Asymmetry (part 2)
The church is not waiting patiently by the phone. Neither is the pastor.
A while ago, my congregation revised how much we charge couples for weddings. As part of that, I looked into what other churches in our area charge. And one of the things that I discovered during that research is that there are some people who really don’t like the idea of a church charging very much at all. People who are paying thousands of dollars for the wedding reception simply balk at paying hundreds of dollars for the wedding service (and all of the work and maintenance that entails).
I know that some of that is about keeping the costs down where you can. After all, the reception venue isn’t going to lower its prices for you; if you don’t pay what they want you to pay, someone else will. And maybe that nice pastor will give up their fee and the church will host the wedding for a fifty dollar donation. I mean, isn’t that what pastors—what churches—do?
But I also know that some of that is a manifestation of an attitude that we see around everything from rituals like weddings and funerals to social services like food pantries and homeless shelters: the attitude that the church is supposed to just be there, waiting patiently, until someone needs it, and then it is supposed to jump into action.
And that doesn’t work.
I made a joke once that people seemed to think that the church was a building that just sat there—perfectly maintained and with the pastor sequestered in a charging alcove in their office—until someone needed a room for their club to meet in, or some help with their heating bill, or someone to plan a funeral. Even if they, themselves, never worshipped there, or contributed an offering, or volunteered, or thought about the church at all.
Surely you will have a private baptism for just my baby and my family. After all, my wife was confirmed there fifteen years ago. And I know that she hasn’t been there for worship since that Sunday, and we live four hours away now, but her family still lives in the area (they also haven’t been there for worship since that Sunday), and they’re still members right? And you’re a church. So…
But, like I said, that doesn’t work. The church is not the building or the staff. It is the people who are animated by the Holy Spirit to embody some aspect of the gospel in that community. And in many places it is a smaller and smaller group of people every year who are trying to maintain that building, and make sure that a pastor can live indoors and eat human-grade food, and provide those services.
So if you aren’t there, then who, exactly, do you think is?
As I put it to my congregation’s leadership last month: there isn’t another secret congregation out there who will show up when you don’t; if you don’t show up, nobody shows up.
This is kind of an expansion of what I wrote last week.
In that issue, I talked about how it cannot be the pastor’s job to build and maintain relationships—to pour energy into relationships—on their own. And I wrote, more or less, that the church is not a subscription service; it is a community. And while we can’t all go full steam for our community at all times, we are all responsible for the spiritual health of the community and the people in it. So we are all responsible for praying for each other, for calling each other, for visiting each other. We are all responsible for showing up.
But the same idea is true of the church and the wider community. If you think that you will want to have your wedding in a church, show up for a church. If you like that the a church in your neighborhood runs a food pantry, show up for that church (or, at least, show up for that food pantry). If you like being able to go to a candlelight service on Christmas Eve, show up for that church on the fourteenth Sunday of ordinary time.
Because if you’re not showing up for that church when you don’t need it—if you’re not showing up for other people when they need it—then there’s no guarantee that there will be a church to show up for you when you need it.
In fact, it’s almost certain that there won’t be. That church will have closed. That pastor will have left. That community will have dispersed.