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A New Church Being Called Forth By the Holy Spirit #4

The Building Prior to the Council of Bishops meeting in Berlin, I had been engaged in a series of blogs under the broad label “A New Church Being Called Forth by the Holy Spirit.”  During the COB meeting, I took time out to share Bishop Warner Brown’s (President of the Council of Bishops) “open letter” on prayer and healing which made up a part of his address to the Council.  With my fellow bishops, I shared our “Pastoral Letter on Racism.”  While I am now turning my attention back to the series on “A New Church Being Called Forth by the Holy Spirit,” I wish to emphasize my (and hopefully our – the entire Central Texas Conference) ongoing concern that we continue with ardent zeal to address issues of racism and discrimination wherever they take place in the world.  We have already planned (for over two years) to address the issues of radical hospitality and cultural sensitivity at this coming Annual Conference.  For Christians these issues (radical hospitality & cultural sensitivity) lay the foundation and are at the heart of combating racism. [caption id="attachment_1944" align="alignleft" width="300"]Photo from Trip Advisor Photo from Trip Advisor[/caption] Moving back to my series on a new church being called forth, Jolynn and I had the blessing of spending 8 days in Italy on vacation prior to the COB gathering.  We spent two in Florence.  If you ever venture to that great city, phenomenal artwork abounds.  Museums leave even the casual visitor quieted by thought.  At the center of it all is the great “duomo” (cathedral church) Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore ("Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower”).  Located in the center of Florence its great dome literally towers above the city.  (A great quick read about the Florence duomo is Ross King’s book Brunelleschi’s Done: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.) I not only toured the great cathedral church and visited the fascinating crypt; I climbed to the top ofduomo selfie the Brunelleschi’s dome!  (In my defense, I got in the wrong line.  And, when I finished the climb (376 ft – the equivalent of a 37 story building!), I had a great view of Florence sitting outside at the top of the cupola while I recovered from my heart attack (just kidding about the heart attack – but not about the view!). When I came down from the cupola and strolled through the cathedral, I could not help but reflect on the great churches I was seeing: St. Mark’s in Venice (my favorite), three different churches in Assisi (the churches of St. Francis and St. Claire), and Vatican in Rome.  Each in their own way was and is a moving testimony to the church faith.  Yet each had the air of a tourist museum albeit a holy, sacred, and awe-inspiriting museum.  This was not the intent of the builders of these great churches.  Nor is it the intent of the clergy leading these great churches today.  Yet a curious public appears captivated by the buildings. At first, in my musings I was caught by own sinful arrogance.  I could not help but think how terrible it was for a church to become a museum; couldn’t help but reflect on the tragedy of people worshipping the building and neglecting the Savior.  As I stepped in the crypt of the Santa Maria del Fiore, it occurred to me that we have the same issues in Central Texas. Despite our best intentions, it is so easy to slip into an adoration of the building and neglect the Savior.  I recall a conversation with a young pastor who had interned with me when I was senior pastor of University UMC in San Antonio.  She was assigned to her own church (well, its Christ’s church but she was now a solo pastor at a church).  She was thrilled to be there but distressed by what she encountered.  In a changing urban landscape, the church had once worshipped over 1,000 on an average Sunday. Over the years it had gradually slid to an average attendance of just over 100.  Significantly over the years the congregation had built a huge endowment fund.  Unfortunately the fund was restricted for building maintenance, upkeep, and capital improvements.  The young pastor and some wise lay leaders sought how they might move away from adulation of the facility to missional engagement with the neighborhood. The new church being called forth by the Holy Spirit will be mission-driven and not building bound.  The combination of smaller and bigger will result in more “house” churches and the use of more rental facilities.  Simultaneously, the bigger or regional churches are finding that finances driven a building of multi-use facilities.   I think this is not only a good thing, but the Spirit’s initiative. Furthermore the missional/evangelistic church being born face the future with a stance of flexibility towards building use.  Signs of this emergence are already all around us. Recently in two different venues (a comment from a bishop at our recent Council of Bishops meeting in Berlin and a blog by a seminary president), I have had cause to learn a new term which is changing the building dynamic of denominations (like UMC, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) with an excess of physical plants designed for 1950.  The term is “redundant church.”  There is already a Wikipedia definition for a “redundant church.”  “A redundant church is a church building that is no longer required for regular public worship. The phrase is particularly used to refer to former Anglican buildings in the United Kingdom, but may refer to any disused church building around the world. Reasons for redundancy include population movements, changing social patterns, merging of parishes, decline in church attendance or other factors. Although once simply demolished or left to ruin, today many redundant churches find new uses as community centres, museums, houses or other more innovative solutions.” A couple of years ago the Cabinet read the book Legacy Churches by Stephen Gray and Franklin Dumond.  It details how a church through its building can help leave a legacy by starting new congregations.  It can repurpose itself missionally to reach a new generation and/or it can sell the physical facility to help finance a new start elsewhere.  (There are a number of other options but hopefully these examples offer a glimpse of how the church can be mission-driven - “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” - and not building-bound.) Prior to being elected bishop, I served for two years as a new church developer.  I can still vividly recall a conversation with my counterpart in Southern California who spoke about the challenge of what to do with money and resources gained from the sale of closed congregations.  As wonderful as buildings are, they are tools for ministry under the leading of the Holy Spirit.  As we move from Christendom into this post-Christian culture we are experiencing, the repurposing of physical building will be a growing issue and a source of wonderful mission opportunity.  (A blog worth reading on this subject is Would You Sell Your Church for $1? by Dr. Timothy Tennent, Wednesday, April 22, 2015)