Few people know the breadth and scope of a congregation’s programs. So began a note from Church headquarters encouraging congregations to say and do more to let people know what’s going on behind those closed doors.
It grabbed my attention because I was at a community wide meeting on homelessness where one well meaning citizen implored the churches to open their buildings to people needing a place to sleep and clean up. After all, he said, you use them only one day a week, and then for only a few hours. Clergy reading this will grimace and admit they’ve heard the same from time to time. Even some parishioners are clueless about how much church buildings are used as gathering places for the community.
Recovery groups, scouting and other youth organizations, day care centers, classes of one kind or another, community meetings, and small group gatherings, they are the norm. For most congregations the only requirement is that the use be related in some way to Christian ministry, or at least not inconsistent with it. The parish from which I retired is open all day to anyone who wants to come in, hosts up to three recovery groups a day, is busy most evenings with various meetings, serves a free lunch twice a week, not to mention a half dozen other ministries that take place each week. I don’t think they are unusual.
That’s partly why I deplore the popularity of demeaning the value of church buildings. Moreover, they are not simply community gathering places for worship and service. They are also powerful symbols, but of what? What is it that church buildings symbolize, because whatever they symbolize, they do so powerfully. There’s the rub isn’t it? For the well meaning person at the community meeting on homelessness they symbolize large wasted spaces maintained for the occasional use of rich, privileged people who claimed to follow a religion of no real importance or purpose. Whose fault is that?
At least locally, it’s not unusual for congregations that do the most to make their gathering place available to the community do so without the slightest effort to connect it with the Christian faith. What is it that keeps them from making use of appropriate opportunities to use the gathering event as a time and place to also proclaim the good news?
Is it because they don’t want to be like the local gospel mission where folks are coerced into attending prayer services. Do they not want to fall into the “accept Jesus or go to hell, and please have a cookie” message that some inflict on strangers? Maybe the clergy and leaders are afraid that old time members will not like the idea that the building is heavily used by persons not usually seen on Sunday. Well, whatever it is, get over it!
Having said that, I am retired and out of the loop, so it’s easy for me to stand on the sidelines and make pithy observations. I guess this is just another one.