Defining Church

I considered not writing about this for fear of upsetting certain people, but felt that in the end it was necessary for me to share my opinion on what Church is really all about.

I went down to Centrepoint today (my town’s ecumenically run community centre) for afternoon tea – sandwiches, scones, cake and (of course) a pot of tea per table. I sat with 3 others who I’d never met before and we got talking about many things.

Everyone I met there was very friendly and welcoming to one another, and a pianist in the corner of the hall provided us with some gentle music as we ate.

But with about 20 minutes left, I found out that what I believed was a fundraising event for those in need in Africa, was in fact a fundraising event for the refurbishment of the Methodist Church next-door. Run by a Methodist leader I would have understood their need for funds if they were in dire need (a hole in the roof for example). However, they have so far raised £180,000 – and want a quarter of a million to spend on a new kitchen, new tea room… basically on modernising all the background rooms that aren’t a part of the actual worship area. Now I could understand (a portion of this money being spent) if there was a leak in the roof, if the fridge had stopped working… but none of this was true. Everything functions well already. The only thing I could find acceptable was the lift they intended to put into place so that disabled people could sit in the upper part of the church if they wished.

When I asked why they did not give the money to those in dire need, the dying, they replied that they give a little routinely, but they think that their priority needs to be to keep their Church alive and functioning so that people can come. “It’s necessary” they said. “You’d be surprised how much we need.”

Well yes, I am surprised. Shocked. Upset by their idea of necessity. The Church isn’t going to be kept alive by sprucing up a kitchen and adding new sofas and painting and decorating unnecessarily, splurging a quarter of a million on (mostly) decorations. That’s not what Church is about. Church is about prayer, about vision… Church is going to be kept alive if we love. And, rather conveniently, love doesn’t cost £250,000. Love can be given to all, and what we have can be shared.

Yes, we need money to keep a Church running. But we don’t need a fancy kitchen or a second lounge room to drink tea in. We need money to get a sound system so the deaf can here us preach, to keep ourselves warm, to fix the roof to give shelter to those who come to worship, to get hymn books so that we can sing as we pray… all sorts of things. But Church isn’t about expensive, unnecessary revamps. Church should be built on love and community. Church should be built on what Jesus taught us. On the “Good News”. On the love that Jesus, that God, gives to all. On remembering what “communion” is all about.

Church should never be about the building. Church should always be about the people. If the bricks that held my church together crumbled, it would be terribly sad for a little while. But gathering on a patch of grass together, holding hands in an undivided circle, open to the world and praying to God – that’s Church. Love, community.

I think of the starving people in places like Africa as my brothers and sisters. Because that’s what they are. God’s children, whatever race, sexuality or religion. If your brother or sister was dying, would you revamp your kitchen? Or would you give them some food from your fridge and a bottle of water?

Church should always be built on the foundation, not of bricks and gold, but of love and harmony.

I’ve not written this blog piece to make those of Bramhall Methodist Church angry or to judge them. I’ve written this because, alike when I saw people asked to leave the Cathedral in Salisbury because they would not pay the “voluntary” donation (see “Pay to Pray?”), I believe that we need to remind ourselves what Christianity is really all about. Openness, and love.

Matthew 25:34-40
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Hebrews 13:2
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

1 John 3:17-18
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

Whilst I was in Salisbury I spent a portion of my time sat with a homeless man named Duncan. In conversation with him and observing those passing, most appeared to take the “out of sight out of mind” approach and avoid eye contact with him, or guiltily drop him a few copper coins. Getting him some food and water and giving him some company, I discovered that he was not a Christian, but a Wiccan. (I had no idea what this was before meeting him.) Yet we both believed that the source of life, and the hope of the future, is love for all. And for me, that is who Christ was, is, and always will be. Love.

Please don’t take the “out of sight out of mind” approach. We might not directly know people in need, but Christ lives in them as God lives in all of us.

God bless.

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6 Responses to Defining Church

  1. paul deakin says:

    amazing blog ! I am reminded of my time in South Africa when we would often see worshippers in a circle under the shade of a tree worshipping !

  2. Leslie says:

    You make your case very well, and we have struggled for several years with the very issues you raise, in particular, the issue of how much money it can be right to spend on property.

    Please could I make two points, which I hope don’t appear to be too defensive!

    1. You are correct that our “Rainbow Appeal” aims to raise £250,000. This includes a tithe in support of two projects in Africa. The rest of the money is being spent on the Church Centre building, adjacent to the Centrepoint building. There is more work, though, that is planned than your blog implies, I think. In addition to the lift another major element of the scheme is to create a new entrance to the church centre itself that will be wheelchair accessible and more accessible to those with limited mobility generally. This work is surprisingly, and frustratingly, expensive. We are also going to renew the first hall that you come to as you enter the Church Centre, into a welcome area. An increasingly important part of our work is to be open for prayer during the week, and this space is an important part of that ministry. We hope that the area will be very well used, and create a valuable sense of welcome and hospitality.

    2. Year on year, the church has spent very little indeed on maintaining its property, because our emphasis is on giving money away rather than spending it “on ourselves” (although hopefully it’s always on mission, rather than “on ourselves.”) Some of the work we are doing now, including a new kitchen and toilets, is because the existing facilities are 30 years old, and becoming a hindrance to effective ministry (particularly the kitchen.) (We serve over 3000 meals a year to older folk as part of our ministry.) I do agree that there is a case to be made that we could manage with more limited facilities, but having struggled with this issue, the church resolved that we really did need to renew these facilities so that we could continue to offer loving service to the community effectively and well.

    So, I do appreciate your sentiments, and I value the challenge to make sure our focus is right. I hope my comments above will help in some measure to demonstrate that we have struggled with what is the “right” thing to do, and that we hope that what we are doing will make us more effective for many years to come in our ministry of welcome and care.

    I’d be really very happy to meet up sometime to discuss this further if you like.

    Many thanks again

    God bless


  3. Thank you for sharing your heart.

    As I read this I think of a local church whose pastor is so hyper-focused on building a new, huge church building from scratch that he is actually losing some congregants and leaders who see it as a misplaced priority. I don’t know about the condition of the church you mentioned or any of the particulars there, but I’ve been in and through the entire original building of this pastor’s and it is in perfect condition. And very sizable. Yet they -must- have a bigger, better building while other, more outward issues are pushed out of the way. It’s saddening.

    We do need to upkeep our buildings, and we of course do need to be able to provide a place for people to come. But Jesus also said to -go- out and make disciples of every nation. And it is the coming together of disciples, like those already mentioned in South Africa, who are the church whether they gather under a tree, at a coffee shop, a home, or wherever “two are three are gathered in [His] name, there [He is] in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

  4. Missjlouise says:

    Fantastic I completely agree

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