The most inspiring church I have ever seen is the cathedral at Tintern Abbey in Western England near Wales. A ruin since the 16th C., with no roof or windows or doors, and grass growing where the pews once sat, it remains the perfect church to me, a two-story tall one with walls totally open to God and man and the goats, too, I would guess, no longer protecting the congregation from the world, but celebrating God and life in a most glorious manner. It is the subject of an ode by the English poet, William Wordsworth who celebrates one of the chief functions of any church: “that blessed mood, in which the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world is lighten’d–that serene and blessed mood.” [from his poem, “Lines composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”]
To me, church is not a building, it is a temple to God that we build in our hearts. And then we take it with us wherever we go. It is the willingness to go wherever God would lead us. It is the basic “YES” in us to love God with all of ourselves, even if we’re just learning how to do that and not in that perfect state. Church is our ability to connect deeply with God and with one another, beneath the superficial stuff of our culture where the deepest connections are made. Where the realm of love is.
It is any place of communion, of community gathered like the house in a poor neighborhood of Charlotte, Enderly Park, that I visited recently on a Friday night. It houses the QC Family Tree, an intentional community opened in 2005 by a married couple, both ministers, Helms and Gregg. They met in seminary, married and birthed this vision of a community center that would affirm and help the residents of this neighborhood. They offer many programs and opportunities. Everyone is welcome. Kids hang out here for the art work, the Bible study, the youth ministry. On Friday nights twice a month there is a dinner offered to whomever shows up. The Friday night I was there with someone from my church who will be in charge of delivering the food for one of these Friday night gatherings. I met Greg and many neighbors. I met a woman whose children hung out there the whole time they were growing up; Joyce who is new to the neighborhood, Johnny who is a member of my church who told me when to travel I-85 to Atlanta—at 4 am in the morning!
QC Family Tree reminded me so much of the books I read a few years ago—one by Father Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart, whose church is the streets of gang-torn Los Angeles, The Weight of Mercy: A Novice Pastor on the City Streets by a minister in Greenville SC, Deb Richardson Moore, and Strangers at my Door by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove about his home that is a church for everyone in a poor neighborhood in Durham NC. The Lord was clearly directing my reading that year, adding in Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado and Mercy in the City by Kerry Weber. I didn’t know then and I still don’t know why I was reading all these things, but they definitely tie back to my experiences in Haiti, more than ten years ago, and the year I spent interviewing for Crisis Assistance Ministry here in Charlotte.
What is clear to me is that church happens wherever the Holy Spirit shows up and where anyone is open to that Spirit. We may love the buildings where we worship. We take care of them. But the most important thing about being a church is to nourish the Holy Spirit in each person who comes, that our actions and words are connected to and inspired by that Spirit, that we support and sustain and comfort and challenge one another to be our best possible selves grounded in the Holy Spirit, fulfilling our purpose as the Lord reveals it to us.
Love is the action of the church. Wherever we are, we members of the whole body of Christ, must be loving, be at peace with, take joy in and listen to and affirm the person(s) before us, whoever they are, wherever they find us. If we are not patient, good and kind to another, if we are not faithful to and gentle with them, if we are not able to set aside our own needs in order to help them with theirs, we are not a church. [Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-3] We are not following Jesus Christ. We may have a great building with lots of amenities, but we’re playing a game. We’re looking good. We believe. But we are not a church, not the church of Christ.
Jesus was questioning Peter after dinner of the miraculous catch of fish: “Peter, do you love me?” Three times he asked this question. And when Peter said he did each time, Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” ]John 21:15ff] I don’t think that Jesus meant that the only thing we were to do for his people/his sheep was to feed them a meal. To feed someone means to nourish, to sustain, to maintain in all ways, physically with food, but mentally with ideas to ponder, spiritually with prayer and challenge and emotionally with support and healing. And that is just the beginning. There are many ways to nourish. QC Family Tree does it with food, and the Bible, with prayer and Freedom School Partners, with youth groups and other kinds of community outreach. It is a church housed in a house in a poor neighborhood. We can find church wherever there are people who love others.
Questions to ponder over the week: Where do I experience the church of Jesus Christ? Where do I “see” the Holy Spirit show up? Where am I most aware of God’s presence? Have I built a church/ a temple to God in my heart?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who bring our “church” wherever we are. May we see Jesus in every person that we meet and affirm that deep soul self in everyone. May we be at peace, take joy in, love, have patience with, be good, kind and faithful to, be gentle with and be able to set aside our own needs to serve someone else’s.
My book, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, is up on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions. Look under Patricia Said Adams.
I have an essay published in an anthology of writings by Christian authors, entitled “What Can We Learn About Suffering From the Exodus Story.” The book is entitled Let Hope Arise by Authors for Christ and is available on Amazon.
If you want to read the entire post for this week, check it out at www.bythewaters.net/blog/html. Also, check out the archives of all my posts going back to 2011.
I’ve posted links to all the videos I’ve done on this website and highlighted the best one(in my opinion): “On Eagle’s Wings.” Check it out at http://bythewaters.net/videos.php.