I don’t go to church right now. I’ve gone to church campuses, temporary quarters, modern buildings, traditional cathedrals, people’s homes – all comprising walls and roofs. I’ve been a member of congregations and even served as a church trustee for a brief time.
In time, I was led to something very different. I’ve come to understand that church is about relationships.. Jesus said “Love others as I have loved you.” Of course, he taught us a lot more, but this one thing he called the new commandment. Not a suggestion, a commandment.
Loving as God loves is not easy. Religion institutionalizes loving. Institutionalizing anything can make us lose sight of why we’re doing things like feeding the homeless, mission trips to Africa, or even bible study and Sunday school. These are good things, but if they’re done with an institutional purpose, they’re not loving. I come from the Hawaiian Islands where missionaries arrived with good intentions, but their works were tainted by racism, greed and political ambition.
I don’t get into theological or religious discussions about church. That’s a potentially volatile disussion that could harm more than help. Besides, I can’t possibly win any biblical discussion in which someone throws chapter and verse at me. My spirit is not so organized.
There is church and there is CHURCH. I am part of the CHURCH, the “Body” if you will. This CHURCH has no formal membership, no dues, no programs, no donations, no calendrical requirements. Gosh, the CHURCH doesn’t even have a mortgage!
This CHURCH goes around loving. I have a group of friends who share this belief, and we listen to God’s urgings to love and do our best to follow them. Sometimes it’s calling someone to say hi just because I thought of her. Or sitting in a coffee shop in a business networking meeting and the discussion veers towards helping someone who needs it. Or getting together at someone’s house to eat, perhaps share some music and talk about God. Or maybe encouraging someone on Facebook who’s having a bad day.
Sometimes CHURCH is about loving people you don’t even know, like the woman with the fussy baby in the supermarket, or the grouchy curmudgeon who sits next to me in the airplane.
It’s a fluid process. There’s no schedule or formula. I don’t always know who, where or what. I just try to pay attention.
CAROLYN DOES CHURCH
About nine years ago, I met Carolyn who volunteered to direct parking at the first church I attended. New Hope Christian Fellowship did not, and will probably never, have a building called church. The congregation meets in schools and shopping centers. These aren’t small gatherings. About a 1,000 people participate in each service held at the inner city high school that I called church on Sundays.
Carolyn is a single mom who raised two sons by herself. She just retired as a janitor, and has maintained a cleaning business on the side. She volunteers as a parking coordinator for the 7AM services, which means she reports for duty no later than 6. In the darkness of winter months, it may very well have been midnight. Carolyn is in her late fifities and has the disposition of an excited, cheery child. She waved at us all as we drive into the parking lot, and I never walked past her without getting a hug, after which she looks at me in straight in the eyeyes and breathes, “I love you!”
I saw Carolyn last year on one of my business trips. I went to the 7AM service and there she was, parking cars. After asking me about my husband and son as if I just saw her last week, she hugged me and said, “I love you!.”
NANCY DOES CHURCH
I was reminded of Carolyn because of of something Nancy did for me recently. In the frenzy of moving into a new house, she asked me if I would like this print. She called while movers were carting boxes from her old kitchen and contractors were changing the walls in her new house.
The beach is a view I never had from my personal residence even though I grew up in Hawaii. I lived in apartments most of my life, and though the view from our 22nd floor condo was awesome, it was not an intimate view of the beach.
I didn’t realize how much the beach is a part of me until I lived here a couple of months. Now, when I go to Hawaii, I manage to stay in hotels near the beach. I sleep with the windows open to hear the waves and smell the salt.
The view of the beach is one that I know is near and dear to Nancy’s heart. She lived on beaches and loves any kind of water sport. This framed print is part of her identity. Yet, she thought of me. She knows how much I have come to treasure the beach.
She also gave me three blouse tops because she felt they were what I would wear. They were indeed styles I would have bought.
Because of her, I am reminded that I am loved by God.
I AM PART OF THE CHURCH
The simple spontaneous actions of Carolyn and Nancy remind me that my heavenly father loves me. I can only hope that someone out there feels the same because I did something I felt led to do in a twinkle of time.
So many buildings and groups call themselves a church. But church is not a noun, a static entity.
CHURCH is a verb. We are called to do CHURCH, to listen for urgings, to do “on earth as it is in heaven.”