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Being The Church Beyond The Walls

The Church Without a Building

                                                                               Worship Without Walls

                                    

I’ve noticed over the last several years that it is not often that I can attend church and there will be a lot of people in attendance ( i.e. over one hundred ). There have been a few times over the past few years that I preach to a congregation of 50. I really get excited if there is a congregation above 100, but that doesn’t happen very often. Church has changed, motivations for attending church also have changed and therefore, worship is also manifesting itself in new dimensions (i.e. services during the week, Sundowner services ,Sunday evenings ,etc.)

Church structures ,including theological seminaries ,have also changed. Recently, there was an announcement that Bexley Seabury, an Episcopal Seminary, will not be operating out of the building of Chicago Theological Seminary effective July 2016.

“We welcome Bexley Seabury faculty, students and administration to CTS,” said the Rev. Alice Hunt, president of Chicago Theological Seminary. “This is an important association between two separate institutions operating within one space. As the landscape for theological education changes, I believe we will see more of these inter-institutional associations, as they are beneficial for students, faculty, theological education, the academy, and the larger religious landscape Chicago Theological Seminary welcomes Episcopal Church Seminary to campus February 26, 2016 from www.ucc.org

We can foresee more and more seminaries and theological schools merging, more property will be sold; potentially more theological seminarians will feel adrift regarding the identity of their theological educational institutions.

This is a challenging time to be engaged in ministry. More and more people are living digitally, managed by their IPhone or other electronic devices. There is less patience regarding driving a long distance to go to a one-hour service in a brick and mortar building at 11:00 AM on Sunday morning.

The Rev. Stephen Bauman, Senior Minister at Christ United Methodist Church New York. N.Y and member of the Yale Divinity School Dean’s Advisory Council has observed:

“ People continue to confront the challenges of meaning and purpose in their lives. For this reason I am bullish on Christianity over the long haul. I am less bullish in the shorter run. The “organized church” is in for a wild ride because much of its business falls within the realms of the structural, tactical, and material – precisely the arenas experiencing the greatest changes. In this sense, what is at risk is not faith as such, but the institutional structures that arose over the centuries for the purpose of teaching and advancing faith. Jesus’ enduring power and presence will not end if a denomination or two or three go under water. If we look to his own time, the very center of Jewish faith and Jesus’ own faith – the temple of Jerusalem – was overwhelmed and torn down shortly after he died, with the remnants on view today 2,000 years later. But his legacy took root nevertheless in peoples’ lives, continuing to the present moment. – See more at: http://reflections.yale.edu/article/new-voyages-church-today-and-tomorrow/readying-radical-change#sthash.Pq2hVRyo.dpuf

Bauman further notes: “As for Christ Church, we are fashioning a new ministry under the rubric of “breaking the back of poverty in a zip code,” partnering with the community of Washington Heights, just north of Harlem. Our immediate goal there is to resolve the future of a large, deteriorating property that will allow a new work to proceed, beginning with an initiative to address the material and spiritual needs of mothers with children up to three years of age.” – See more at: http://reflections.yale.edu/article/new-voyages-church-today-and-tomorrow/readying-radical-change#sthash.Pq2hVRyo.dpuf

Increasingly, more and more churches are redefining themselves to mission and outreach programs outside the walls of their church. This is not new when you consider the church’s call to be about the work of mission in the world. But what is new is that this type of ministry outreach may prove to be more effective than worshiping in a building at a set time of the week.

The next several decades will continue to be a challenging transitional time for churches. Some denominations that now exist may terminate or perhaps merge with other religious organizations. There will be this continued emphasis of “ centralization “ of church judicatories and their authority, more reliance upon technology “ i.e. more meetings by Skype, less interaction in person.”

A word of caution, however, as I remind my students “ You can’t run an organization effectively by Skype,” and I would add you miss the emotion, the affect, the subtlety of mood of another person if you are not in the same room with them. Jesus maintained a commitment to being with people. The Gospel Writer reminds us

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” (Luke 19:5 )

Yes, the Church will continue to emerge “ being out beyond the walls” but we need to remember that the “I-Thou “ ( Martin Buber ) relationship is essential if incarnation, let alone resurrection ,can occur in our lives and in the life of the world.

May it be so.  

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