Ten Things I Really Like About My Church
Occasionally, I get accused of being a glass-half-empty kind of guy. I don’t know where this comes from, but I will have to take others’ word for it 🙂 .
So, in an attempt to combat this persistent myth, and because it’s early September and everyone is just staggering into fall schedules and routines, and because there is the usual anxiety and apprehension about what the upcoming (academic) year will hold, and because I’ve noticed that pastors (myself included) tend to feel a bit of pressure around this time of year to “start with a bang” and make a good impression on newcomers when secretly we’re just hoping we can keep it all together with what we’re already doing, and because—well, yes, it’s true, because it’s way easier for me to focus on negatives than positives—I thought I would do something completely out of character and do a bit of bragging about the little church that I am a part of.
(Don’t worry; this won’t become a regular occurrence… And of course this is not meant to say that we’re doing anything “better” or “more faithfully” than anyone else, or that these are somehow unique to our church (they’re not)… And I’m not saying we can’t improve on any of these things or others… And I’m not saying that small churches are better than big churches or that Mennonite churches are better than ______ churches… And I’m not saying that any of this is due to my leadership—these qualities long preceded me and were some of the things that attracted me to this community in the first place!… And of course there are other things that I like about our church, too… And… Um, have I offered enough qualifications for what will follow yet? Okay, good.)
Here we go… Ten things I really like about the church I am a part of:
1. We eat together. A lot
No surprise here… We are Mennonites :). One of the tragedies of summer ending around here is that our summer worship schedule, which involved an earlier service followed by an hour of goodies and conversation, has come to an end. We had fresh fruit and cheese, yummy pastries and cakes, good coffee… It was almost enough to make me start preaching shorter sermons to get to the coffee hour. Almost :). I think that there is something healthy and theologically significant about communities that deliberately make space for eating together and sharing their lives with one another. I like that.
2. We try to be good neighbours
We don’t do this for instrumental purposes (i.e. as a means to get people to come to church) but simply because we believe Jesus has called us to love and honour those who come across our paths. One example: we have a large Motorsports dealer that just went up beside the church. So we had a beef-on-a-bun lunch for them one Thursday this summer and had almost seventy people in our basement. We didn’t do it because we wanted to preach at them or because we wanted to give them some promotional material or because we wanted them to come to church (although we certainly would welcome that!); we did it because they are our neighbours and we wanted to say, “welcome to the neighbourhood, we’re glad you’re here!” I like that.
3. We love God with our minds
Probably between one-third and half of the adults who regularly attend our worship services come early for one of our two adult Sunday School forums. We read theology books together, we study books of the Bible, we sometimes have guest presenters. We also put together occasional weekend workshops (Prof. Norman Wirzba, from Duke University is coming in October to talk to us about creation, food, and faith, for example). And people feel free to ask questions in these forums, to push, to prod, to doubt, to disagree. I think these are experienced by many to be life-giving spaces, and I like that.
4. We love kids
We are not overrun with children at our church, but we love the ones that we have. We have people volunteering to organize “Parent’s Night Out” where the kids are fed supper and engaged for a few hours while harried parents can have a quiet meal together, catch up on some shopping, etc. We have wonderful people committed to teaching kids not only what to think about God but how to think about and love God. Last year our Sunday School children were encouraged to write and perform their own Christmas play. It was fantastic! We have kids contributing their musical talents in our services, reading Scripture, and generally being encouraged to be a part of the worship and life of the church. I like it that the kids of our church have the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with people of all ages.
5. We value simplicity and creativity
There is nothing terribly flashy about how we do things at our church, and many of the “forms” we use are quite familiar. We read Scripture (out loud… even the cringe-worthy parts). We pray. We listen to sermons. We sing a lot of older hymns. We study the Bible on Wednesday nights. We use PowerPoint and other technologies sparingly. We have a big old brown pulpit. We don’t have a ton of programming. But within these traditional “forms” there is always space and grace for trying (and sometimes failing at!) new things. I like that.
6. We embrace diversity and multi-voiced worship
We are blessed by the presence of a wide range of theological perspectives and socioeconomic/cultural backgrounds. All are welcome and encouraged to participate. One example: a number of folks from our local L’Arche community have chosen to worship with us each week, and are given the opportunity to participate. One L’Arche member gave the offering prayer a few months ago. It was wonderful! I love it that we make space for people, whatever they look like, whatever their age, whatever their abilities.
7. We love and care for creation
We go camping together, we have a hiking group that tramps up and down the hills and mountains of Alberta weekly, we have picnics in the river valley, we go on canoe trips… And aside from the time we spend in creation, we also have a settled theological conviction that we are called to be responsible stewards of God’s good earth—a conviction is reflected in our life and worship. I like that.
8. We are not anxious (or at least we don’t seem anxious!)
There is so much hand wringing out there about the state of the church in postmodernity, so many studies and strategies, so many programs to implement to revive and revitalize moribund, dying churches…. It can be exhausting (and depressing!) even to read about it all. But we don’t spend much time agonizing about the future or about how to “get people to come to our church.” My sense is that there is a quiet conviction that this is God’s church not ours, and that God has simply called us to welcome the newcomer and the stranger, to love each other well, and to preach the gospel in word and deed. The future has never been ours to control anyway, and I like that we seem to know this.
9. Peace, justice, and generosity matter to us
Things like global awareness, political action, and work on behalf of the poor and the marginalized are important part of how we understand and live out the good news of Christ. Our members have traveled all around the world with organizations like MCC and MEDA, building sand dams, going on learning tours, leading teams, etc. We have dedicated people who generously give to and volunteer at soup kitchens and thrift stores and initiatives like Canadian Foodgrains Bank growing projects. We are blessed to have people among us who continually prod us to be more politically active, who do not allow us to become myopic in our worship and service. I like that.
10. We love Jesus
In a world where religion in general, and Christianity in particular tends to get a bad rap (sometimes fully deserved), we try to always remind ourselves and others that Jesus is what God looks like, and Jesus is lovely indeed. I like that.