I follow her through empty, unwarm rooms, each doorway hung with heavy plastic to keep out January cold. Her rent-controlled apartment in the heart of the city had once been a bustling office building, but now barely vibrates with the slippered feet of senior citizens who call its empty vastness home.
Five rooms in, we come upon the two in which she dwells—each densely packed with food and magazines, medicines, and cherished symbols of long-ago vacations. An ancient radiator wheezes and groans on every quarter hour, spewing heat but little warmth into the 400 square feet where she lives out her years.
She is a regular at church, even though it takes 45 minutes and two bus changes every Sabbath morning to bring her to our suburban house of faith. Fifth row from the back, four empty places toward the center, always by herself. That she comes at all amazes and puzzles me. Is it for simple human company she comes? a word of faith? an extra roll from the over-ample potluck she can make into two meals?
Our pledges to follow Jesus are also pledges to the others on the journey.
Our church is a mere 1.4 percent of her week—a pop-up “community of faith” that gathers—sort of—at 9:30, and disappears by noon. Is this the vibrant fellowship she signed up for at baptism 40 years ago, or just a godly habit she is disinclined to break?
I follow her through well-lit, overheated rooms, careful to avoid the Legos and Transformers spread across each yard of tawny carpet. Her sprawling, young McMansion at the end of the winding, uphill drive is overfull of sports equipment, sets of china, and rooms not yet filled with all the things her lifestyle can afford.
In the family theater room her husband greets me from the genuine leather couch with a wave of the remote and a furtive glance at the NASCAR race my visit has interrupted.
“Come in; sit down,” he says without conviction, as his eyes drift out to where the lawn service is now grooming his tidy acreage. I can see from across the room that he has found a refuge in the thought that I will be on my way in 20 minutes or less—a less-than-fully-welcome intrusion of his faith community into the other world in which his family lives.
Our church is a mere 1.4 percent of their week—a pop-up “community of faith” that gathers—sort of—at 9:30, and disappears by noon. Is this the vibrant fellowship they signed up for at baptism four years ago, or just a godly habit they are disinclined to break?
When did we settle for simply holding “services,” for opening our doors at 9:00 and shuttering them—with deacon growls—no later than 12:30? How has our vision of the faith for which the martyrs died become reduced to that in which so few find joy, and light, and life?
Is it enough to trace the outlines of the weekly Sabbath School lesson, greet the person nearest us in the pew, and sit through 37 minutes of a sermon? When more than 80 percent of “attending” members have no further connection with their church than 150 minutes on one day a week, dare we call this “community”?
Our pledges to follow Jesus are also pledges to the others on the journey, particularly those not central to the running of our congregations. It’s not the pastors, elders, and Sabbath School teachers who form the holy remnant, but all the body—struggling, lonely, overwhelmed, stuck in conflict cycles they feel powerless to break. They need a congregation—a faith community—that communicates on Day 3 and not just Day 7; a prayer chain that breaks shackles more than once a week; a conference call where six believers meet in virtual space to intercede for others and each other.
That prompting in your soul is what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Pick up the phone; dash off the text; compose the e-mail; make the visit.
Become the church that Jesus intended us to be.