Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you. -I Peter 3:15
From the Book of Common Prayer:
What is the mission of the Church?
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
How does the Church pursue its mission?
The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel and promotes justice, peace and love.
Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?
The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
A prayer for the church:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that
wonderful and sacred mystery, by the working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation: Let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new; and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The wisdom of the whys
At the beginning of his book entitled Shaped by the Bible, Will Willimon (at the time chaplain at Duke University) recounts a conversation with a neighbor, a mathematician who approached with a problem she couldn’t figure out. It had to do with church. While the professor said she wasn’t opposed to church, she said her preacher had urged members of the congregation to invite people to church. The professor wanted to know: Why would I invite someone to be part of this?
She went on to note that the church may be caring, but so is the Rotary Club. She added that the Rotary Club met at a more convenient time, and the folks were often nicer. She offered that the Durham Bulls, local baseball team, had done more to bring black and white people together than any church had ever thought about. “Saturday evening at the Durham Bulls is more racially inclusive than a Sunday in any church in town.” So she asked why? Why invite someone to be part of church?
The questions posed to Will Willimon came to mind last week as I facilitated a clergy conference where we talked about the joys and challenges of our work in the times in which we live. One priest named Debbie noted that she had been working with leaders of a small church who were looking for a new priest. Debbie asked the leaders about their hopes and dreams. The answer that came back: We want to grow. Debbie asked: Why do you want to grow?
The folks responded: So that the church will be here for the next generation. Debbie asked: Why is it important that the church be here for the next generation?
The folk responded with comments about the need for pledging units, the sense of friendship among congregants, the beauty of the worship space which should be preserved. Debbie asked: Is there something about the ministry and mission of this church in this location that you think is important? I paraphrase: Why does this place matter? Church members weren’t sure.
She then asked them to tell her what difference their relationship with Jesus and their worship of God in that place was making in their lives and in the lives of their family. They didn’t have a ready answer.
I’ve been thinking of her comments, linked with the neighbor’s comments to Will Willimon. Why would I invite someone to be part of this thing we call church? What difference is it making in my life? What difference is it making in the lives of congregants? What difference is it making in the world?
Answers abound, in great variety. As we work here on the coast to clean up after the storm, I see churches taking the lead in remarkable ways. All year long, I find people are meeting Jesus with his loving, liberating, life-giving power, bringing healing and grace and forgiveness in a world where those are in short supply. We all need a place to know grace. Our world needs a place that shows grace.
All of which is to say: There are good and holy answers to the whys. But there are also some answers that are not compelling. Too often our institutions default to those.
Above, I’ve included notes from scripture and our Prayer Book that provide wisdom of the whys. Take time this week to think about how you might answer questions raised this morning. I’ll do the same thing. If you want to share answers, I’ll compile them in a future Monday message. Every now and then, it’s good to ask why.
I want to express my gratitude to the Rev. Debbie Apoldo, Church of the Advent, Spartanburg, SC, for helping me think about the whys.
This is the final week to register for the Discipleship Matters Conference