When I first met Father Thad I was a Baptist minister and he was the priest at the neighborhood Catholic parish. Thad was an astonishing man, a depository of mind-warping experiences, not the least of which was a personal story I loved to hear him tell.
A parish he once led desperately needed to expand its ministry. But one man in the parish absolutely resisted, always squelching prospective change by saying something like, “My grandfather gave the land for this church; my daddy cleared the trees for the building; and we’re not going to change anything.” (Catholics don’t have a monopoly on this sentiment).
Thad finally had enough. In his remarkable way, he secured a diocese blessing and obtained a piece of land on the other side of town. He called the local house builders, and had the church relocated! I have this charming picture in my mind of the church, steeple atop, rolling down the road on stilts led by a vestment-clad Father Thad, reading the gospel and splashing holy water along the way.
When I first heard that story, I told Thad, “If you were a Protestant, you could have just started another church.” His response was priceless: “Why start another church, when you can take it with you?”
Truth told, that is pretty good ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is what seminarians call the “doctrine of the church.” It answers the question: “What is the nature of the church?” After several hundred years of modernity and religious institutionalism, more and more people are recognizing that the church is not a building. The church is a people, not a place. It is a living movement, not a fixed address.
When the last homilies, sermons, songs, testimonies, and prayers are offered at your congregation or parish on Sunday morning, you don’t leave the church. You will leave a specific gathering of the church, certainly, but you take the church with you—because the church is you. You take it on the road, across town, into your workplace or university, into your living room, classroom, and boardroom: You embody the presence of Christ in the world.
We will not be defined so much by “where we go to church,” but by whether or not we will be the church once we leave the building. As Father Thad put it so accurately: “Why start another church, when you can take it with you?”
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.