, a place where His glory dwells.  This signals a great disconnect both with the Old Testament past and the early Christian history which evolved into sacred space in designated buildings as soon as legalities and resources were available.

Maybe I am just wrong or hopelessly tied to things or out of touch with modern reality, but I wonder if the detachment from sacred space does not created the dangerous situation of making the Pastor even more important to the journeying congregation on its way to a permanent home.  Certainly the style of contemporary Christian worship and music elevates the stars into center stage a great deal more than even the most elaborate liturgy and ceremonial.  Perhaps that is the goal... I guess I am not very missional, am I?


Ted Badje said...

Well, pastor, what about the idea of meeting people where they are? I am thinking of university coffeehouses, which also serve as places of worship. I know some get criticized for emphasizing coffee and social gathering over worship and in Lutheran settings, the use of the sacrements. These are places where dialog begins, and young people ask definitive questions about God and Christ, and the Church's role in the world.

Sage said...

Ted, meeting to discuss is different in my eys than meeting to worship. I still hold to you attend worship with reverence and awe at what is happening. Maybe I am old, but that's how I see it.

The lack of reverence and respect is what drove me away from Protestant churches at the outset. It was only then did I realize the doctrine wasn't all that substantial - hidden behind the big screen, powerpoint display.

You can talk about the faith anywhere, but the sacraments aren't done in a haphazard way.

ErnestO said...


I find throughout the church year at Messiah Lutheran we do a great job of describing what God did before man was made, or else about what God will do when all are dead and buried. It is a loss that we hear so little concerning what we are to do today in our Christian daily walk and conversation.

Do they do a better job of describing what the members of the congregation are to do today than we do in our traditional churches?

John said...

Is placing mission before what we believe, teach and confess, The Gospel of Christ and Him crucified for our salvation in our Sunday services any different than work's righteousness?

Anonymous said...

Sage nailed it. There is a big
difference in meeting to discuss and
meeting to worship. We need to be
more creative in making opportunities
available for non-Christians to
come and discuss Christianity and
Scripture in an informal setting.
Lutheran Pastors need to get out
of their church building and into
the community in highly visible
places....restaurants, shopping malls
or whatever.

Anonymous said...

When I asked the pastor of a large LCMS if my small Anglican mission might perhaps use some portion of their building at a convenient time of the day, he was absolutely incensed that I had the nerve to even ask such a question. He informed me that their building was there to serve the LCMS and nothing else. This was after I had assured him that I had no designs on any of his parishioners in any way, but the very thought of helping a non-LCMS Church was thoroughly abhorrent to him. - Father D

Bill S. said...

Pastor, I often see you mentioning the concept of sacred spaces. I'm an adult convert to Lutheranism, and although I sense that you are right, I don't know how to defend the idea to others outside of Lutheranism. Maybe you can write a post defending the notion of sacred spaces, working from the Bible.

Anonymous said...

"the concept of sacred spaces"

if not sacred, at least as reverent and appropriate as possible, which is not the same as elaborate or even expensive. Some of our very poor brothers and sisters around the world may not be able to afford that but is that our issue here?