I’m often asked by people how they can help the church. Sometimes I think the most important act one can do is show up.
However, I believe that the church exists to serve, not to mandate. Episcopalians tend to have rich lives outside of church. Obligation isn’t the way we work. I say “show up” without an urge to yell or complain.
But there is one psychological aspect about the life of the church that is hard to recognize. Churches demonstrate effectiveness when people are passionate.
Presence is the first step of passion.
Advertisers call this “social proof.” We want to go where other people are, even if we’re in silence with them. But it’s not because we just want to prove that church is worth it: it is an indicator of our own passion for each other.
Sp sometimes the most important work one can do is show up. Friends show up for one another. Families do as well. So the question is: why do we choose to show up? What makes us unable to? What makes us want to?
Why do we engage each other? Because we see the face of Christ in the long lost friend who unexpectedly shows up at a wedding. We see the face of Christ in the stranger who has remarkable insight for our current condition. We see the face of Christ in the person who tells the uncomfortable truth. We become the face of Christ when we serve. We become the face of Christ when we build bridges. We become the face of Christ when we steel ourselves for the future and persevere when times are rough. And we see the face of Christ when we’re uncomfortable.
I know that for many of us who grew up on rigorous and difficult religions, that when we “appeared” we saw hypocrisy and abuse. The wealthy got doted upon; the priests often seemed distracted and distant.
But the truth is that people are the church, and that the church is what we make of it. We don’t own it; It will not always be smooth sailing; but it is worth the work. The ideal church does not exist except in the end of time. We can only begin with the people directly around us.
In an age where we are balkanized, holed up in our little ideological huts, weary of arguing our case with people who think differently, the church remains called to be present to the outside world; and we are expected to be present, in some way to one another. It is not only good for our bodies, and good for our spirit, and good for our communities. It is precisely what God promises makes our lives meaningful, holy and sacred.