Last Saturday night at about 10 p.m., with everyone else in the house asleep, I was sitting on the couch debating with myself about the morality of stealing a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup from Emily’s Halloween candy (a debate I lost), when I became aware of a tremendous amount of noise on the front lawn of the Parsonage.
It was a group of older kids, though none I knew. They were clearly pausing en route between the Disneyland of Chocolate that is Maher Avenue on Halloween and wherever their next destination was—more houses? A dance? I couldn’t tell.
I stepped onto the porch to shoo them along with my best Mean Old Grouch on the Porch routine, but then I saw they were taking pictures with their phones.
“Wait, wait,” said one. “Freeze right there! Now you look like you’ve just come out of the castle! Everyone else look scared!”
They were taking action shots in their costumes, with the church as a background.
“Awesome!” said the photographer, happily. “That one looks messed up.”
I don’t like to think of the church as a creepy castle (or as looking messed up), although I decided to let the kids go ahead and have their fun.
But it made me think of the ways that churches can come to seem just like that. And I’m not actually talking about the architecture, or about Halloween night, of course.
So often, churches can come across as forlorn and foreboding, as places haunted by the past rather than teeming with new life. There are places where the ghosts are all around: the Ghost of Christmas Past, when the church had to have seven full services to accommodate all the families, and each child thought that getting a fresh orange was the greatest present of all; the Ghost of Budgets Past, when in any given year, the church fathers just made a few calls and…bingo!…they could swing the salary for two more associate pastors and put a new roof on an outbuilding; the Ghost of Pastors Past, when the wisest, kindest, nationally-known preacher with a leonine mane of white hair and Caruso-like singing voice was their leader; the Ghost of Sundays Past, when no athletic coach would so much as dare TOUCH Sunday morning, nobody dared play golf before noon, or needed to sleep in after getting back late from an international flight, and cell phones didn’t call people into work at the last minute.
When a church is haunted by ghosts like those—and those are only a few—it isn’t long before it starts to feel like a creepy castle, all right.
Put that up against a world where people still need loving, wrongs still need righting, the young still need guiding, the bereft still need comforting, life-purposes still need pondering, and friends still need introducing, and you’ll see how tragic it is when a church lets itself give up and just be haunted, instead.
That’s what’s really messed up.
One of the greatest challenges, but also joys of our life together is trying to discern who it is Christ needs us to be in this new time. A church like ours has remained strong because it has found new ways to ask and answer such questions. But more than that, it has found joy in the searching and answering—in seeing a beloved old building as the backdrop for new stories, and the abounding grace in its bringing together new communities, and in its finding new ways to celebrate together.
I hope that’s what you’re finding here. I find it constantly…and not just on my front lawn. Let’s find a way to learn from those experiences and listen for God’s call as we do.
See you in church,