February 16, 2009

What is the Church?

I have a friend, Sam, who reminds me often just how institutional I really am. I try really hard to break out of my tradition, but often end up back in the midst of Eucharistic Prayer A, bulletin in hand. His biggest pet-peeve is the use of the word "church." The absolute worst question you could ask Sam is "where is your church located?" Their building, where services are sometimes held can be found in Milton, FL, but their church, well that's located anywhere two or three are gathered in Jesus' name.

As anti-institutional as I claim to be, that transition from using church to mean buildings to church meaning people and ministry is tough - it the model I'm used to. However, there seems to be some biblical warrant for that change in, of all places, the story of the Transfiguration.

There is perhaps no more institutional lesson than the Transfiguration. It comes around on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany every year. It marks the transition from one season of "the church year" to another. The Collect (in my tradition) uses words like "countenance" and "from glory to glory." It is so wrapped up in the way things have always been it is scary. And yet, as Peter fumbles for words in the midst of such an awe-some sight, he shines a light on that perennial question, what is the church?

The Church is not three buildings on the top of the mountain where Christ was transfigured. The Church is not a building built upon the hill of Golgotha. The Church is not five buildings on the 500 block of Pine Street in Foley. The Church is a group of people striving after the Kingdom; doing the work to which they have been called. It is two or three meeting in a Cursillo group on a Saturday morning. It is 25 or 30 cooking, hosting, and staying overnight so that homeless families can get back on their feet through Family Promise. It is tens of millions across the globe praying for peace in the Holy Land. This is the Church.

I'm going to try and get better at differentiating the Church from its buildings. I'm not sure I'll ever fully make the switch, but, well, at least I'm trying.

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