The English Word “Church”
Dear Members and Friends of Saint Timothy’s,
With the wonderfully uplifting and elaborate way we celebrate some of the high holy days here at Saint Timothy’s, I frequently find myself in what I call “debriefing conversations”. These are impromptu talks with parishioners or friends about “how things went” after one of these “big days”. The persons involved know that we do things in a big way, quite rightly, at Christmas and Easter and they know that we put a good number of our liturgical eggs in these two big baskets. Naturally, persons who attended the services want to hear how the services were perceived from a clergyman’s perspective. Those who were not able to attend either one of the services, knowing how much we put into the preparation and what it takes to celebrate and preach at a solemn mass with a solemn procession, want to know what they missed. These conversations are fun and often helpful.
A few years ago, in one of these spur-of-the-moment conversations a few days after one of our glorious Christmas Eve services, someone commented about how lovely the Church looked decorated in all the traditional Christmas finery and how moving the choir and the orchestral mass were at both services. The person said he had, “never heard or seen anything like it” and that it was “so different” from what he had been exposed to as a form of worship. This gave immediate rise to another participant in the conversation offering, “Well, it’s only a building!” The comment, “It’s only a building”, took me aback and I’m not sure why. It is true that the church proper, we call Saint Timothy’s is “only a building”. I think I am so close to the whole life of our parish that I have never thought of Saint Timothy’s as “a building”. It’s much like thinking that one’s house is “only a building”. We all know that our houses are not just buildings. We think of them as our homes. They are places we have come to love because our lives are so intimately involved with the persons we love as our family. To call our church “only a building” just seems so inadequate because as parishioners and priests we know that we live and love our fellow parish family members in the building that is really our parish home.
This does bring to mind the question, “What is the church”? Is the church “only a building”? What does the Bible call “The Church”? If we go to the Old and New Testaments, we find that the Church is not a building at all. We find that the building we call the Church is simply a place where the Church gathers. People are the Church and they happen to collect in a very special building that they call a home. It is special too because in this earthly life many of them go to that building to be closer to God the Father and have His grace come to them in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. A little background and word search may be helpful in finding the real Christian meaning of “Church”.
The English word “church” is used to translate a word from Greek, ekklesia. “Church” is also used to translate the Latin word ecclesia. When we dissect that Greek word, ekklesia, we find that it comes from two Greek words, “ek” meaning ‘out of’ or ‘from’, and the word “kaleo” meaning ‘to call’. So the noun resulting from these two words would mean “a calling out” or “a summoning” or “those who are called” or “summoned”. The word we use for church means a gathering, a meeting, a collection of persons. It is not a building at all! We could say the church we call a building is place for the “church to meet”. In our case, it’s a place for the Church to do what the Church does and that is worship.
We are called into the Church. Then the Church becomes those who are “called” or “set aside” from the rest of those who are not part of the Church. We are called by God to be the Church and the way to determine whether or not you’re in the Church, or not, is your Baptism. Many say, “I’m going to ‘join’ the Church”. By this, they probably mean, “I’m going to complete the proper forms so I can be officially considered a member of a particular parish”. They are going to complete a letter of transfer, complete a pledge card, and make sure their affiliation is with a particular parish. To be part of the Body that is the Church, one needs to be Baptized and that Baptism spiritually unites the soul to Christ. The person is then bound by the Holy Ghost and incorporated into the Church. God has called the person through the Church and brought him or her into the Church through the grace of the Baptism.
Praise God that we can live out our Baptismal vows here in this parish church. Yes, the Church is so much more than a building. Yes, because we are bound together as members of the Church by the Holy Spirit, we can gather here for the worship of God. We can care for one another through prayer, serve one another in good times and in bad, reach out to those who are needing a parish family, and offer the comfort, healing, and strength of a life with Jesus Christ to all. That is the Church doing what the Church is supposed to do and I thank God that I can be part of it here in our Saint Timothy’s home.
Yours faithfully, in Christ,
The Reverend Jay C. James