The Church Is Empty Space

As Methodism’s internecine struggles labor on; I’m no longer sure I know what “church” is supposed to resemble. Sure, there are glimpses of what I think I see as church peeking through the fog. Even in those moments, it’s hard to make out the contours and outlines of something definitive and meaningful.

For instance, Christmas Eve was lovely. The kids were up front, they were cute, their message was solid, and we looked like a church. The contrast between darkness and light is dramatic when nearly 200 people sing Silent Night. Then what do I do? I went made the mistake of reading tweets on the internet and watching the news.

The idea of church is up for grabs. Everyone knows what and who we should be. Maybe we’re just a slightly different reflection of the culture we inhabit. Perhaps we are a political movement defined by prayer. I’m not sure we can call ourselves the body of Christ until we look like the people Jesus came to serve.

We are not a building. As soon as Christmas is here, we quickly remove any traces that the holiday was here. We do this from our lives and homes as well. The church building is merely a frame we decorate to acknowledge the fleeting glances of life if the church played a more significant role in our lives. No, we’re not where we sit on most Sunday mornings.

I believe we are the spaces in between. The church is what we cannot see and seldom venture — the carpeted areas where people rarely stand, the unopened closets, the blank places where we tell of marginal people in a marginalized world. That’s the church. The church is not Biblical inerrancy, human-made doctrine, or who wins at Patristic trivial pursuit. The church is not a zero-sum game. No one wins at church. The church has never been about winning.

Who will say “here are the empty spaces”; “these are the places we are saving for the broken people who have nothing other than a need for healing, friendship, and love”? Those few square inches of space are all I am willing to define as the church. When we can take the blank spaces of sanctuary and offer what we do best, we will be the church.

Richard Lowell Bryant