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Visions of the Church

A Vision of the Church

By The Rev. Stuart E. Schadt

October 23, 2011

Today is our Hopes dreams and vision Sunday So I want to share some of how I envision the church.

I recently heard the story of Fairmont, West Virginia. Have any of you ever been to Fairmont West Virginia? I haven’t.

But Fairmont was founded in the early 1800’s as a layover for riverboats. A halfway point between Morgantown and Clarksville on the  Monongahela River. (Locally called the Mon) It thrived and grew into a town but by the late 1800’s the trains replaced the riverboats as the way to move freight and Fairmont lost its purpose and began to die.  Then in the early 1900’s it remade itself as a coal and manufacturing town and began to thrive again. But eventually the mine ran out and the manufacturing closed up and again the town began to die. Then it remade itself as a college town. The point to the story is we need a purpose in order to thrive but the nature of that purpose or work changes over time.

The church has several purposes.

The church exists to bring us understanding. (The Prophetic role)

We exist to help people develop and grow in their faith to come to an understanding of what it means to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'  And what it means to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’

As we learn the faith we exist as religion and faith has existed throughout the ages; to help each other interpret the world. In early times people wanted explanations of why the sun and moon moved on different yet consistent time tables. Why the planets move and other stars do not; explanations of weather and illness and death.

We have let science explain most aspects of these things but there are still many things in our world that we seek to understand. When does life begin? When does it end? What about stem cell research? Just because we can do something should we? Is there an answer to world conflict other than war? When there is so much good in people why is there so much inhumanity in the world? Is our planet in trouble? Can we make a difference? Why did the Red socks totally fall apart in September?

There are endless voices offering to interpret these things for you.  NPR, FOX news, Cnn, msnbc, and hundreds of other sources offer to help us interpret the world, but here in the community of faith we work to bring our faith values and faith commitment to these questions. We struggle to see where God is in these things? Where is God calling us to be? And we acknowledge that on some of these questions and in many of the specifics of how we respond to them, people of faith can come to very diverse answers.

Yet we also exist to act. (Priestly Role as in the Priesthood of all believers)

As a consensus emerges we begin to act. We have a consensus that our neighbors should not be hungry. I assure you there was a time when the church would have said and maybe our church said. Yes our neighbors should not be hungry but it is not our problem. We now see this as a calling. So we give a sack lunch and kitchen food to anyone who asks. When Cindy Brookshire brought us the Back Pack Food program we immediately said yes we want to be a part of that.

We think every family ought to have Thanksgiving and every child should have Christmas so we help make that happens. If your family needs help making that happen let me know and we will help make that happen.  Our Sunday school from one bake sale may only raise enough money to buy one goat through Heifer International. But that means one family will have a goat to provide milk for the family. And maybe milk or cheese to sell and maybe kids, as in baby goats, to sell or expand their herd. To that family and its neighbors we make a difference. We are starting to collect coats because we don’t think people should be cold.

The Church at large is coming to a consensus that our planet is in trouble and that we need to raise a consciousness about this and raise the call to action. While in this country this has become a divisive political issue in other parts of the world it is a uniting common cause. There are so many reasons why the care of creation is the right thing to do.

These two purposes of the church are very important. The prophetic role of interpreting the world and the priestly role of acting in the world but they are meaningless if we don’t do our primary role.

Our Pastoral Purpose (The Pastoral Role)

That is living into Jesus’s command to “Love one another as I have loved you.” Yes there is nothing as important as the care for one another. We are here to share the blessings and to rejoice with one another at births, and baptisms and weddings. To share the joy of families as we watch our young people grow up. And we are also here to share in mourning with each other at our losses.

We are here to help people cope with challenging work situations or even with taking the car back to the repair shop, yet again. We are here to share in the small day to day challenges of life and the larger challenges of day to day life. It is important that Trinity be a place where we are greeted warmly after a long week and where we are refreshed for the next week. We invite people to wear name tags because we want to be a place where everybody knows your name.

Maybe we cannot carry your burdens for you but we can walk with you and we can be a place where you set your burdens down and rest for awhile.

The grace cards all over the walls of the parish hall tell the story of amazing people in this amazing place. They tell me we are living into our prophetic work our priestly work and our pastoral work.

I look forward to reading the vision cards. Some I have already read talk about continue to be the warm welcoming place we are. To that I say amen. But maybe some will point to who we are yet to be. As we continue to invent and reinvent ourselves we also we remain committed to loving one another as God has loved us.