The Church with the Boarded-Up Doors

I feel like I apologize to you every time I post now, Reader, for my erratic schedule and the lull between postings; I can tell you that I’ll post this and then be back for my usual Advent Christmas carols shtick.  This semester is taking the mickey out of me in ways I really did not see coming at all; I will be so very glad when it’s over.  To be honest, I’ll be very glad when this degree is over, which is super unfortunate.  But the upshot of being here in the Wicket Gate is that I work at a pretty amazing church.

It’s an old church, as in over a century old (which is old for Americans; I know that’s laughable for Europeans, but cut us some slack, we’re young).  Being old means that there’s a lot of repair that has to happen.  Right now our main front doors are gone because water had warped the bottoms of these thick wooden masterpieces, so there’s a beautiful Good Shepherd stained glass window hanging out over a bunch of plywood.  It looks pretty awful, and it confuses the crickets out of visitors, but I was thinking the other day about what it must look like from the street.

boarded-up-entrance-to-church-after-removal-of-doors-767x600Oh, what a shame, some driver may be thinking, another beautiful old church closed down and falling apart.  Because those boarded-up doors make it seem like we’ve thrown in the towel, for sure.  The thing of it is that they are the exact opposite—those plywood planks are the showcase of our growth, our fiscal health, our connectivity (paid for by a grant from our denomination), our stewardship of the building, our desire to make sure we are able to welcome people to this house of God.  Our boarded-up doors are symbols of our being alive, not dead, and I wonder what that looks like when speaking of the larger Church.

I have very little patience left for folks who bemoan the death of the Christian Church and even less for the people (like a classmate of mine, recently) who say that the Church should die because it’s outdated.  Nope.  The Church is not dying, not by a long shot.  Christianity is a truly global religion represented on every continent, with over two billion believers.  It is the largest organized religion on the planet.

Now I know, Christianity doesn’t necessarily equal the Church.  But the Church is its most cohesive vehicle.  The Christian Church is the community that goes out and fights for justice, that works for peace, that stands with people suffering from natural and human disasters.  The Church is the community that gathers to stay strong in faith, to challenge ourselves to live godly lives, to reach deeper into the mind-bending compassion of God to be able to see each other—and ourselves—in love.

It is also the community that is wrapped up in colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, a million different kinds of discrimination, power grabs, ageism, judgment, and oppression.  We, the Church, do not have clean hands.  But that does not mean God is done with us.  My church, my century+ church, definitely has things it needs to deal with about how we interact with each other and our community, and I pray mightily that we acknowledge those things and open ourselves to God’s ability to change us and speak through us to the hurt and the aching need for hope here in the Wicket Gate.  Yet I also pray mightily that we may continue the growth that we are doing, both the quantifiable and the completely unquantifiable.  We are a constant work in progress, thank God, as is the larger Church.

Certain parts of it must change.  That is undeniable, and unsurprising, because no living thing is ever permanently stagnant.  It would die.  So when folks talk about how the Church is dying because it’s changing, I wonder at their definition of death.  Do we have fewer people in American pews than there used to be?  Sure.  But Christians are gathering in Africa, in southeast Asia, in South America, and they can’t keep up with the amount of churches needed to house the communities.  A shift is not a death.  Do we have a different cultural relationship with Christianity than we used to in the West?  Sure.  But Christianity is becoming something that is owned with purpose and determination rather than to impress your boss or make sure the neighbors don’t think you’re a terrible person.  A shift is not a death.  Do the new generations have a wariness about Christianity that often manifests in us leaving the faith?  Sure.  But many are hungering after authentic grace and we millennials, for one, are becoming some of the strongest change agents in the Church.  A shift is not a death.

So look deeper when you see a church with plywood where the doors ought to be.  It may well be that that church has closed—but perhaps that’s to form a co-op with another church down the street, or to move into the city to be closer to the people who need this news of unconditional love, or to switch to a more accessible and less leaky building to keep on worshipping.  Or maybe it completely folded, and that’s okay too because the face of Christianity is changing and that church may have lived its purpose in that spot.  Or maybe it didn’t, maybe it wasn’t done yet, and that boarded-up church represents a workplace where God is calling someone to bring the message of hope back into that neighborhood.  Is it you?

Or, maybe, it’s just getting its doors replaced so it can come out looking beautiful once more, ready to fling those doors open come Easter and let the hymns roll out over the stone steps into the neighborhood proclaiming that Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.  Keep looking.  There is life here, and life abundant.

 

We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him.  He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life.  In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:9-10, CEB)

 

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6 thoughts on “The Church with the Boarded-Up Doors

  1. Linda Dunn says:

    What is missing is the graffiti on the door, crying out for recognition and a place to belong; the sign that says “while under construction, you are all welcome”, and the articles of faith posted by a scholar and searcher after justice and open doors.
    This week I sang the Te Deum at Chenery Auditorium. It was a celebration of the five hundred years since Luther pounded his thesis on the doors of the church.I was lifted by the singing, but also by the listening, the spaces between the notes of silent communion, and the solace of the ages of belief.
    The plywood should not be seen as a barrier, but a blank slate. This must be recognized not only by those seeking entrance, but by those who, in stewardship, stand inside praying for renewal.
    Right now, I am standing outside, gathering courage to knock.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you had that opportunity; it is the coolest to have been alive for the 500th anniversary. I’m going to keep playing with the idea of “blank slate” in church welcoming contexts; thanks for the language, and the concept.

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  2. As I think I’ve shared with you a time or two, I’ve been doing archival research at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Library for a number of years. They house the private papers of Lloyd C. Douglas, who was a Congregationalist minister for most of his life, following up with an encore career as a bestselling novelist.

    One hundred years ago, Douglas was asking people to please stop predicting the immanent death of the Church. And then he liked to tell a story. (I will try to retell it in my own words, as well as I can remember it.)

    A certain American businessman lacking in social graces decided to flaunt his newly-acquired wealth by taking a whirlwind tour of the top European sightseeing destinations. One day he showed up at the Louvre. Hurrying from one masterpiece to another, he found himself incapable of appreciating any of them. Finally he decided that he should express his disappointment to one of the museum’s representatives and demand a refund. “What’s the big deal about this place?” he said. “It’s just a bunch of second-rate paintings and sculptures. My kid could do better!”

    The representative, a distinguished-looking gentleman, took off his glasses and cleaned them thoughtfully a moment. Then he put them back on and replied quietly, “Sir, these works are not on trial. They have long-since established their worth to the world. It is the spectators who are now on trial. Let us hope we do not fail the inspection.” And without another word, he walked away.

    I often think about Lloyd Douglas (and that story) when people say that the Church has outlived its usefulness. Just like that American businessman, we approach the Church like a bunch of consumers, judging it by how well it meets our needs, little realizing that we are the ones being appraised. Let us hope we do not fail the inspection.

    Nice to hear from you, by the way. Have you noticed that I myself only post blogs when I [blank]-well feel like it? And I don’t apologize to anybody. Then again, I don’t have many readers, either. I wonder if there’s a correlation…

    Ron

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    • I miss you so, Magister. Thank you for the story—and the bonus of it that people have been talking about the death of the Church since it was born and it hain’t died yet.

      Part of the attempt at a regular schedule is an accountability tool for myself, left over from the very start of this blog as a way for me to chart what was going on in the shift of my faith life. But yes, all the How To Blog things say keep a regular schedule—as though I listen to any of the stuff about How To Blog while writing a complain-y Jesus narrative from seminary. (Redacting yourself made me smile, by the way. Well done.)

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  3. Sheila Bigelow says:

    Oh my!  I didn’t realize how much I have longed to hear your voice.  Thank you, my dear, and I hope the rest of the semester goes as well as possible.  You are loved.  Sheila

    Liked by 1 person

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