A member of a former congregation said to me once, “I do not know what I would have done if I had not been invited to visit this church many years ago. It has become my home, my extended family, and I have long marveled at the ways this community has deepened my relationship with God.”
Needless to say, this is every pastor’s hope for the experience of churchgoers. And, every pastor also knows that that is not the reality for each congregant. Some people carry a similar depth of joy in their experience of a congregation, and others have more conflicted feelings about what the church is or is not, what it is doing, and what it should be doing. For some the church is the source of so much good, and sadly for others, it can be a reminder of letdown.
Since I am often on the listening end of how people relate to the church when they share their joy and gratitude, or their hurt and disappointment, I think it is wise from time to time to remind us all who actually makes up the church. The church is not a disembodied entity; it is never a “they” but always a “we.”
Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church belongs to God and is a community of people who try as best as we can to be faithful to Jesus Christ. In our Presbyterian tradition the pastors are not even members of BMPC but are members of the Presbytery of Philadelphia. We have a job to do, a covenant to keep, and know our roles and responsibilities well to help us all be the home, extended family, and community where relationships with God are deepened for all our members. But the church is ultimately, to use language of our Reformed tradition, “the priesthood of all believers” which means - you.
I am excited to be leading our worship over the next couple of months by preaching through the Acts of the Apostles to help us consider how we are the church, wherever we are. As the only sequel to a gospel, Acts is unique in many ways from the gospels, which come before, and the letters, which come after. It recounts the story of the expansion of the early church from the ascension of Jesus and the community of the apostles to the mission of Paul and his arrival in Rome. Acts addresses various social and theological problems the early church encountered amid the cultural and political power of the Roman Empire. In a season of great turmoil, not unlike our current reality, Acts will find the church at work at home and in the streets. I hope we will learn from these early Christian believers who were intent on spreading the love and justice of God in a culture hostile to the way Jesus Christ confronts old hierarchical divisions of class, race, gender and nationality.
With Acts as our guide, I will be inviting us to think deeply about how we are the church, individually and yet interrelated, together even while we are still apart. During this unusual pandemic season, I hope the biblical vision of the church God is calling us to be will nurture and strengthen us for the living of these days.