The reality of COVID has caused an inevitable re-evaluation of much that we do in our society.  Before returning mindlessly to business as usual, it is important to hold the questions that have been raised by the massive shifts we have experienced over the past three months and allow the questions to do their work in our lives.

This blog post continues my exploration of the question “Who Needs Church?”. Perhaps my second response should have been my first:

2.  Love – At the heart of Christian faith is the affirmation that the best human concept by which to characterize the “Transcendence” which was my first answer to “Who Needs Church?” is the word “love.”

God is love. (I John 4:8)

“Church” is a training ground for love. It is a place where love comes dressed in the flesh and blood presence of other people, people who often are not like me. In church I am caused to brush up against people I might not normally choose to be in relationship with, people who are at times awkward, difficult and even painful.

Diversity is essential to “church” because love is always more challenging with people who have different ideas and different ways of being than those within my usual chosen circle of chosen intimacy. I need to go to church with people with whom I may have significant differences. Church must be a community that embraces difference because I learn to love most deeply when I find myself in a situation where I am called to be loving towards those those with whom I may not have a natural affinity.

There is no such thing as “love” in the abstract. Love always wears a face; it has a voice and a body. Love is only present in the company of the other. From the very beginning God needed some measure of otherness in order to be love. The hints are there from the start:

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. (Genesis 1:26)

God is a corporation; we call it “Trinity”. Human beings, created in the image of God, are fundamentally created for, and within, relationship. This requires work. We need church as a place to work on meeting the other. The other takes up space in the world. Sometimes it takes up space I want to occupy. Church is the place where I get to practice accommodating the other in all of their otherness.

3.  Focus – We gather each week as “church” because we know how easy it is to lose focus.

Throughout the week we are preoccupied with a vast array of necessary details, circumstances, situations, and concerns. These things need our attention. But this flotsam and jetsam must not be allowed to become the centre of our lives. “Church” is an opportunity to step aside for a moment from these legitimate details and be reminded that, the truth of our nature lies in a place deeper than the clutter that so preoccupies us most of the time. “Church” affirms that life is indeed “more than” the circumstances and events that dictate the shape of our days on this horizontal plane.

Just before asking his provocative question about life being “more than” this horizontal plane, Jesus instructed his disciples saying,

do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. (Matthew 6:25)

But the fact is we do “worry about” what is taking place on the horizontal axis of life. We worry about how we are going to establish security in our lives, how we are going to protect ourselves, keep ourselves healthy and fulfill our personal dreams and aspirations. The mountain of our preoccupations can be overwhelming.

We “worry about” things because we believe our identity rests on how successfully we manage to make these incidental aspects of our lives work. We “worry” because we know in our hearts that any identity built on a foundation of externals is desperately fragile. All our carefully constructed ego defenses could collapse in a moment and will collapse eventually.

“Church” is an affirmation that we do not need to worry because church reminds us that our true identity does not reside in the things we do, or our achievements and accomplishments. We gather in order to embody the truth that our identity resides in being not in doing. The very “uselessness” of church is the point. No one gets rich or famous or achieves great influence in the world simply by going to church. In many ways church is a waste of time.

In church we affirm that “wasting” time on God is the most valuable activity in which human beings can engage because it affirms that our true identity lies in the simple fact that we are alive. We are the recipients of the gift of life. Bearing this gift as a sacred trust is meaning enough. We manifest this gift of Life when we join with other people and fulfill our deepest calling simply in being people who seek to grow in the hard work of love (hence #2 above).