by Morgan C. Feddes
church \‘chərch\ n. 1 : a building for public and especially Christian worship 2 : the clergy or officialdom of a religious body 3 often capitalized : a body or organization of religious believers
— The Merriam-Webster Dictionary
“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
— 1 Corinthians 1:2-3
When you tear down your church every week, it makes you re-examine your view of your Church.
For more than twenty years, this, to me, was church: rows of wooden pews in a sanctuary with thin, worn cushions on the seats, never very comfortable; at the front, a wooden pulpit, often with a cross carved into it; behind the pulpit, a pastor, typically in a suit, sometimes with a tie, and always male; behind the pastor, an organ, with pipes soaring to a vaulted ceiling, belting out the four parts of a song from the Psalter Hymnal as the congregation followed the organist’s lead.
Lately, though, I find myself spending some Sunday mornings alongside other volunteers in building our church and then tearing it down again.
To clarify: I attend National Community Church, which meets in seven different movie theaters throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia (aka the DMV; this is the home of the government and all its acronyms, after all). For a few hours each week, we convert some theater lobbies and screens into places of worship, complete with spaces for Sunday school, nursery, prayer, and fellowship. Then, after the end of every service, the praise bands pack up their instruments, the various items used to build church go back into their storage containers, which are then wheeled into closets, and church is disassembled until the next week — usually in a bit of a rush, so that moviegoers can head in with their buckets of popcorn to catch a Sunday matinee.
This is not where I saw myself just a few years ago. My first experience of regularly attending a church that didn’t meet in a church didn’t happen until I was a senior in college, and even then, I never thought about the implications behind a Church without a church. Mostly, I assumed churches in the city had to make up for the lack of space afforded to those, like me, who lived out in the country. They were meeting in a school because they had to have church somewhere, not because it was the ideal location for that part of the Church.
This assumption stemmed from the stark divide between church and life that I had in my head for years. My home church was built in the 1960s; most of my adolescent years centered around its Sunday services and Wednesday night youth groups (at least until high school, when the youth groups moved to Sunday nights). The sanctuary’s decorations may have changed from season to season, but the building itself was always church. I may have brought my faith out into the wider world to be a witness to Christ’s light (or at least I was supposed to), but to my mind, the wider world didn’t usually make it across the threshold into that space unless it was through a sermon illustration. There was a division between worlds, and ne’er shall the twain meet, or so I thought. (Looking back with the 20/20 vision that hindsight affords, though, I can say this wasn’t through any fault of my home church; it was all me.)
These days, though, I’ll occasionally find myself among the popcorn-munching moviegoers watching the latest summer flick in the very theater (and once, the very seat) where just hours before I’d spent watching a recording of one of NCC’s lead pastors preaching the latest sermon. The two worlds are meeting, and though I laugh when it happens, it doesn’t strike me as unusual as I would have thought just a few years ago.
I’d like to say that this comes after a long, completed journey toward realizing the impracticalities and inherent dangers of separating very important aspects of myself and assigning them their certain spaces. But I’d be lying because it isn’t fully complete. I can say that it has come after a long and joyful (though not always happy) journey toward recognizing both the all-encompassing love of Christ in every aspect of my own life and the fact that everything — inside the church and out of it — comes from God.
It all revolves around my new understanding of what it means to be a Church. You see, I’ve come to realize that capital-C Church is not about a building, nor the people who meet in it, nor the process in which its built. Capital-C Church is what Paul says in his opening to the Corinthians: Church consists of the people “called to be [Christ’s] holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.”
For someone who went to a Christ-centered school literally from kindergarten through college, this should have seemed obvious from the get-go; perhaps it was and I just missed it for the first couple decades of my life. Still, better late than never. This is especially true as I live out my new life in Washington, D.C. — a city that revolves around a constant cycle of transition and change. Sometimes, the Church meeting in a typical church doesn’t work. In a city where people are constantly coming and going for one reason or another, a church like NCC — built around the idea of being “in the middle of the marketplace,” among other core convictions — is suited for being built up and torn down each week. It keeps all its members mobile, just like the rest of the city.
And most importantly, it reinforces the fact that Church — the capital-C Church — isn’t meant to be separated from the rest of everyday life. It isn’t a facet of life to be compartmentalized, only drawn out for certain occasions. Instead, it’s meant to be who we, as the capital-C Church, are as a whole: sanctified and called by Christ, whether we’re sitting in wooden pews or squeaky movie theater seats.
Morgan C. Feddes hails from Montana and now resides in Washington, D.C., where she works for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. In the recent past, she’s helped get a small-town cafe off the ground in Montana, worked for Christianity Today in Illinois, and spent some of the best years of her life at Whitworth University in Washington state, where she graduated with a degree in English in 2011. She blogs over at The Isle Full of Noises and occasionally tweets @morgan_feddes.
Photo of Michael Knox band is from here.