Let’s take a second look at Church attendance. In the previous post, I suggested that a building having unlimited money associated with it, but no people to worship in it, was not a viable church – that the Church is not about making money (most of your local congregations are either registered charities, registered not-for-profits, or both!), but about sharing the Gospel (good news) about Jesus with people. If there are no people associated with a congregation to actually carry out the work of sharing this message, then there is no reason to pay the bills and the priest of an empty building.
Or is there? I mean, what does it say to you when you see a church building in a community? In Saskatchewan there are so many small communities dotting the countryside, so many places that have gotten smaller over the years. Many of these have small church buildings in them, often closed – but sometimes, these will still be in use. What does that say to you, when you see that? Does it say nothing more than that there must still be enough people meeting there to pay the bills?
Being parish priest in a place where there is such a congregation, this gets a little bit personal for me. We have a small church in Pennant. The building we use used to be the United Church in that village, but when the United Church pulled out we purchased their building and sold the one that had been ours. There were multiple reasons for this, involving utilities (the old building didn’t have plumbing, thus no washrooms or kitchen), size, and location. What does the presence of a still operating, old church building (103, this year), in Pennant mean to the people there?
Retired Archbishop David Ashdown spoke recently at a supper held in St. Stephen’s church hall about the incarnational aspect of church buildings. A church building in a community says that we (Christians) are committed to being a part of the life of this place. It may be that Christians can meet with one another without an identifiable worship space (in a home, for instance), but the presence of a church building speaks silent words of comfort to people – the Church is still here; Jesus still cares for this place. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times people show up at the church building looking for help. They know that that is, in part, what the Church is here for.
So here’s what I’m getting at. If you love Jesus, and if you know Jesus loves you, why would you hesitate to be a part of that incarnational witness in your community? Sunday worship attendance ensures that the Church maintains the incarnational ministry of institutional presence in a community through the church building. Personal witness to your faith in Jesus is certainly important, but the corporate witness of the Church, through the gathering of local congregations in church buildings, is of great value also – and desperately needed in so many places where it has tapered off.