What Makes a Church?

– from Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister

shari prestemonI kept thinking about that question recently while sitting in a nearly empty church building in Maple Grove. The building was the site of our former congregation, Pilgrim UCC, in that community. More than a year ago now, the faithful remnant of that congregation’s membership determined that it no longer had the energy or capacity to continue as a church. Filled with grief, they turned the deed over to the MN Conference and walked away.

In the many months that followed, as we managed a continuing tenant relationship and cared for mounting needs of the building, we considered many options for how to move forward with some form of ministry at the Maple Grove site. Ultimately, however, we made the decision to sell the property and to utilize those proceeds for church renewal needs within the Conference. (Stay tuned for more information!)

So it was that I sat in that church building on a recent Saturday morning watching the last of the contents of this church being hauled away. There were home-made wooden stages and old office desks and stacks of metal folding chairs. There were reams of old files and curriculums used with children long ago.   There was the typical collection of forgotten dishes and pans in the kitchen, a sagging couch, and a lawn mower that probably hadn’t worked for years.

But none of that “stuff” is what made Pilgrim UCC the valuable and precious ministry it had been since its founding in the early 1980’s. So what does make a church?

Church happens when the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ is shared, with its ample measures of forgiveness and mercy and love and grace. Church happens when our worship proclaims the simple truth that we have need of God in our lives, placing us before God with full confession of who we are and with deep hope of who we long to become. Church happens when the urging of prophets and the example of Jesus compel us to lift our voices for justice and extend our hands and feet in service. Church is that place where we gather before the shared mystery of all that lies unknown before us, and yet trust in a God who is always there ahead of us and beside us. These are the things that make for “church”.

The exact look of the Church is undergoing incredible transformation all around us. Consider online communities of faith or small intimate house churches. These stand alongside mega churches and neighborhood congregations, large historic church buildings and store-front churches. But whatever forms our churches now take, our mission doesn’t change: Love God. Love your neighbor. Dare to change the world for the sake of God’s glorious vision. And dare to be changed yourself along the way. That’s what makes a church.

Grace and peace,

Shari signature

Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister