Thursday, September 22, 2011

Newspaper piece -- What is the Church?

The dedication service of McQueen Presbyterian Church was held on October 8, 1911, with capacity attendance. Its name honored the Rev D.G. McQueen, who had played an important part in the creation of this mission. It was a proud moment for the Rev. And Mrs. Forbes – their first church in their new mission field... (And We Come After page 19)
McQueen Presbyterian would, in due time, become St. Paul's United Church. And our current building is on the same parcel of land as that original log church. 100 years of continual ministry on the same corner where Alexander Forbes originally drove a stake labelled “Presbyterian Church” in 1909!

On that corner have now stood a variety of buildings. First was the log building which now stands in the Museum. Then, 14 years after that first dedication, the congregation built a new building to house a growing community. In the early 1950's a Christian Education building was built. Then the current sanctuary was built in 1956. Finally the Christian Education building was demolished and the “new” wing was built in 1986-87. But none of these buildings have been the church.

That is right none of these buildings, nor any of the other buildings around Grande Prairie that bear the name “Church” are the church. They are merely structures where the church meets. So what is the church?

When I was first in Junior Choir we learned a song whose first verse went:
The church is not a building the church is not a steeple
the church is not a resting place the church is a people
That is where the church is. The church is in the people who gather in buildings large and small, sharing stories of faith, singing songs, and then going back out into the world. The church is not in what happens on Sunday morning it is in what happens 7 days a week. As St. Paul's celebrates its centennial this Thanksgiving weekend we remember how it has lived out being the church. We remember that as long as Alcoholics Anonymous has been in this area, there has been a connection with St. Paul's. We remember that folks from this congregation helped get the Community Dorm started, and the Native Friendship Center. We remember that folks from this congregation have served the community in many ways, sometimes under the name of the congregation but more often simply because they were moved to serve. And many other congregations in this community could tell similar stories. This is the church.

The church is present in the world to help God transform the world. We aren't called to be an insular members-only place. We are called to welcome all, to recognize the gifts that all have to offer. The church is called to have an impact on the world, on individuals and on communities.

After he had won the civil war and wrested the kingship of Israel from Saul, David promised God that he would build a grand temple in which God could live. God told him NO. God asked why God would need such a dwelling now when God had never needed it before. God continues to remind us that our buildings are not the church. They are tools that help us BE the church.

At this point in time, as the people with whom I try to be the church celebrate the centennial of our buildings, I have one question for all of us. How is God calling us to be in the world today? Who is God calling us to be today and in the years to come? Here is a hint, taken from the Gospel of Matthew:
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ ...Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
At the time of this anniversary we have stories of thanksgiving to tell about how those who came before us have been the church in this place. What stories will those who come after us tell about the impact we made on the world?

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