I’m a regular.
I’m also a regular at my church.
My friend, Jimmy – AKA my favorite carpenter-beekeeper-teacher-pastor-libertarian-crazy man often wonders aloud why we in the institutional church don’t get that we would reach more people if we were more, well, pub like. As long as I’m referencing Cheers, you remember the theme song:
sometimes you want to go
where everybody knows your name
and they’re always glad you came
you want to go where people know
our troubles are all the same
you want to go where
everybody knows your name
A Texas pastor friend of Jimmy’s was with us for our now regular Friday afternoon gatherings at Fullsteam and said, “They accused Jesus of being a glutton and a wine bibber and then, when it came right down to it, what did he tell us to do to remember him? Eat and drink.”
His point is cute, clever, and fairly well-worn, even in the Baptist circles where he abides. I can’t claim much originality either in the analogy between pub and parish. Still, finding my way to Fullsteam has brought it alive for me again. Something about the room makes people want to gather there – and they do, in all sorts of connections. Our neighborhood, which backs up on the brewery, had a happy hour there last week, inviting also the Only Burger truck to join us, and we had over fifty folks, along with children and dogs, talking and chewing and drinking and relishing the time together. And I felt there like I want to feel when I walk into coffee hour at church.
No – I felt there the way I wish people felt when they visit our church and walk into coffee hour.
I love going to church and I love that is a place where I feel known and feel connected. But there is a difference between parish and pub and I think that difference is akin to trying to write a good poem when you’re carrying an agenda: it’s not that you can’t, but it’s damn hard work. At Fullsteam, the point is to get together; church can become getting together for a point, or a project, or something that feels heavier than simply being gathered together.
I am not required to think much about how to keep the doors open at Fullsteam while I’m there. Listen to the conversations at most any church coffee hour, and a fair amount of them – especially during this traditional stewardship season – revolve around how to keep our beloved institution going. The conversations are well intentioned and even necessary, to a point, and we can end up creating a place where it can feel as though you don’t want everyone to know your name because they will assign you to a committee.
A couple of Sundays ago in church, one of our members made a presentation of an historical church document she had found and had also taken the care and initiative to restore and reframe. Apologetically she declared, “I just did it. I didn’t go through any committees or boards.”
A knowing laughter rippled through the congregation.
In most every church I’ve been a part of, we do a weird thing when it comes to stewardship: we start to talk about the church as if it were not us, as though it were a foreign entity – an institution: “Give to the church,” we say; “If we want the church to be able to carry on,” we add, as though we weren’t the church itself, but instead are giving to something akin to the Red Cross or NPR. One church where I served led into the weekly offering by saying, “For the work of the church . . .”
And yet, our children sing,
I am the church
you are the church
we are the church together . . .
Sounds more like a pub song than an institutional anthem to me.
We are the Body of Christ, the incarnation of God’s love for these days called, as Ginger invites us to do each Sunday, to breathe in the breath of God and breathe out the love of God. We are the hands and feet and eyes and ears and arms and legs of Christ – of the one who ate and drank with people and rarely formed committees. The community we are creating is one born of the kind of explosive joy and grace that would choose an unknown peasant girl to bring Love into the world, drawing in everyone. And, in the week by week living out of our community, we often become connected primarily by the responsibilities we put on one another and church becomes serious business.
And church as business becomes the working metaphor.
I will be the first to admit business is not my strength and I’m not trying to throw the accountant out with the bath water, yet I wonder what we are missing when we think of church as a business – an entity other than ourselves – when it comes to how we share our money with one another, because that is what it means to be the Body of Christ: to share, rather than to give. We share our dreams, our sorrows, our ideas, our mistakes, and our money. We do it best, I think, without using last year’s giving records as a reference, or depending on the government to give us a tax deduction. When we give, we give to God, to one another: we are funding faith, not donating to charity.
We are the church. Together.
It wasn’t the room that made Norm feel at home at Cheers, but the way they called his name, and the way he knew they would be waiting for him. Of course, it was also a chance for him to toss one of his great one-liners – my personal favorite:
Sam: “Norm! How’s it going?”
Norm: “It’s a dog eat dog world, Sammy, and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.”
Aren’t we all. Here, on the cusp of Advent, I want to walk into Fellowship Hall and remember the Body of Christ that inhabits our stack of cinder blocks is born of extravagance, of brilliance, of unabashed creativity, of unrestrained inclusivity, of resilient hope, and redemptive failure. I want to remember that Jesus wasn’t joking when he said, “Consider the lilies.” I want to live thankfully, congregationally, joyful and triumphant. I want to share our gifts, our belongings, and our faith at full steam.
P. S. — I’m on a roll: here’s another new recipe.