- A safe place to recover from life’s wounds and challenges,
- A cocoon to wrap oneself in to create a buffer from the incivility of the world,
- A social network to provide needed community,
- A place of and for prayer and worship,
- A classroom for developing spiritual gifts and knowledge,
- A “pass through” to respond to charitable requests,
- A society where like gathers with like in order to separate from unlike,
- A conduit for artistic endeavors,
- A place to celebrate or grieve life’s rites of passage,
- An institutional network of individual parts creating a larger base for responding to the world’s needs,
- A building emotionally linked to its own and individual family history, and jealously guarded from all change,
- An arbiter of morals and right behavior,
- A mentor for one to live out one’s sense of call to ministry,
- An environment to experience and explore the mystery and otherness of God,
- A circle of risk-takers who dare to confront injustice, poverty, oppression, violence and all that drags humanity into indignity regardless of the cost to its reputation or resources.
I’m sure there are many more reasons that others can name for the existence of the Church. I believe that for most of us, the Church we experience is one that has morphed into whatever our own needs have asked of it, and yet at other times it refuses to become what we ask of it, and that can be a good thing, as well as a bad one. It seems to me that some form of “Church” may be necessary, but to ask so much of it in terms of meeting our own needs is impossible and deadly. The Church is not God, and anything that is not God is less than God and not worthy of our worship. The Gospel of John quotes Jesus as saying that we should be in the world but not of it. Is it possible that we should be in the Church but not of it?
In the Church but not of it?
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (1942–1944) is quoted as saying, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” I wonder just what he meant by that, if he did indeed say it. The Church seems to have developed over the centuries multiple reasons for existing as seen by those who have been or have not been, are or aren’t its members. Some that I have experienced, not necessarily in any chronological or ascending/descending order, are: