Ever since I was a child, I can remember seeing the following phrase used on various publications from our church: “The people who are Shoreline Covenant Church.” As a kid, I can remember thinking that the language seemed a bit clumsy or strange. In every other context where I heard the word “church” used, it clearly indicated a structure; a building. I am grateful that, from early on, our pastor was intentional about teaching me theology.
This afternoon we packed the kids up and journeyed the three blocks up to my home church building to visit my mom. It is always a highlight for the kids to play in the play-yard there (giant sand-filled box filled with trucks and snorts and scoops: need I say more?), and indoors as well in the various rooms used for pre-school and nursery programs. As my mom and I stood outside while the kids played (and Doug made a latte run to our favorite Richmond Beach Cofee), I marveled at the way the yard there felt a bit like an extension of our home. So much so that my mom has doggie “play-dates” with one of the preschool moms who brings her poodle over to run with my brother’s boxer during the lunch hour. I am pretty sure this is a bit unusual, and I credit much of that to the fact that my mom has worked here for so many years and that our own home is so close.
But then I stopped and thought a minute about all of the ways I see other folks from our church function in their relationship to the building. Whether it is Lisa who comes and paints rooms or Chuck who stops by to fix stuff or Candace and Sam who would bring their three-year old to practice on the drums in the sanctuary (the kid is amazing, by the way), I realized that our family is not really that unique in treating the space like it is in some way our own.
My church in L.A. does not own a building. With real estate what it is down there, and with our demographic as a church, I am not sure what kind of miracle it would take for us to do so. There can be a kind of “spirituality” to our building-lessness. We can be quick to pat ourselves on the back for not investing our resources in land and walls but rather in justice and souls. But watching my home church relate to the building they own, I am less quick to see ours as the superior path. I see a people whose lives spill out into a place that works somewhat like an overflow room for their own commitments to hospitality and service.
When my parents first moved into the neighborhood here, my mom was in the process of starting a girl scout brownie troop for girls in the community. My parents were not active in any faith community at the time, and as my mom searched the area for a meeting space for her girls, she found herself talking to a lot of stewards of church buildings. She describes coming to what was then called North Seattle Covenant Church, meeting the pastor, and basically being handed a key on the spot. My mom’s brownie troop started meeting there, my parents decided to check out a Sunday worship service, and the rest is what they call history.
The people who are Shoreline Covenant Church. There is a way that because this is understood, because from the beginning a pastor was clear about identity, the building is free for the kind of use that deserves the name “church”.