Posted by: jblevins | August 17, 2009

Being Church

What does it mean to be church?  What does it mean to make manifest the body of Christ in this world?  This may be the ultimate question facing us today numerous denominations and communions struggle with dwindling membership, staff cuts, and closing churches.  What does it mean for us to be church with one another? What would it mean for us to realize our unity in Christ?

These are questions that have followed me, and been a part of conversations I have been having over the past year with various groups of young adults. In the ecumenical world, a gathering of young adults before the 2008 General Assembly of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service declared, “We understand that our present unity in Christ is not the end goal, but the beginning of engagement with the world. We have a deep commitment to conversations and relationships with our fellow Christians, including those with whom we most deeply disagree, and those who have not yet been part of our conversation[1].”   This is a group of people who understand the root of being church – of being in relationship with one another.  Who understand that our call to be in relationship with one another is not the end goal – but the gift of our unity with one another in Jesus Christ – and that our call as a church is to live out that reality.

In December of 2008, I was with a group of Church of the Brethren Young Adults in Surprise, Arizona, who said, “We understand that many of us are frustrated with the current state of leadership and/or organization within the church, but we find hope, light, and energy in the midst of that frustration. We recognize that the Body of Christ is in constant incarnational transformation. We hope for the transformation from “church” into a community of disciples and disciple-makers. We long for the church to be “Brethren” at its best, based in scripture, spiritual discernment, and social engagement. We acknowledge that even within this small group of young adults, there are many different ways of viewing scripture, spiritual discernment, and social engagement, but we are committed to seeking the mind of Christ together[2].”  This is what being the church with one another, in relationship, is all about. Transforming our current reality so that it is a better reflection of the Body of Christ. Of living together, walking together, and being a community of believers together.

Jurgen Moltmann, a German theologian,  writes, “”The church exists in contradictions and conflicts, and it must organize itself as the visible community of believers against the impeachments of this world of violence, so that it may show the world God’s alternatives[3].” As such, these young adults are not only about calling the church together in relationship, but also about showing that Godly alternative to the world. It’s a call for the entire church to be a part of.

Turks & Chaos 020 (49)And then, most recently, over the course of 2 and a half days, I spend time with 19 young adults gathered on Port Isabel Island in the Chesapeake Bay, hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We were joined by leaders Tyler Edgar of the National Council of Churches and John Hill of the United Methodist Church, as well as by theologian in residence Rev. Dr. Janet Parker.  The group spent the time together in community – sharing in the cooking and clean up of meals, worship time, theological reflection, and practical action planning.  More than that, they built relationships with one another in that place – splashing through the marsh, learning about the features of the island and the bay, along with the threats, and enjoying the beauty of that space.

Representing more than 6 communions and religious traditions, including the Christian Church Disciples of Christthe Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of the Brethren, and the United Methodist Church, the group wrestled with the interrelated concepts of global poverty and climate change, focusing on the ways climate change will disproportionately affect those living in poverty both in the United States and around the world.  Beginning with theological reflection on the call of the church to care for God’s Creation – and through that the call to respond to climate change, there was consistent conversation around the need to further engage the whole church in this work.  After an introduction to the role of the church in the environmental movement, beginning with the first Earth Day and moving through the legislation currently moving through the Congress, and the upcoming Copenhagen summit, the conversation shifted to how the group could become more involved in the work from their own contexts – whether that be in seminary, preaching sermons in local churches, leading Sunday School classes, or being in touch with their legislators.  More theological reflection centered on the need to infuse this kind of thinking and belief in everything the church does.

Friends, these groups of young adults are wrestling with the questions of what it means to manifest our relationship with Christ to the world – with what it means to Be Church.  As we continue to move forward, consider our witness, and struggle together to fulfill the call of Christ, its an example to strive for, and seek.

Walter Brueggeman offers these words of prayer: “We are, on most days, a hard mix of true prophet and wayward voice, a mix of your call to justice and our hope for shalom. Here we are, as we are, mixed but faithful, compromised but committed, anxious but devoted to you. Use us and our gifts for your newness that pushes beyond all that we can say or imagine[4].”  Amen. As we struggle to figure out what it means today to be church, to live in relationship with our God and with each other, and what it looks like to live that out – let us continue to have those words as our present reality. Seeking a world we can’t imagine, and calling that world into being.



[3] Moltmann, Jurgen. The Way of Jesus Christ. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN. 1993. Pg. 55

[4] Brueggeman, Walter. Prayers for a Privileged People. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN. 2008. Pg. 127-28.


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