From Exile to Hope: October 13, 2022

From Exile to Hope: October 13, 2022

October 13, 2022

What's the most important part of the church?

By: Rev. Cindy Hickman


What do you think is the most important part of your church?  I hope your first response was “the people, of course!”

You’re right, but today I want to focus on the church building, the physical space where we worship.  What do you think is the most important part?

The pulpit? Maybe, although we preachers might want to check our egos if that was our initial response. Not every sermon we have preached has been fabulous despite the comments of “Good sermon” we hear as our people shake our hand on their way out the door.

How about the baptismal font?  Yes, an important place where smiling parents and giggling children gather, and grace becomes visible. No doubt about that. But we often forget its importance.  Where is your baptismal font today, by the way?
We could take a practical approach. Perhaps the restrooms are the most important part.  Or the offering plates.  Or comfortable pews or chairs.  Maybe in this tech age, it’s the cameras, the microphones, and a good strong internet connection.

It would probably be a good idea to take a fresh look at all these things.  We become so familiar with our space, we may overlook soiled pew cushions or peeling paint in the hallway.

Today though when I think about what is most important, I would vote for the doors.  I think the doors are the most important part of the church, our entrances and exits.  To actually get in the church, we have enter through a door.

Church doors are curious. I have been in lots of churches where the main entrance is not the main way parishioners enter the church. The main entrance may be in front and the parking lot in the back.  Or the main entrance may be at the top of an impressive set of steps that no one wants to climb any more.  Instead, parishioners enter through a side door or a back door and wind their way through the church on a path they are familiar with.  That same path may feel like an initiation rite to a guest.   
At one church I served our church council chair pointed out that there were seven negative signs around the entrance to our church offering messages like “Do not leave donations in the entrance,” “Do not prop the doors,” “Do not leave the lights on,” and “Do not park bikes between the doors.”  They all seemed to imply “Oh heck, do not even come in here.”

Sometimes just inside the door there is a well-meaning sergeant of arms, someone whose job is to greet people as they come in.  Sometimes with a smile.  Sometimes with a hearty hello and occasionally with a clipboard. As a guest, I have been asked for my name and address before I had taken three steps inside the church door. Beware the overzealous.

Despite all this, I think doors are important. They are affixed to the church. They stand guard. They shut out the cold of winter.

And they have wonderful hinges that allow them to move. Doors swing open. In through our open doors come the faithful and fresh air. I don’t know if the Holy Spirit requires a door to enter our churches, but I am pretty sure the Holy Spirit appreciates an open door.

Scripture references doors. The Hebrews escaped the final plague In Egypt by smearing blood above their doors, a sign of the faithfulness of people who lived within those doors. I think Jesus understood doors. When it was time for him to be born, the doors of the inn were closed to his parents, so they stepped through the open doors of a stable. In Revelation 3:20a, Jesus issues an invitation “Look! I’m standing at the door and knocking. If any hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to be with them.”

And door becomes a metaphor. Jesus is really knocking on our hearts and souls, asking for those doors to swing open to receive him.

It is remarkably easy to shut a door. There is a wicked sort of satisfaction in a slammed door. Doors can be bolted shut. They can be locked and require keys and codes to open. They can be made from wood or stee, They can also be constructed out of old disappointments and judgements that won’t budge no matter how hard we pound on them. Our denomination is making its way through a dispute about human sexuality. It’s really about doors, and how they are opened, and who opens them, and how we receive each other on the threshold.

Can you imagine a church without doors?

Reality: Fewer and fewer people are stepping through the doors of our churches for all sorts of reasons. That makes the other function of doors important.  Doors open so that we can leave the sanctuary of our churches and move into the world.  Out through the same doors, the faithful step into the community to live and serve, carrying our faith to the community.

We, our hearts and our lives, can actually become a door to faith for others, openness in us, loving like Jesus.

So a suggestion: walk around your church and look at the doors from the inside and the outside. What message do they send?  It may be time to scrape off abandoned bits of scotch tape and add a fresh coat of paint. Let the hinges do their work and swing the doors open. Let fresh air flow in.

Sometime this week before Sunday, place your hand on each door and offer a prayer.  Lord, may we the people of the church step in through these doors open to your holiness and peace.  And when we leave this place, stepping out into the world, may we carry that holiness and peace to all we encounter. May we always live on the threshold of faith grateful for the door to life you have opened to us.  Amen

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