From the Matthew’s Gospel:
Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 18:5 (NRSV) – November 21, 2013.)
I’m following a thread on a friend’s Facebook page about the future of the “institutional church,” by which I think the various participants mean their several denominations. (We are Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc., all of whom seem primarily to identify as Christians and only secondarily with the variety of polities, theologies, liturgical styles, and so forth we each prefer.) I suggested in the discussion that creating institutions is in the very nature of human beings; we create them, criticize them, tear them down, reform them, and recreate them, but we never escape from them. Another participant in response said, “I do not create community.”
“Really?” I thought as I read that. Then what is Jesus talking about when he bids us to welcome others? What is it that we are about when we enter a church fellowship? The other continued, “Community is right in front of us.” Now, that’s true. But do we not “create” a new community when we join that which pre-exists us? When we welcome the child in Christ’s name, we so alter the existing community that it is no longer the same, it is something new. It can never go back to, never again simply that which it was.
“See,” says the Lord, “I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) We and our welcome are the tools which God uses to create new communities out of the old.
In that thread, I said, “I don’t despair of the institutional church; I believe it is in a state of flux and reform, but it will survive. We may not recognize it were we to come back in a 100 years or so, but it will be here.” Whether it will be Episcopalian or Presbyterian or Congregational or Methodist is anyone’s guess, but it will definitely be community created by human beings empowered by God and used for God’s purpose of making all things new.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.