In a recent article, I wrote about “Christianity at a Crossroads” – the pressure that a changing culture is imposing on the Church and the Church’s need to respond. At the end of that article, I stated: “Creating community, teaching mutual respect and the value of life, and encouraging a posture of awe and humility are among the Church’s central tenets.” I would like to elaborate, individually, on these three tenets, beginning here with “creating community.”
I say it just about every week to someone: I cannot imagine living without the Church. Heads nod, lips smile, sometimes I get an “Amen!” I can’t imagine living without the community which IS church. When Amy or I visit the hospital, it’s not at all uncommon that a Deacon has already been there. Before patients leave the hospital, they have usually had multiple visits and calls or cards from Sunday School classmates and other church members. As we walk the halls, we see so many people lying in hospital beds alone, and I often wonder… do they have a church home? No one should live without a church, and no one should die alone.
The theme song of that wonderful old sitcom, “Cheers,” claimed that the local watering hole was a place “where everybody knows your name” – and the catchy tune and the wacky characters in all of their shenanigans proved a truth of the human dilemma: we do need community. Each of us needs someone, who truly cares about us, to know our names. John Donne said, “No man is an island…” and I still don’t know a better way to draw people together than through a healthy church community. The goal is not to coerce people to sacrifice their identities, losing their independence, but to provide an opportunity of sharing and support that encourages the expression of unique individuality in mutual inter-dependence. A healthy community is a living organism, an organic whole that is larger than its component pieces, able to do more, collectively, than the individuals could do separately but not in a way that takes away each person’s right to be, to think, to act.
To be clear, though, it’s not that people just need a club. Simple “group-ness” can quickly turn to mob mentality, where the individual’s voice and inherent worth is denied. Humans need to be reminded of, and connected to, a greater good, and it’s hard to imagine the greater good that is promoted by a drinking establishment. There is a depth to a faith-filled community that exceeds the welcome of the open bar stool. Participation in a healthy faith community connects us with a greater good – the greatest good, and that is God’s care for all living beings. There must be some truth to the old adage about there being “no atheists in foxholes.” When life’s toughest issues come our way, most people, in one way or another, begin to reflect on what would have to be called “spiritual” things. A good Church helps us engage that conversation throughout life.
The church has always been part of my identity. And I still need (maybe more than ever) the greater good that connects me to a world beyond my own. May it be so!