by Jordis Blackburn
Where do you go to church? As a native of the south, this question is all too familiar. Almost as common as “Where are you from?” or “What school do you go to?” asking where a person attends church tends to be part of our greeting. For so many regions, church identity has been interwoven with individual identity, and a lack of church attendance is reason to judge our fellow person. Church. This is a word many, including myself, have misdefined. Defining church as “a building for public and especially Christian worship,” Merriam-Webster has made a mistake in this case. Church is not just a fancy stone building in the middle of town nor is it defined as any one particular enclosed space. So then… what is “church”? Here are some mentions of the church through the bible:
“Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God”
“So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone; 21 in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
“For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another”
See what I mean? Although the word for church varies from “household of God” or “dwelling place for God” to “body in Christ”, I see each of those phrases as synonyms of church. Contrary to the typical definition, I have grown to see how church is more dependent on community and relationship than it is
on location and walls. This summer, I have asked myself where I find church, and AYM has shown me many ways to worship and many dwelling places of God. If you asked me this past Tuesday, “where
did you go to church today?”, I would have said Root Cause Farm in Fairview, North Carolina. The congregation was mostly high school youth, the sermon was about hunger and nutrition, the hymn was the sound of a spade plunged into the soil, the offering was time spent clearing garden beds for fresh produce to prosper, and the benediction was an invocation to love our neighbors in need of nutritious food. It was beautiful.
I do not intend for this message to dismiss some of the wonderful things that can be accomplished by churches as we see them around town. I have grown up going to church most Sunday mornings, and I am so appreciative for the lessons and values I have learned sitting in those pews. Even this summer I have joined a few services around Asheville to hear from new voices and see other traditions. Part of church is
sharing the word of God, and Sunday service seems to be the most popular, and perhaps easiest, route. My question of “church” rather asks where we find church the other 6 days in a week. Are we able to open up the doors and break bread with the neighbors we have not met yet? Are we allocating resources to best represent the hands and feet of God in our community? And most of all, are we willing to rethink
church to better match the example set by Christ?
I have been to church in many places this summer: community gardens, food pantries, mountain hikes, food warehouses, the dinner table, a day center for the houseless population, a coffee shop (where I currently reside writing this entry)... My point is, church has been redefined for me this summer. As I meet more neighbors each day, the congregation I participate in grows in number and grows in love. A congregation that only gathers in a building cuts off the hands and feet of God with its walls. We are called to go out into the world to be the body of Christ because she dwells in community and relationship. It is through people that I find church, and it is because of relationships that I see God. So… where do you go to church?