In our diocese there are a couple churches that are closing, and there may be more. These are primarily mission churches in the diocese. But, they are our brothers and sisters, and it still hurts us. It hurts us because we can’t imagine how people will do church without a building to meet in…the building that houses our altar, our sacraments, our icons and other furniture and articles that we consider sacred.
In the midst of our daily routines, our schedules, when we get up in the morning, go to work or school or whatever is on the schedule for the day, and then we do the next thing and the next and the next. Sometimes, at special moments, we sense the presence of God with us, the presence of the Holy Spirit, walking beside us, communicating with us, and deep communion with God. And we have to stop sometimes and say, this is none other than the presence of God.
This is the voice of God and this is a sacred time when God breaks into your life and gives you direction. And, sometimes that direction will come at joyful times, but sometimes in times of sorrow, when you are grieving, at times that you do not know which way is up and which way is down, because your world is topsy-turvy. Those are times that are meaningful. God will walk with you, encourage and remind you that this world is not your home. You are just passing through. You are on your way to Jerusalem, but firs you must pass through Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.
On your journey Jesus will come near, and walk with you, and ask you: “What are you thinking? What’s going on in your life? How are you doing?” Then you may say, “Don’t you understand what’s going on in our diocese. Don’t you know what’s happening in our churches? Where have you been lately? How can you not know what’s happening?” Some of my brothers and sisters in San Diego County are hurting. There’s a couple churches that are closing, or merging with other churches, and there are a few other churches on the horizon that may have to do the same thing. Don’t you know what’s happening? Where have you been?
Then Jesus will remind you. This world is not your home. You’re just passing through. Church is more than a building. Church is not just bricks and mortar. The church is made of people. The church is a living organism. This building is a beautiful sanctuary to come and worship in, and by the way, we have nothing to indicate that we will make any changes concerning our worship space in the future. The bishop’s letter this morning is to remind us that there are churches in our diocese that cannot make it any longer on their own, and others now have to step in and help them figure out what to do next. And, that is a good thing. It is our responsibility to step in and to help congregations in our diocese that are struggling so that they do not have to face hard decisions by themselves. We are called to care for one another.
The bishop is encouraging local churches to be creative and find ways of doing church outside of the four walls. We can worship anywhere. This afternoon a group of us from this church and several other churches will be gathering together to worship with the Welcome Church of Wells Park. We will put a little card table out, and cover it with fair linen, set a cross on it and arrange the sacraments. And, I will sprinkle the ground with holy water, and that ground will become “holy ground” and then I will sprinkle the congregation and remind them with these words: “This is holy ground, and you are God’s holy people.” There is an altar of God in the park under the trees, and that becomes a church, a place where God dwells. Bishop Mathes will join us in November to celebrate and preach at the Welcome Church in Wells Park. He is excited about new ways to worship and bring church outside of our four walls.
This is just one example of how to do church without walls. The early churches met in homes. We just read a couple days ago in our Daily Office readings in I Corinthians 16 of the church hat met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila…house churches. You can worship God anywhere, because you are the church. Two years ago we went out to St. Gregory’s of Nyssa Greek Orthodox Church for a Saturday morning service. At the time they were worshipping in a storefront in a strip mall. Their church had been burnt down by an arsonist. While they were waiting for insurance money and enough money to rebuild they moved their altar, all their icons, banners, pictures, and everything that Greek Orthodox Churches use in worship, which is a lot more than Episcopal Churches, into this storefront in a strip mall.
Last year I went to the consecration of their new church building on Jamacha Road in El Cajon, near Rancho San Diego. It was a wonderful ceremony. But, Father Simeon will testify that the storefront they worshipped in was just as holy to them as their new church. The church is the people. That’s who makes up the church, and that’s what’s going on in our diocese and that’s what we talked about at our clergy retreat a couple weeks ago.
The Episcopal Church of San Diego County is made up of 45 parishes and missions, but we are not ‘stand-alone churches’. We are interdependent. Personalities are different from church to church and not one of them is identical. They all have gifts and things to contribute to the entire community. And, so does St. Alban’s. We have a lot to offer. And, all these churches have something special to offer to us as all. We are not silos. We are not stand -alone churches. We all are unique and have something special to offer to the bigger church. It’s not just ‘me and Jesus we go our own thing going’.
I think that’s the message from the bishop this morning. We are called to care for one another, and today we want to especially remember the smaller mission churches that are struggling to keep their doors open. We are called as a church to minister to them so that they do not feel so all alone.
October 24, 2015
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen