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Friday, November 5, 2010

What Are We Building?

I once commented to a friend that I would dearly love to see the Pyramids in Egypt.  He shrugged rather non-committally and said, "Meh, they're just big piles of rock".

While I must concede the reality of his statement, I still maintain that he missed the point.  What intrigues and inspires me about the Pyramids is not the structures themselves, but the faith that built them.

Contrary to popular belief, the Pyramids were not built by slaves, nor were these slaves entombed with their Pharaohs.  The Egyptians cherished life above all.  The Pyramids were actually built by fervently willing volunteers.  The Pharaohs were considered to be gods on earth, and therefore the workers were literally building the last resting place of their god.  This was considered to be a great privilege, and workers flocked to this task willingly, and were well-treated.

So while I still marvel at the feats of ancient architecture and building techniques that the Pyramids obviously represent, what I find more inspiring is the faith and love that lay behind every exquisitely-cut stone block, every brush-stroke illustrating the tomb walls.

I often think that this must have also been the case when our ancestors built our own churches that we worship in today.

Our buildings are all beautiful in their own ways, but what impresses me more is the faith that built them.  Behind every stone, every shingle, every rough-hewn timber lies a faith and a love for God that is inspiring.

Perhaps these church-builders felt that they were building a place for God to live.  They were certainly building a place that would become the focal point of the communities that were built around it.

I feel quite strongly that these buildings need to be preserved somehow or another, although it may not be possible for some buildings to continue exclusively as churches.  But if our ancestors built these churches, there is a question that plagues me:

What are we building?

I don't suppose we will ever know for sure, but I wonder if our ancestors constructed these buildings thinking that the buildings themselves should become the mission and focal point of the communities of faith that gathered in them?  Or did they hope that the buildings would be places of worship and "bases of operation", if you will, from which the love of God would flow outwards into the surrounding community?

This is just a speculative question, of course, but regardless of what we think our ancestors wanted or foresaw, we are still left with that question:

What are WE building?

Are we property managers or Kingdom builders?  Are we hermits or missionaries?  Are we concierges or are we visionaries?

As our church resources are depleted, we have a real opportunity to rebuild from the ground up, as Christ Himself did.  Let's build together.

5 comments:

  1. As the 'Great Pyramids' and churches of ages gone by inspired, and continue to inspire, so too it would appear this thought, itself, inspires. Yet I can't help but focus on six words which seem to come out of nowhere: "As our church resources are depleted..." So you have intrigued my curiosity - which, or what, church resources are being depleted? I must wonder this one thing: if Christians are to follow the call of Christ, and if God is to be behind the church, the body of Christ, that is, Christians themselves, then what of this 'depletion'? Is it something that should cause concern, or welcome? I can't help but think that 'resources' (depending on what is meant) are of little importance when weighed against the providence of God.

    On an unrelated note, who in the 'heavy metal' world has caught your ear?

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  2. Hi Athanasius, and thanks for your comments. Insightful questions. What we seem to have in our area is a wealth of buildings, but very few people to fill them. Interestingly, all of our churches are "solvent", if you will, in that none of them are in debt, due largely to prudent investment on their part. But I look with some sadness at multiple churches only fractionally full, with ample building and cemetery funds, but with little or no investment (either financial or spiritual) in youth ministry, senior's outreach, mission work to the needy. I can't help but wonder what we could become, what would could accomplish in terms of mission and outreach (which I consider Christ's true call to us, I don't think we were called to concierges) if we were to all come together and consolidate our talents, our gifts, our resources.
    That being said, I am not unsympathetic to the great significance that our buildings represent. I do think Christ would have a think or two to say about churches that have tens of thousands of dollars in their cemetery funds but nothing put aside for outreach, but that being said, a building takes on a life of its own when several generations of our family and friends have been baptized, married and buried at a particular church.
    But the writing is on the wall, so to speak. The cry is repeated over and over again: "We're paying our bills, leave us in peace!", but it would be blinkered and wilfully ignorant to not see the upcoming curve: in X amount years, unless current trends are addressed, arrested, reversed or otherwise dealt with, we will have a number of empty, albeit solvent, churches, standing in silent testimony to the life that was once there. But an empty church will still need caretakers, and who will be there to take over that charge?
    I will always put mission before real estate, and God help me if I don't, because it was a message and not a building that drew people to Christ in the first place. If we don't recapture that, we as a church will have effectively forfeited our mission.

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  3. Sorry, in response to question 2: I am old skool 80's, Metallica, Megadeth, Ministry, Faith No More, Suicidal Tendencies and so on, but I can get behind alot of the newer stuff as long as it has a good acumen of musicianship (being a guitarist). Slipknot has massive chops, and Korn (as long as they are not trying to rap) does some really interesting stuff. I'm not sure what you'd call Primus, but they are musically daring and therefore worthy of respect.

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  4. If your area is similar to mine, then excuse me for thinking it safe to ‘imagine’ churches disproportionate to the communities they are found in. This leads me to ask two questions, “Who had all the money?” and “are church donations / tithes significantly lower than in the past, and if so what is the reason?” I suspect that the answers to these and other questions involve the acknowledgement that the church has, in some way, shot itself in the foot. That multiple churches are “only fractionally full” speaks either to an ineffective Christian community, tragedy within the (city) community, or abuse / bad feelings towards the church from within the (city) community.

    I completely agree with you with regard to ministry. ‘Youth’ are continually looked upon – in my experience, as I was a ‘youth’ not too long ago – as training ground. I don’t know how it is within Anglicanism, but within more ‘traditional’ Protestant churches (excuse my poor phrasing) new pastors tend to be relegated to ‘Youth pastor’. I find it tragic that youth are, in some ways, viewed as the ‘smaller’ responsibility, when I believe the opposite is true.

    Senior’s outreach – who would have thought? And yet, having worked with the elderly for a number of years, I not once encountered a ministry team, or Christian visitors, aside from the priest, who was asked to hold service once a month. If only people, not just Christians, understood what happened to their parents when they put them into a home. They would, I hope, take more action. It’s tragic. But then again, you don’t see commercials on TV showing pictures of abused elders to a backdrop of emotionally charged music.

    Mission work to the needy, an odd paradox. I think the church has been taught to take care of the needy across the ocean or in some foreign land, and in my experience many churches do that well. However, when it comes to the needy across the street, well, ‘too bad’ for them.

    There is good, just as there is bad. (Good) memories associated with a building are good while “tens of thousands of dollars” in the cemetery fund is usually bad.

    “But the writing is on the wall, so to speak. The cry is repeated over and over again: "We're paying our bills, leave us in peace!", but it would be blinkered and wilfully ignorant to not see the upcoming curve: in X amount years, unless current trends are addressed, arrested, reversed or otherwise dealt with, we will have a number of empty, albeit solvent, churches, standing in silent testimony to the life that was once there. But an empty church will still need caretakers, and who will be there to take over that charge?”

    I agree, so what does the church do to prevent what seems to be a foregone conclusion? (Especially in Quebec, which I understand has a reputation not only being secular, but ignorantly so).

    “I will always put mission before real estate, and God help me if I don't, because it was a message and not a building that drew people to Christ in the first place. If we don't recapture that, we as a church will have effectively forfeited our mission.”

    Amen to that.

    “Sorry, in response to question 2: I am old skool 80's, Metallica, Megadeth, Ministry, Faith No More, Suicidal Tendencies and so on, but I can get behind alot of the newer stuff as long as it has a good acumen of musicianship (being a guitarist). Slipknot has massive chops, and Korn (as long as they are not trying to rap) does some really interesting stuff. I'm not sure what you'd call Primus, but they are musically daring and therefore worthy of respect.”

    I have a friend who looks just like Mustaine; it’s too bad he can’t sing. I’ve never listened to Primus, so perhaps I’ll give them a look. Lately I’m quite fond of Dream Theater, Scar Symmetry, Symphony X, and a few other (symphonic) ‘black metal’ types.

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  5. Hi Athanasius,

    Thanks again for your comments. Can I take it as read that you are also a pastor?

    The area I am in has not exactly experienced a tragedy in the way most people imagine the term, but we have been hit hard by urbanization and a shift away from industry in the area in the past 100 years. Gaspe has traditionally relied on fishing, lumber and mining, industries which have all had their challenges, and so the youth of Gaspe leave the area to go to school or to work, and very few come back to settle until they reach retirement age. This has led to a dramatic shift in our demographic towards the senior age bracket, with very few young families.

    The other factor that plays against this generation is the removal of religion from schools. Now, I am not saying that that is a bad thing and that it is to blame for all the evils of the world. It had to happen in a culture as secular and multi-cultural as Canada. But that shift should have seen the church and parents together picking up the slack and teaching kids why faith is important. That didn't happen, and so I was dismayed when I approached my first Confirmation class and saw jaws drop when I mentioned that Christmas was the celebration of Christ's birth!

    As for the lay of the land in the Anglican church, I can't really give a generalization because each province, each church is different. But I agree, youth ministry is not often seen to be as important as "pulpit" ministry, and this is unfortunate because this is a time frame when youth are coming into the "really big questions". It might be fair to say that adolescence is probably the most important time frame to be addressing questions of faith and morality.

    I agree with you, many churches are great at supporting ministry across the ocean, and this is important and necessary, but it often leads to a mentality whereby the needs of the immediate community surrounding the church are ignored in favor of ministry done across the world. What I mean by that is that I have been to churches that are fairly wealthy and so they seem to feel that throwing money at international causes exonorates them from doing local mission work, even though there may be a soup kitchen several blocks away that always need volunteers. There seems to be a "sanitized" form of Christianity extant today that avoids getting its hands dirty. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about it?

    But what that boils down to in my mind is a simple formula: assess the needs in your community (not your church) and your mission goald should become clear. In our community, there are a number of seniors' homes a number of people who are effectively shut-ins in their own homes, which is why I feel that Senior's Ministry is something that could do really well here. By comparison, there are not many young families in the Gaspe. Is there any point in trying to find ways to attract young families to church until they start moving back here in the first place?

    Athanasius, do we know one another? It's fairly obvious that you are a pastor or at least very involved in church life and history. I didnt' think anyone but a handful of sympathetic friends read my blog, but you have indicated that you are not Anglican and you are not local. I'm just curious, but we have similar musical tastes, and if youd like to let me know who you are, you could email me at jason_pollick@hotmail.com or friend me on FB. If not, I am still glad to have your input and questions on my blog.

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