What is the Church? How are we the Church? When isn’t the church the Church anymore? In other words, is there a time in which the way we are church no longer really is the Church?
Minor questions – I know – but questions I’ve asked for years: while working on a church staff and not working on a church staff. If church isn’t a building but rather a people then how would someone outside the Church know us as the Church if we weren’t gathering in a building? Do you see what I’m getting at?
This past weekend I went to visit my daughter Madison at her college in Bennington Vermont. Bennington is an old town founded during the Revolutionary War. There are old homes, a cemetery, (where Robert Frost is buried) and an old church to mark the era. We visited the first church of Vermont. Below are some pictures. The structure of the building speaks to what the community thought it meant to be the Church.
For example the tall pillars lining the main hall are cut from one big pine tree. Prior to the Revolutionary War one piece of pine wood was for exclusive use of the King of England. Those pillars represent rebellion to the King. Also the community rejected the leaders of the church attempt to tax them in order to fund the building. The church became the first separation of church and state in America. Consider these moves. What did they communicate about what it means to be the body of Christ? The Church?
The boxes seen in the picture above are where families sat. The parents faced the pulpit while the kids sat facing the parents. Perfect. They could see the minister while keeping an eye on the kids. The seats in the balcony were for single women (seated on the right), single men (seated on the left) and visitors. What did this demonstrate about their ideas of what it meant to be the body of Christ. Brothers and sisters, sexuality, humanity. Purity.
Behind the organ is a chain. That’s where they brought the jailed prisoners to be chained during Sunday service. Going to jail meant going to church. Can you imagine making that mandatory today? And how would us normal church goers feel about seeing prisons chained during our service? What did all this say?
Sunday church was an all day affair. The community (people who regularly ran into each other during the work week) gathered on Sunday to listen to a morning message of 90 minutes! then they broke for lunch. Most brought food for a picnic while the wealthier families ate at the tavern across the way. Then back to church for the afternoon. Simplicity was a high value (in contrast to consumerism and materialism). That’s why the building structure wasn’t fancy. There were no lights – no heat. It wasn’t till much later, due to the women’s outcry, that the church installed heat and brought candles from the Courthouse for light.
What did that say about what it meant to be the body of Christ? (For more info visit http://www.oldfirstchurchbenn.org/
Think about your church and it’s structure(s) and its programs, how and when you met. What does it communicate about what it means to be the Church? Even more important, what if any, looks and smells like church but actually isn’t? I’m still pondering.