When Admiral James Stockdale, Vice Presidential candidate in 1992, asked in the Vice Presidential debate, “Who Am I? Why Am I Here?” he was mocked mercilessly. His questions, though, actually were, and are, very important ones, questions that we all ought to ask ourselves more often—and churches too. Who are we? Why are we here?
I wrote recently about Old South’s mold problem—an unwelcome and expensive guest to evict. The Oversight Committee, after lengthy discussion regarding bids for remediation and other aspects of the problem, decided to hold an “informational meeting” for the congregation. Instead of proposing a clear plan and asking for approval, the Committee shared the information with the congregation and asked them to pray and think about how we should move forward. Though unsettling, the mold problem is not an emergency. We have a bit of time to make decisions.
What has transpired in the last couple of weeks has been quite remarkable. People have been talking not just about the mold, and the high price tag for its removal.
They are also asking key questions about the church, its purpose and existence. “Even if the money to pay for the mold remediation fell from the sky,” one woman asked me in a private conversation, “is that the best way for us to be church, to feel like we are constantly spending money to maintain the building in which we gather?” She went on to ask about the needs of our community and how we might do more about those needs. Are those needs any less of a priority than the problem that lurks in our basement? Is our primary purpose to keep standing the beautiful building in which we gather, or is it something else? Is it time to let go of the church building? Can we afford to keep maintaining it—and not just in terms of money?
These questions have been asked in various forms by various people, not just one or two people—although mostly in small gatherings of two or three, and not in the midst of larger gatherings. Still, I feel that we are experiencing a significant moment in our common lives of faith: Who are we? Why are we here?
How do we live out the notion that we are to seek justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God, especially in a community where so many needs are so very present—poverty, mental illness, homelessness, addiction, domestic violence? How do we show faithfulness to the Gospel? Through our building? Or through the actions of our people?
Who are we? Why are we here? These are significant, important questions that ought be asked regularly, individually and collectively. It’s crucial that we take a moment to step back a bit, to reflect, to pray, to talk together—and to consider our purpose, our connection to Christ.
I really don’t have any idea what will happen, but I’d like to think that even if we decide to find the money to remove our unwelcome guest, that we will also discover a different, and more welcome and positive, growth—a new awareness of what it means to be church, to be the Body of Christ.