The Challenge of Institutional Church Life #3
June 21, 2017
by Christopher Page, incumbent St Philip, Oak Bay
Any legitimate church work, must begin with those who are doing the work being deeply honest about their motivations and the place their ego may play in the work they do.
I must be willing to look deep within and ask myself in the face of all that I do in church work:
- Do I genuinely believe this activity will help deepen participants’ awareness of the presence and action of God in all of life?
- Is this an activity that aims to help peoples’ hearts open to the divine mystery and beauty that reside at the heart of all life?
- Does this event aim to support people in living in tune with the power of love that sustains the universe?
- What agenda am I serving?
- Is there any hint of manipulation, shame, or pressure in my approach to this person that is simply aiming to get them involved in fulfilling my need to be seen as a success?
- Do I truly want the people among whom I minister to be deeply free, or do I want them to serve my vision?
The world is full of clubs and organizations that do a good job of offering a warm caring sense of belonging. Many groups offer supportive fellowship, engaging entertainment, and support for positive healthy living. Our culture is filled with organizations other than church that provide meaningful opportunities for important activism for the well-being of the world. These are all good things; but they are not church. No one needs church to find community or meaningful social engagement.
The church is not a club I join to find a sense of meaning or belonging. It is not a service organization in which I volunteer because I want to do good works and help the world. The church may do all of these things; but none of them is the primary reason for which church exists.
The primary task of the church is to call us to see through the external material manifestations of physical reality to the deep hidden mysteries of life that are the source of all life. The church’s first job is to help us see that Jacob’s dream is true. There is
a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God are ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:12)
There is communion between the visible and invisible realms. Heaven and earth are not separate; they are two dimensions of the one reality. Our unique job in the church is to help us see what Jacob saw and confess the faith that Jacob confessed acknowledging that no matter where we are,
‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’(Genesis 28:16)
Having fulfilled this primary function, church exists then to call us to live in response to the sacred presence that is our source, our sustenance, and our ultimate destiny. Before anything else, the challenge of church is to use external means to help hearts open to the invisible, intangible realm of the Spirit and to seek to live in tune with the authentic inner prompting of the Spirit rather than spending our lives pushed in one direction and another in reaction to any external force or pressure.
The church is called to an unenviable task, unlikely to be highly rewarded by kudos from the world. It is work that will often go unnoticed and uncelebrated.
But, if we fail in our primary task, we should not be surprised that the world deserts us for those who are better able to fulfill all the secondary functions by which we so often become distracted and drawn away from our true calling.
This article was first published June 19, 2017 on inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com. Reprinted here by permission.