Church at Its Best
Andrew Garland Breeden went to a Christian university for his undergraduate study. It was required that students attend chapel each day. Often chapel services felt like an obligation and an interruption - time that could be spent doing something else. Andrew attended to have his ticket punched, and when it was over he would quickly move on with his day. He had doubts about whether he belonged in the community at all and sometimes he would wonder if he wouldn't be better off somewhere else.
Then one morning, the family members of a teacher who had died attended our chapel service. As a gesture of our encouragement and support, we sang to the family. In Andrew's church tradition, singing "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph. 5:19, NRSV) is a significant aspect of the worship service, and they did it well. Andrew loves to sing, and he loved much of the music that is part of his church tradition. It was a good morning for him and a good one for his faith community. It is still difficult for Andrew to describe what happened that moment, but something sacred and powerful occurred that still sustains him today.
Were someone to ask Andrew what keeps him active and involved in his church community, what keeps him a faithful church-goer in moments of doubt, what encourages him and gives him strength when he fails, he would tell them about that morning in chapel when he was a college student. His church community came together to show love and support for people who were experiencing a great tragedy and all the grief and pain such an event brings. To Andrew that moment was church at its best.
He admits that in the years since, in church on Sunday mornings he has had the same doubts that he had when he was a student: "Do I belong here? Would I be better off somewhere else?" He has had moments when he was so frustrated with church, that he wanted to throw his hands in the air and give up. He became so focused on everything that was going wrong that he lost sight of everything that was going right. Sometimes it's hard to see beyond the ways we treat one another - the words we speak without thinking or the needs of others we overlook because we have become bogged down in minutiae.
When Andrew grows weary with his church community, he goes back to that moment in chapel when he was a college student. It reminds him of all that is good about church and that we are at our best when we are caring for one another and loving, supporting, and encouraging each other along the way. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (10:24-25, NIV). Andrew remains grateful to his fellow Christians who have helped him along the way, especially in his moments of weakness, frustration, or doubt. He remains grateful for that moment in chapel and how it has kept him going.
Our church communities don't always get it right. This has been the case for a long time, as we see when we read Paul's letters. But much of the time church communities do get it right; and at those times, Andrew believes that we get it VERY right. The times when we are most like Christ in our thoughts and actions are what nourish us the most. I think this true for all of us. though we mess up sometimes - individually and collectively - this doesn't have to discourage us from trying to be more Christlike each day. So let us love, support, and encourage one another along the way. Let us not give up when frustrations and doubts creep in, but show love and compassion to others every chance we get. We never know what difference it could make.