Long ago, while studying the Hebrew scriptures in seminary, I was more than a little bored while we were in the middle of 1 & 2 Chronicles and their fully detailed description of building the temple in Jerusalem. Feel free to read 2 Chronicles 3-6 if you want to get a sense of this. Anyway, dear Marv Chaney noted our rolling eyes and yawns, and said something like this:
“Surely these details are abundant, but I tell you, some day when you’re the pastor of a church and you’re building a new sanctuary, you will want to fill me in on all the details of the plans.” Yeah, right, I thought, little knowing that in my first call, we would remodel the sanctuary; in my second call, we would build an entirely new sanctuary/office/fellowship hall; in my third call, we would remodel the kitchen and fellowship hall; in my present call, we are figuring out what to do with this building which of late has sprung a few leaks.
When I went into ministry, I did not realize I was signing up for building management. I wasn’t, of course, but…. We have really, really competent lay folk – architects and engineers and interior designers and contractors – who are able to make informed decisions, and building and custodial staff who deal with the nuts and bolts of our physical plant. But still, hundred-year-old buildings, like hundred-year-old people, require a lot of care. So while over the past few months we’ve talked about accessibility and deferred maintenance and improvements, and while in the last week we’ve dealt with significant water damage caused by rain during a re-roofing project, I’ve been a bit convicted by something Frederick Buechner once said in an interview with The Christian Century.
“I say the best thing that could happen to your church is for it to burn down and for all your fax and email machines to be burned up, and for the minister to be run over by a truck so that you have nothing left except each other and God.” (9/18/02)
There are days. There are those days when I wish we didn’t have a building to care about. But then I remember the holiness of a church building and of our church building. WIthin these walls people have seriously mourned, and riotously praised. Within these walls the Spirit has led people to join the family of God. We’ve broken bread and shared the prayers of broken hearts. We have sung, and those songs still linger like incense among the rafters. The church building is a holy place, not because of the cross or pulpit or stained glass, but because in the building God and humans have run into each other and laughed with amazement at it all.
So I guess I’m both resigned and grateful to have this building to take care of. And there will always be something to take care of, because as Feste sang in Twelfth Night, “the rain it raineth every day,” or the boiler will be on the fritz, or a toilet will overflow. But I would appreciate it if God would stop sending the rain our way so that we can mop things up and get on with the work of ministry.