For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
On Friday we received official word that we can return from ‘exile’ and come back to church beginning Sunday, June 14. For many of us, who have missed our Sunday gatherings in the church building, it will feel like we are coming home.
The celebration of ‘Homecoming’ has a special place in the church. As a celebration it is normally a special day of reunions, of seeing the faces of old friends and relatives, and of bringing to mind memories of people and events from years gone by. ‘Coming home’ is a sacred activity in the church.
As we ‘come home’ on June 14, we will do so bringing the lessons we have learned while we were away. One of the lessons learned during our three month exile is that the church, as we like to say, requires open hearts, open minds, and open doors. We know that ‘open doors,’ meaning that we truly welcome everyone, can only happen when we first have open hearts and open minds.
We learned that we can survive and ‘have church’ without being in the building. We learned that while the building is a part of the church, it is not the only part.
It was brought home to us that as much as we love our building, we define our church in other ways. We define church by people, love, fellowship, work, and the active presence of the Holy Spirit. We define church by our commitment to our mission, which includes helping others to become a part of the Body of Christ as we experience it in our church.
During our time away, important business was postponed, including the General Conference that will consider changing the structure of our denomination and, perhaps more importantly, our position as a church with regards to LGBTQ persons. The South Carolina Annual Conference, with its important task of worship, setting programs and budgets, and ratifying the assignment of pastors to local churches, was also postponed.
A great deal of significant business remains before us. The task of determining who we are as a church and how we will live out our calling in the world will be a continuous process. Perhaps most important of all, however, is that our mission remains unchanged. That mission we know by heart: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We are coming back to church in a world that needs the transforming love of Jesus more than ever. Uncertainty, hate, violence and racism, where they exist, have been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic. The least and the lost, who God calls us to reach with the basic necessities of life and the redeeming love of Christ, have suffered and will continue to suffer during this time.
As a result, our mission has a new and heightened focus. And, we will be called to take on the challenge of literally ‘doing more with less,’ as the needs of a hurting world will be greater, and our resources, particularly financial, will likely be reduced.
Transformation is not easy, and to be sure, transformation of the world is no small task. But we firmly believe that God is in the transforming business, and with God all things are possible.
We have learned that we can meet the challenge where we keep focused, keep together, and keep praying. We have learned that we can adapt to challenges and continue to grow and serve. We have learned the truth of the idea that we “don’t change the world by coming to church; we change the world by being the church.”
A hymn that speaks about the nature of who we are is ‘We Are The Church.’ The words tell us:
The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people.
I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together!
We’re many kinds of people, with many kinds of faces, all colors and all ages, too, from all times and places.
As we re-open our doors, may we recommit ourselves to our mission. May God continue to guide us, and may we build a church that is more than just a building. Thanks be to God. Amen