Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Broken windows…

The first church I joined in adulthood was Iglesia del Pueblo Christian Church in Hammond, Indiana. Why? Well, during my initial visit, a guy named Joe welcomed me with gusto! His wasn’t the quick handshake, “Nice to see you,” then forget you kind of greeting. He took much of the morning learning who I was, sharing who he was, laughing and talking with me. Not everyone’s like Joe, of course. He’s extroverted to the nth degree! But because he cared so much, not just about being nice, but really welcoming me, I felt immediately at peace in a new place. It began to fell home.

Anyway, as I became a fuller part of IDP’s life, I learned of a brewing controversy about broken windows. IDP wasn’t rich; some immigrants and many blue collar workers. But they cared deeply about their church home and using it to shine God’s light of love. Alas, over time, a window or two had cracked. So the debate was, “Should we fix it, or do we have better uses for our resources?” On the one hand, people wondered whether potential visitors would shy away from a church with apparently shoddy facilities. Appearances aren’t everything, they’d say, but they matter for building confidence. On other hand, some thought that feeding the poor was a higher priority. IDP ran weekly soup lunches for local homeless folk, often reached out to those in need in their struggling local environment. The windows still work, they said, not perfectly, but well enough. So let’s direct what we have to those in fragile situations.

I’ve been pondering this memory a lot recently, since we’ve been running a Capital Campaign at Plymouth Creek. We too have some broken windows, crumbling parking lots, etc. But our community also has poor folk in need, families struggling to make ends meet and feel at peace. I’ll be honest. At IDP, I was on the “don’t fix the windows” side. I was still new, of course, hadn’t invested much already in the infrastructure. But I felt strongly- and still do- that the point of church isn’t buildings. The reason we worship, gather in fellowship, give together and such is so, in Jesus’ words, “The Kingdom of God will come on earth as it is heaven.” Love matters more than broken windows. Meeting the needs of those in need trumps parking lots or pretty carpets every time.

Which isn’t to say I don’t believe in our Capital Campaign! Indeed, my wife and I pledged good money to help this effort be successful. But on some level, I feel a tension about this giving, a sense of the risk we’re taking. We could do as some churches do, letting a facilities’ update be a culmination. We could act like a spiffy new shine accomplishes our ultimate purpose for being a community of faith.

Or we could be earnest, bold, engaged disciples of Jesus Christ, and commit ourselves to using this rejuvenated physical plant as a springboard for greater mission. I, for one, am not attracted by churches who pat themselves on the back for looking nice. I’m inspired, rather, by gutsy communities who roll up their sleeves and work. Who resurface parking lots so they can fill parking lots with worshippers and folk seeking help. Who invest in hospitable entry ways so kids and grandmothers have inviting places to form meaningful relationships. Who redo leaking windows because they believe in good stewardship of God’s Creation, then redouble that Creation Care through community gardening, recycling, composting and more.

Because I believe in Plymouth Creek- not the building or facilities, but the people and the facilities- and because I believe we’ll keep our priorities in line, I give and remain excited. Is it risky to do what we’re doing? Could we finish the facility improvements then not redouble our efforts at actually “doing church”? Sure, it’s possible. But more likely is you’ll shine brighter with God’s light of love. Because that’s who we’ve been, and it’s who we are. Let’s make sure it continues to lead us forward.

Grace and Peace,
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