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1 Kings 6: 1-9a; 1 Peter 2: 4-10
Vision & Mission Conversations: “Rethinking the Necessity of the Church” ( 4 of 5)

 Vision & Mission Conversations: “Rethinking the Necessity of the Church”

1 Kings 6: 1-9a; 1 Peter 2: 4-10  ~ October 24, 2021 ~ Northwood United ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook  


This is the church, and this is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. You might recall reciting this poem as a child. Perhaps you even taught it to children in Sunday School or to your own children at home. This is the church, and this is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. As you recite this poem this morning, I’m wondering what your favourite part of the poem is? For me…it is the people. I don’t have to stop and consider the question. The church….the steeple…the doors…NO! My favourite part is the people. It’s not that I don’t love the beautiful structure of the church. Like many of you, I have been so blessed to have visited many church structures over the years: the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Spain, and the Castle Church in Wittenberg where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses – thus beginning our birth through the Protestant Reformation. And when I consider all these magnificent structures, they pale by comparison to the people. For I believed that the people are truly the heart of the church; the people make the church…a church; the people are what give it life; give it depth; allow it to move beyond bricks and beams and come…alive!  

So, as we gather on this Sunday focusing on the infrastructure of the church, I guess I must confess some immediate bias that this is not my passionate love when it comes to the church. Looking back, perhaps you also gravitated towards the previous mission goals? Goal 1…focusing on the ministry of all the people. Yes! Goal 2…love reaching out into the world. Yes! But Goal number 3, the infrastructure of the church…well that tempts this pastor to take a Sunday off and, perhaps I confess, to call in sick. (Please don’t tell my personnel committee)  

As we consider the first reading, I confess that it did not move me with the same depth as the second. I selected a few verses of the story of King Solomon’s instruction for the building of the magnificent temple. If we wanted to go through the entire section, it would take us more than the 9 ½ verses Lynn read. It would go from the sixth chapter, proceed into the seventh and the eighth. And Lynn would still be reading these 3 full chapters, and likely requiring some water to keep her vocal chords going. And to be fair, it is truly impressive what is being described. The Jerusalem Temple formed the centre of their religion. It was a most impressive building set on Mount Zion and understood as the site of God’s very presence. King David had passed the throne to Solomon and he promptly begins construction. Not many of us go to the hardware store with a shopping list for lumber measured in cubits…so a bit of translation on the enormity of this structure. A temple measuring 60 by 20 by 30 cubits equates to 89 feet in length and a width and height 30 and 45 feet, respectively. And if we were begin to consider the historical time back to 970 BC as King Solomon commences his 40 year rule, this most a truly impressive build! Yet, even as I take in the enormous majesty of the temple, I confess that I am still stuck with that poem lifting up the people… This is the church, and this is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.  

And before Covid, to be honest, I might have only included the second reading from the pastoral epistle of First Peter and skipped the 1st Kings reading altogether. But something happened during the pandemic that changed me…and I wonder if it might have changed you as well? I came to realize what the physical infrastructure of the church MEANS to people. My first story occurred about six months into the pandemic and the church, as you will recall, was closed. I was returning from a brief walk around the block, and one of our church members was standing outside looking at their church with a very sad look on their face. I greeted them and saw their face. They were deeply missing the church…and there was something about coming to their church that prompted them to get on the bus and make the trek to their spiritual home. As we talked, they described how much ‘seeing’ the church touched their soul. There was something about seeing our humble church; seeing the property; seeing the cross at the top; the welcoming doors at the front…that touched her soul. I had several other experiences like that one where people would sit in the parking lot and just look at their church…longing for a time when they could gather inside. During Covid, we discovered that the physical church MEANS more than we ever realized.  

Another story: the news of the fire at St. George’s Coptic Church touched us all very deeply last summer. Our former site of North Surrey United Church, prior to our sale to St. George’s and our amalgamation here, continued to hold a special place in our hearts. And many found it heartwarming to remember their time at that church when they happened to be driving by. To hear the story of this church fire, that took down their entire building, further reminded us of what our church infrastructure truly MEANS. There IS something about the physical structure that IS sacred, that IS enduring. Somehow, it is an embodied presence of God in our midst. I see it when people knock on our door through the week asking to pray in the sanctuary; I see it when people need to gather in the church and be touched by the space as they take their wedding vows; as they commend a life well lived; as they walk through this journey called life. There IS something about this space that is sacred!  

And I think that is what our third Mission Goal speaks to. That “in support of our vision of Embracing the Community with the love of Christ, we want, as followers of Jesus, to have an infrastructure (staff, building, finances, property) that is visible, stable, sustainable, and beautiful in support of our ministry and mission. We have come to truly realize the meaning of our building.” We need a place to gather; we need a place to gather and open hearts to God; we need a place to be like a battery that recharges our spirits in order for us to go out and live our faith; we need this church as a place to gather and grow; to gather and laugh and cry; to gather and sing and pray; we NEED the church.  

As you can see in the 5-year goal, you have defined infrastructure beyond just the physical plant of building and property. You also have included the supporting components of finance and staff which together allow the church to be present, alive and thriving in the community. The very real challenge in these areas is that we have been losing ground, rather than gaining, in all of these areas. Our building is, just like each of us as they say, is not getting any younger and it is in need of repairs and refreshing. The most pressing item being the heating unit which services the sanctuary at a cost in the range of $150,000. We have gone from a ministry staff team of two down to one, as dictated by finances. And it has become increasingly difficult to offer a range of ministry to all the ages and stages of people we would like to reach. The opportunity that our Board has been investigating was something that the Catalyst Consultant team advised going back almost a decade ago. We now have the very-real possibility of redevelopment with the skytrain line coming along Fraser Highway and our re-zoning to medium-density is now before us. These infrastructure considerations will be a very real conversation as we look ahead into the next chapter of our ministry. And I suspect that they will bring both hope and optimism along with some deep sadness and grief, as we consider any changes. Think of the hope that you had as a church when you had a spanking new building with a multiple staff team (full and part-time) offering a diverse array of ministry. Yet, the sadness and grief of change will be important to attend to in these conversations.  

And that is why I wanted us to hold this conversation alongside the Pastoral Epistle of 1st Peter. These two letters were written by an elder of the church, in all places, of Rome. Rome was the centre with Roman Centurions marching in the streets, and the most dangerous place to be the church…an illegal institution running in opposition to the Emperor. This passage highlights that the building of the church is done with bricks and beams, but it is founded on the “living stones” that we each are. The letter recalls the prophetic words of Hosea: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame”. The cornerstones, back in Jesus’ time, were those stones which they shaped at a perfect 90 degree angle, thus allowing the walls to be joined together. The followers of Jesus, saw him as that perfect cornerstone, joining Jew and Gentile…male and female…slave and free…uniting all with the understanding that we all share in the light of being Children of God. This unity extended as Jesus’ would be the cornerstone uniting all the rejected, the cast aside and labelled as ‘less-than’: women, tax collectors, lepers, and the list goes on. Jesus was that cornerstone creating a community where the walls of the included and the cast-off intersected and became one! The letter warns of something which many of the pioneers who built Northwood will recall well…It would not be an easy construction! The writer calls them to be “built into a spiritual house” and it would require sacrifice, suffering, and service. As the letter puts it: “be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.    

I’m wondering what your thoughts on this Mission goal are? I truly hope that you will record them on the insert that you received in the bulletin and by email. I don’t know which of the goals will be the most challenging; however, I do know that this third goal will not be the least of them!  

But, as we do consider this call in our be and build the church; may we approach it with the wisdom and reverence of King Solomon. May we approach it with the call to follow the cornerstone as we, ourselves, are built into “living stones” that allow this to be a space for grace through the continued service and sacrifices we make to be and build the church.