Here is the Church
“I used to define church as a series of events — the sermon, the worship music, the collection, the altar call. Now, when I think of church, I think of George, the elderly man in the choir who greets me with a ‘hello there, Mister Kevin’ every week. I think of Mac, the sixty-five-year-old tenor who always updates me on his son and daughter — an engineer in Gary, Indiana, and a sales representative in Charlottesville. On Wednesday nights, I think of Campus Church as the guys I sit with — Jersey Joey, Paul, Eric, Zipper — instead of the laser light shows or the fog machines.”
Growing up in the Church of Christ, church never meant laser light shows or fog machines to me. But church has always meant people. My whole life, I was willing to put up with overly conservative elders, silly rules, stomach-churning potlucks and questionable auditorium décor. Because I loved the people. Church was always my extension of home. I remember Sam Jones, an elder at the church we went to when I was in preschool. He was an old rancher who looked as though he had been squinting into the southeast New Mexico sun his entire life. I remember the change he fished out of his pocket for me every time he saw me. And I remember him crying in our front yard the day we moved away. I remember Sister Willoughby, who taught my 3rd-grade Bible class and got me so interested in the life of Paul that I forgot to be upset that I was the “new kid” that year. I saw her years later and told her that every time I think of Paul, I think of her and how she made those stories come alive for me. I remember elders at our church in Abilene – Bible professors whose names are known the world over in Church of Christ circles and who could have gotten away with carrying an air of prestige around with them. But these most humble of men came to our tiny house when Chad and I were newlyweds to pray with us over his parents’ divorce. And later to pray us through my devastating illness in 1998. I remember two beautiful women who, after I miscarried while on a church trip in Colorado, intercepted me from Chad after he brought me back to our condo from the ER. I was groggy from the anesthesia and could barely stand up. They got me out of my bloody clothes, cleaned me up and got me to bed. I remember people who loved our children as their own. I remember hoping I had ministered to others the way these people had ministered to me. These people were my church. A few were my close friends, but a lot of them weren’t. They were just people who saw me and others through the eyes of God. They still do. They are scattered across the nation – some into other countries – and they are my faith community. This is what church means to me. And it’s what I think it should mean to everyone.
Building community in Christ doesn’t have to mean going to extreme measures to make room for tons of new people in our lives. It doesn’t have to mean spending all of our spare time with others or being everyone’s best friend. If you asked the two women who ministered to me the day of my miscarriage who their closest friends are, I’m sure I wouldn’t make the top ten or even twenty. We didn’t have to have that kind of relationship to be united in Christ. Being a faith community – a family of God – simply means being Jesus to each other. I’m glad Roose saw this. I wish we all could.