Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

STUFF 2013 the church i want to see

Given my current touring schedule, it will be some time before I am in a pulpit again.  Thus, it seems a good opportunity to reprint a few pieces I've written for various publications over the past few years.  
The theme for the Fall 2012 Issue of Connect Journal was "The Church I Want to See," and my regular column is called "A View from Elsewhere."
Herewith my submission, with apologies for violations of contractual contracts etc . . .

The Church I Want to See

The Church I want to see . . . is a broad topic indeed.  But, as with any topic, it starts with clarifying our terms of discussion.  From the get-go, there’s that pesky first letter.  If it’s capitalized, we go in one direction; if it’s not, we go in an another.  If we’re talking Church with a capital C, then quite frankly it’s none of my business to be saying what it should be.  Because--in my own view, anyway--that’s God’s business.  The big C Church will be what God wants it to be, with or without our help, thank you very much. 

And, as for the small c church, well, that’s also none of my business unless it’s the one where I am spending my Sunday mornings.  Your church may look completely un-awesome to me (for reasons that might surprise you, honestly), but that’s none of my beeswax, as Junie B. Jones might say. 

Since I am an Episcopal priest, it is my bounden duty to talk about a “middle way,” a middle C/c Church/church that is neither one nor the other, but is a via media.  Lutherans tend to hold two opposing views in tension; Anglicans seeks a “middle way,” and my own opinions on the implications of those broad brush strokes are a matter for a different essay (which also might surprise you).

So, what is the C(c)hurch I’d like to see?  Well, for starters, it’s one where those two cases are the same thing--big C and little c sitting together, like in a Dr. Seuss book.  By that I mean, a place where my local church is reflecting the broader Church.  (Big C, little c, what begins with C?)  Obviously, that is such an exaggerated broad stroke that it seems like I’m finger painting.  So, let me just cut to the Jackson Pollack method here and throw some C’s at the wall, which was my pasta-cooking method in my earlier days . . .

Continuity:  The Kingdom is a place where all are welcome, and all participate, without regard to any of the walls and barriers and distinctions we throw up to make ourselves feel special or chosen.  When we strive for that ideal in our little postage stamp of a church, we are connected to the Church of every time and every place, continuing to be part of the Church, whatever form it may take.

Community:  Whether or not I like you, or want you to be there, you are in the boat with me, and since it’s a lifeboat, throwing you out would require a really good justification.  I mean, on the level of, you’re actively drilling holes in the boat.  In the best-case scenario, we do not choose our faith community, as though we were selecting a fitness club.  If it’s in our hands, we will likely choose a community that makes our life easier, and that just ain’t right.

Cool-Free Zone:  Let’s face it, the reason many people go church shopping is because they want a place that’s cool.  Most churches are not cool, by any stretch, and many “new” churches strive to be cool above all else.  Sacraments, and hymn singing, and liturgy are decidedly uncool.  And trying to make them cool suggests we are trying to create something other than church, to be blunt about it.  Jesus was not cool.  Jesus was not aloof or indifferent or part of the “in crowd,” no matter how much your local Christian radio station may try to tell you otherwise.

The church I want to see, in essence, is the church that has always been there.  The place that seems foreign to our daily life, not trying to imitate it.  The place that welcomes people who are not welcome anyplace else.  The place that does what Luther says defines the church:  administer the sacraments and preach the gospel . . . Which two criteria seem increasingly rare, in my experience. 

Mainly, the church I want to see is the church that is made up of every type of person in the local community.  One where everyone is welcome, everyone hears the good news, and everyone can experience the gifts of grace in water, bread, and wine.  I guess when it comes down to it, I’m just sort of an old-fashioned kind of guy.

George Baum is exactly one half of the band, Lost And Found (, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Ohio, the father of two, and the husband of one.

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