As most of you know, I live in the City of Churches now: Lynchburg, Virginia.
The circumstances of my arrival here were all too surreal. When I arrived to meet with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee, we went through the standard questions and stories. Afterwards, I got a tour of the church- a massive piece of real estate on a hill, that stretches far back on the property. And when you stand looking towards the back of the property you can see mountains in the distance- is this real? Is this happening?
After the tour we slipped into the sanctuary to stand in the back as there was a service going on that evening. I couldn’t believe my eyes, when i saw it. A gigantic wooden Jerusalem cross hung from the ceiling right over the altar area. My heart was filled with joy and I knew I was in the right place. In college, I was in a very special program called “church careers.” Now, the program has changed it’s name to the Christian Leadership Center. One of the main reasons I attended Centenary College of Louisiana was to be a part of this program. The symbol of this program is the Jerusalem Cross, which at the time, was a little known symbol of faith to me. At the retreat at the beginning of the year, a senior gives a freshman their cross and hangs it around their neck as a gift and commissioning of service. After four years as a part of this Christian community, I grew deeper in spirituality and faith. So when I saw that cross hanging in the sanctuary of Heritage United Methodist Church, I was filled with joy and the knowledge that this was the place I needed to serve.
It was only a couple of weeks later that I was officially appointed to the church by our Bishop.
The city of churches is an interesting place- people drive “nice,” something I have gotten used to not experiencing in the last few years. People wave, smile, and say hello. People open doors for one another. It’s a much more courteous place than some cities.
When you go places, you always see someone you know or who is in direct relationship with one of your parishioners. You walk into a coffee shop and you sit down with church members for lunch. You walk into the gym and get a few waves from the people in your congregation.
And it makes you wonder, are there any non-Christians in the city of churches? Is there anyone who needs me, this church, this Word? Where is the opportunity in a place with churches on every corner and a Methodist Church every mile or two? The good thing about these questions is that it causes you to work and think harder about who a Christian really is and how we are sent out to live in the world. It’s much more than being “nice” and smiling at people. It goes beyond opening doors and exchanging pleasantries.
In Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian, she explores the idea that we have taught our children the faith of “moralistic therapeutic deism.” A faith where being nice and generally good gets you into heaven. A faith where God makes me feel good and gives me self-esteem. She argues that our children have learned this, because it’s the type of faith we possess. What do you think? Are we passing down a faith where we simply do a few good things and that’s enough? Are we creating a world where the City of Churches is a competition of members?
Passing on our faith to children and to one another requires more than waving at everyone, as lovely as it feels to be waved at.
This was originally written August 15, 2011.