Friday, September 22, 2017
Fighting over real estate. . .
Drive down the street a bit and you encounter a rather small and very old chapel. It looks as if it is surrounded by a fellowship or educational structure and has another building across a small parking lot. No one would realize that this is, in reality, the largest church in town. It is Roman Catholic. The chapel is used during the week and on weekends the rather nondescript structure is filled with people for mass (the fellowship hall was long ago converted into a sanctuary). It hardly seems right but this parish has almost as many families as the Baptist has members. It is not unusual for Roman Catholics to be somewhat under the radar in the South but it is also a clear statement against the idea that the Church is about real estate.
The national as well as diocesan Episcopal Church jurisdictions have spent untold millions over real estate. In the ELCA we also have a legal trail in an effort to hold onto buildings and property. We have created church banks to finance real estate and construction costs. Many congregations spend the majority of their income paying off the mortgages and not a few have gone broke trying. Sadly, in many of these facilities, the space devoted to worship is secondary to all sorts and kinds of other activities much less important than worship. I fear we have given into the illusion of success size offers and we think that facilities are one of the chief definitions of that success.
Don't get me wrong. I am not at all suggesting that we be cheap with structures built to house the worship of God or that we abandon the witness of a house of the Lord dedicated to His Word and Sacraments. What I am suggesting is that we build buildings to house many things that are not necessarily bad but they have nothing whatsoever to do with the worship of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We drive by the solitary chapel with nary a fellowship hall, classroom addition, gym space, or recreational center and we think "how sad." Perhaps it is the other way around. Maybe we should be driving past the mega campuses with all their non-essential amenities and shake our heads in sorrow that it has all come down to real estate. And this from a God who had no place to lay His head and even had to borrow a tomb from another! Birds have nests, foxes have holes, and churches have loads of geography and buildings. We need to remember the Kingdom of God is not of this world and this world's marks of success and accomplishment should not be used to define that Kingdom.