Still a Messy Church
Our church is going through a lot of transition this summer. The retirement of Judy Gardner, our Director of Children’s Spiritual Formation, and the Rev. Alex Martin’s call to be the new Priest-in-Charge at St. Barnabas, Bay Village, Ohio are major changes in our life. We are also continuing to do a thorough evaluation of our approach to how we raise our children in the faith, as well looking at how we invite, welcome, and connect people to God’s mission. And on top of all this, all of our ministries are going through the usual review of the last year in preparation for preparing for the new program year. In light of the disruptive nature of these changes in community life, I was reminded of a blog I posted back in 2015 during our building campaign. A slightly edit version of It seems particularly relevant now.
During that building campaign, a member of St. Timothy’s offered to donate two banners to be put on the trailers in our parking lot. She didn’t have any suggestions for what they should say, but said she would leave that up to the staff. These trailers contained all the contents of the lower level of our building, which was being renovated. The banners said “Pardon our mess! Renewal of building and members now in progress.”
I liked the banners a lot, but to be perfectly honest I actually preferred some other options for the wording. The one I liked most was “If you think our building is a mess, wait until you meet our members and staff, especially the Rector.” Of course, the problem with this banner is that it could easily be misunderstood. For example, the last thing I would want is for our members and staff to read this as an indictment of who they are; that somehow they are defective rather than priceless creatures made in the image of God.
So why did I like this alternative version? Because the reality is that every church community is messy. Every Church community is made up of flawed human beings who frequently let each other down, misunderstand each other, and often don’t have any clue what they should be doing. In Life Together, Bonhoeffer reminds us that many Christians have a “wish dream” of what the Church should be. This wish dream church is some ideal that quite frankly doesn’t need the grace of God to hold it together because all the members are model citizens, who always have everything figured out. But we know better, don’t we? We know that we don’t have it all figured out and that we often hurt each other along the way, and the only thing that keeps us together is the grace of God. Church life is messy and the only thing that keeps a messy church together is God’s ever renewing forgiveness and mercy.
Too often churches present themselves as anything but messy. Slick websites, polished publications and dynamic programs suggest that a church has it all together and if you want to have it all together just come and be with us. What our troubled world needs is not another slick church, but a church that acknowledges that most of the time we just don’t have a clue and therefore our only hope is God. This would be a church where anybody, no matter how messy their life, could find a home. Perhaps the messiness of our building in 2015, and the messiness of this period of transition in 2018, can be a vivid reminder that we are a messy church made up of very human members, whose life together is sustained, not by our expertise, but by the power of God.