Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Beauty of Church, and Change

The other night as I was getting Tim off to bed, as he was lying there winding down for the night, he was reflecting on our church. He sighed (he does that when he's content) and said how much he loves our ugly old church building. He loves that it's old. He loves how worn out it is. I've been thinking the same thing.
The building is cinder block and covered in about 20 coats of yellow paint. It was built about 60 years ago when the original structure burned down. The front steps are of concrete covered in indoor-outdoor "grass" type carpeting...and it's worn through to the concrete...and the concrete is worn to a rounded edge.
When our pastor was visiting our house one night, we showed him a plate that was given to us as a momento of our wedding. We were married in a very traditional chapel-type church in Hillsboro, Oregon, the Old Scotch Church, and the plate had a drawing of the church on it. Pastor Ken looked at the plate and with a wry smile, he said, "We couldn't really do that with our church." I suggested that we could, with a doily over it.
Last night when we were describing our church building to some friends over dessert and dominoes, their grown son said regarding the worn front steps, "That's a good thing." And it is. Those steps show the impact of every footstep that has gone in and out of that church over the years, a testimony to a long continuity (if a small congregation) of faithful believers. The church has remained tiny, and I think it's because of the visual lack of initial appeal in the outside of the building; but the tiny congregation is as sweet as any I've seen. Some friends of ours seemed to be pretty put off by the outward appearance, and that's fine.
We have plans to build a new facility, and it promises good things--the property that the church was given overlooks a beautiful small lake that you see driving into Granite Falls. It's a very appealing site (aside from the mosquitos, which loved the taste of my blood last summer). I can't help but dread a little bit the changes that will undoubtedly occur on the occasion of its opening. There will be a whole population of people who will no longer be put off by the building's appearance. A new building seems like it will unavoidably change the character of the church in general. We've seen a couple of times what is called the "new paint syndrome" of opening a new church building for a church that has already existed beforehand elsewhere, and the growth of the congregations as a result.
Yet who can complain? It is a good thing. It's God's provision for His purpose. If a person is put off by appearance, and conversely attracted by appearance, I'm sure that accomplishes something in sifting people according to the time and place and purpose that God has in mind. If the appearance of a new building is the cultural appeal that brings more people in to hear the gospel presented, so be it. Just so long as the biblical message of the church isn't weakened as a result in hopes of growing the numbers rather than strengthening the spirits of those who attend, who can argue?
That wasn't all that our Tim had to discuss about the church. Last night, after having talked with our friends and telling them about our church, Tim was pondering with pleasure the idea of coming to church this morning. I told him, "I hope the main thing you're looking forward to is the fact that we go to worship God, not that your friends are there." He understood that, and claimed that was in fact his primary reason, but he also went on to say, "I bet Pastor Ken has never said a swear word." I was surprised, partly because I thought he'd bring up something about the friends his age, but he is strongly impressed by the fact that the pastor has befriended him personally. I said that chances were that the pastor had in fact sworn before, that he is only human, after all. He said, "Well, you think he's pretty good." Yes, I respect, admire and will try to imitate the way that he lives out Christ in his life; I haven't found fault with him. Still, I don't make him out to be beyond what humans are capable of. It's easy to put leaders on a pedestal, and I've seen it done with very bad results before. We have to realize the human limitations of everyone, holding them accountable to the perfect standard of faith in Christ, but realizing that all fall short; it's not fair to anyone to expect them to be perfect.
So we look forward to Sundays, if you haven't noticed. It's solid teaching, there's a very sweet fellowship, and I treasure each time we're there. I walk up those worn concrete steps and open the heavy, battered wooden door with great anticipation. The character of the church may change with time, but as long as God is at the center of what goes on there, it's the way it should be.
Well, I stand corrected. I told Kit, Pastor Ken's wife, about Tim's comment, and she said, "He's right. I can vouch for that. I've never heard him swear, and he's never sworn. It isn't that he holds it back, it just isn't there." Well, there you are. I guess Tim could tell, somehow, in Pastor's gentle demeanor. That can be pretty hard to kick out of place sometimes!

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