Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Beauty of Church

After being away from our church community for over three weeks, we had our first Sunday back in Mesa. And something unexpected happened--I felt a deep sense of calming relief. While it was a bit of an overwhelming morning--speaking to the junior highers and the entire church body, plus trying to make a video play in service without screwing up the lead pastor's Powerpoint--I was so excited to be back in church. And I think it had to do with church in Europe.

I had a variety of experiences with "church" in Europe. In Paris, the church buildings we visited were less like places of community and more like museums. Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame were beautiful and inspired a sense of reverence and awe in their fantastic architecture. But no one was there for fellowship, loving one another, gathering in worship. They were there to snap pictures and put a check on their "Paris Attractions" list. It saddened me to see the church reduced to being similar to a theme park, including the long lines and overpriced souvenirs. I learned that the church was never meant to be about earthly buildings or consumerism; it's about the relationship between people and God and how that relationship permeates our relationships with one another.

On the other hand, in Latvia we spent two Sunday mornings with Jelgava Baptist Church, a small church body we partnered with for camp. They are one of the only evangelical churches in Jelgava. Their little community is doing its best in a culture where less than 2% of the people are followers of Jesus. The students in their youth group are some of the only Christians at their schools, and they experience a great deal of social persecution because of their faith. The students view youth group as the only place where they can express their faith without fear, a place of encouragement and refreshment. I learned that our faith is best displayed in the context of community; we were never meant to follow Jesus alone.

So it's no surprise that when I returned to Mesa and showed up for our church gatherings, it was a moment of relief: this is the community of people I have grown to love. These are the people I am following Jesus with. This is the body of Christ, with all its flaws and frustrations, joys and sorrows. And it is beautiful. And while our church's building is nothing compared to the beauty of Sacre Coeur or Notre Dame, the beauty of the people inside the building far outweighs its architecture.

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