What does church mean to you? At a recent meeting with Jorge Montiel, the Denver coordinator for IAF (the Industrial Areas Foundation), he made reference to the church as a sacramental service station. This is not his understanding of what the church is but may be an apt description for what church has become for a number of people.
It used to be that a service station was a place where one pulled in and a paid attendant ran out to provide various services like filling your gas tank, washing the windshield, checking the engine oil, etc. I know that in this age of self-service that is a very rare thing. The last time I had an attendant fill my tank was in New Jersey where self-service gas stations were outlawed. I’m not sure this is the case anymore, as it has been many years since I’ve been in New Jersey. And I can’t remember the last time I didn’t use the self-service check-out at King Soopers or Safeway.
So, what does it mean for the church to be called a “sacramental service station?” I believe it says that for some the church is a place where one receives some sort of service performed for them…where one goes to be married, to have a child baptized, or to drop the kids off for a few hours at VBS because it’s really good, cheap childcare. It is the place one calls to arrange for grandma’s funeral. Then it could be that for one hour a week, it’s a place where one can be made to feel good and perhaps even comfortable. Nothing really demanded or expected, not even a bar code to scan to pay for whatever service or program has been provided.
I don’t think that church can ever really become a self-service institution. There is more to faith than being the recipient of certain services or programs. There is more to faith than one hour on Sunday morning. A faith that is meaningful, even worthwhile, is one that demands more.
As we approach the “birthday of the church,” Pentecost, let’s truly be church, discerning what faith is demanding of us and how we’re going to be church for the world today.
Peace, shalom, paix, salaam, heiwa,