The Church | The Lifeboat of Salvation
I wrote the post below for Restoration Anglican Church, the church community my family and I are are currently attending. I am doing a volunteer curacy there, working and learning from my friend and the rector of the church, Jed Roseberry. As we venture out to plant a new church in McKinney, TX it's a great gift to be able to connect and learn from the good folks at Restoration, a church that is almost eight years in the making, just far enough ahead of us to help us find our way forward. I thought I would share here, along with proper citations.
THE CHURCH | The Lifeboat of Salvation
My family just moved back to Texas a little over a month ago to start a new church. It might seem simplistic, but one of the questions we’ve been asking ourselves is, “What is the Church, and what makes a great one?” Obviously, it’s not just a building. In the metroplex, you can drive down the road and see a school, a coffee shop, a warehouse, or just a house, and even a cathedral with a steeple and stained glass. Despite their differences, each of these buildings could be a church.
So we’d all agree that church is more about the people inside than what it looks like on the outside. But I would contend that the building, and the things we do inside of it, are not inconsequential, but rather are important parts of what the Church is. People, places, postures, and actions are all part of what it means for us to be the Church and to do church well.
The things we have been learning about here at Restoration are also parts of what it means to be the Church. We’ve been reminded that church architecture has historically been designed to remind us that the Church is a lifeboat, an ark even. This imagery is also how early Christians spoke about the church: “the Church is like unto a great ship.”* The Church is given as an instrument to provide refuge from the storm and is meant to participate in the saving of the world by inviting people in and giving them Jesus, in word and sacrament. In recent sermons, we have also thought about how we serve those in need in places like Houston, how we live as instruments of peace and reconciliation in our fractured world, and how to deal with conflict with love and humility according to Matthew 18. Last Sunday we looked at forgiveness, because we, the Church, are called to give what we have received from Christ. In the weeks to come, we’ll look at the work of the people who “live as Christ” (Phil. 1:21). The Church in Philippi and the words Paul wrote to them will be our guide.
The 100th Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey speaks of the Church as being the continued presence of Christ in the world, His living Body that continues to link the human with the Divine, the physical with the spiritual, and the temporal with the eternal.* I love that! This definition includes what we do and where we go on Sunday. All of the physical elements, including our bodies and the building we put them in, are important.
There is a common thread and aim in all of this, Jesus! The Church is the connective tissue linking us to Christ in order that we may manifest his love in the world. We are learning together to be the Church and to do church well in the name of Jesus and for the sake of others. What an exciting journey to be on together.
And I want to say thank you to this church! Thank you for allowing my family to be on this journey with you for awhile. We are thankful for your kindness and hospitality, for being the Church to us. You’re helping us to answer these questions and to know how to be the Church in our little corner of the world. Thank you!
We look forward to growing with you over the next year and being and doing church together!
Grace and peace
Rev. Erik E. Willits
* Pseudo-Clement of Rome, “Epistle of Clement to James,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries..., vol. 8, (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 220. This passage is depicted as coming from the homily of the Apostle Peter during Clement's ordination as a bishop. Here's a bit more... "For the whole business of the Church is like unto a great ship, bearing through a violent storm men who are of many places, and who desire to inhabit the city of the good kingdom. Let, therefore, God be your shipmaster; and let the pilot be likened to Christ..." The analogy continues in-depth and is worth the read!
* Michael Ramsey, The Gospel and Catholic Church. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2009).