While on holiday, I visit churches. My husband, David, and I worshiped with the congregation that sponsored him for ordination, a beautiful church in Brighton, England. Its beauty was not only in the architecture but also in the people we made communion with - people of all ages and stages of life. We wandered into several village churches, pushing open ancient oak doors to find flowers still arranged to mark the joy of Easter. In the quiet, there is the perception of life, the risen life of Jesus joining the community gathered and sustained through the centuries; through plagues and wars as well as through seasons of serenity and prosperity. The invitation there was like the invitation engraved in bronze near our church doors. Come. Rest. Pray.
Being church, though, can be anxiety ridden. Will people continue to support the church with their offerings? Will enough people come to worship to keep the doors open for the stranger in need, the one seeking the peace of Christ? Or will church become just another activity you choose to do, or not? On the flight home, we watched a movie about an Episcopal congregation, All Saints' Church, in Smyrna, Tennessee. In 2007 the parish had 25 members and a mortgage; the bishop and diocesan council believed it was time to close the church and sell the property. They had a potential buyer and sent a newly ordained priest, once a salesman, to close the church. Instead, Karen refugees resettled in the area from camps in Thailand turned to the church for help, and that started a new ministry and new life for the congregation. The 2017 movie, All Saints, tells the story well. Find it on Netflix or Amazon - it's a heartwarming story worth a watch. If you do, spend a little time thinking about how our church continues to receive the risen life of Jesus and how we share it as we invite people to come down Buck Road and into our doors; to rest in the peace of prayer soaked into our sanctuary; to pray for their needs and the needs of the world.
I close this post with a prayer for being Church, found in The Book of Common Prayer in the service for the Consecration of a Church (BCP 568-569). In the liturgy, the Bishop offers the first part, a warden the second, and the priest the third, and the closing is between the Bishop and all the people. Take a moment, hold the image of Christ Church Christiana Hundred before you, and pray:
Everliving Father, watchful and caring, our source and our end: All that we are and all that we have is yours. Accept us now, as we dedicate this place to which we come to praise your Name, to ask your forgiveness, to know your healing power, to hear your Word, and to be nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son. Be present always to guide and to judge, to illumine and bless your people.
Lord Jesus Christ, make this a temple of your presence and a house of prayer. Be always near us when we seek you in this place. Draw us to you, when we come alone and when we come with others, to find comfort and wisdom, to be supported and strengthened, to rejoice and give thanks. May it be here, Lord Christ, that we are made one with you and with one another, so that our lives are sustained and sanctified for your service.
Holy Spirit, open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts, that we may grow closer to you through joy and through suffering. Be with us in the fullness of your power as new members are added to your household, as we grow in grace through the years, when we are joined in marriage, when we turn to you in sickness or special need, and, at the last, when we are committed into the Father's hands.
Now O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sanctify this place;
for everything in heaven and on earth is yours.
Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom;
and you are exalted as head over all. Amen.