Archives for posts with tag: church

A theological reflection on saving a Christian college campus.

I am home now. As in, abandoned prairie dreams to come back to the Pacific Northwest with its layers of mountains and hills, moody shifts in grey hues, waterlogged air, and the smell of low tide. It is fortunate that I can complete my research away from school at this point, and even tailor it to this region. The thought of learning Chicago watersheds for my studies in baptism felt daunting.

Coming home has its share of mixed feelings, particularly when my memory is taxed with recalling what ‘used to be’ on that corner instead of the shiny tall thing that looms overhead. So, when I saw the article in the local news about an old Bible school coming due for demolition, I started reading closely. Sure enough, I remembered the place–vaguely, but well enough.

I can’t remember if it was a vacation Bible school, or simply a weekend retreat that took me to the Lutheran Bible Institute in Issaquah, but I remember her. Her name was similar to mine, Kirstin, she had straight, blonde hair, and she sang in the a cappella music group at the Bible school. I remember feeling so enamored with her, like she could be my big sister. We may have even exchanged a few letters as pen pals. I remember, too, the buildings that felt a little old, but in that vertical NW, mod quirky kind of way. At that time, about the only difference I knew existed between the Lutherans and Presbyterians (such as I was), had to do with the color robes their clergy wore on Sundays. Yet I would have signed up to go to LBI in a heartbeat; especially if it meant singing alongside my new friend such lyric hits as, “It’s about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. / Faith without works…”

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the local megachurches owns the property now, and that they have an interest in selling it. But in a region with few religious landmarks, the thought of losing a 1960s chapel and school with a unique history (the Lutherans bought it from the Catholics) is dispiriting. Surely another religious organization would think so, too? Or is a generic evangelical church focused on being young and relevant simply deaf to any cries of history or tradition? I wonder, then, if this isn’t a case of good old North American pragmatism. The church is not a building, it is wherever two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ–so goes the logic.

Shouldn’t a place where the broken, risen body of Christ has been shared, given and communed across time and denominations mean something?

For nearly ten years I worshiped in a space that was built by the Methodists, then occupied by a brewery, a disco, the Baptists, and some other commercial interests during its 100+ year history (not to mention squirrels and other critters in the attic). Houses of worship that have been around for a while feel different. There is a kind of spatial patina that can rub off on unsuspecting visitors, enriching the music, the prayers, the communion of saints. At times in church, I could sense the hopes and desires of past parishioners. My great-grandparents never worshiped there, but someone’s did.

The Providence Heights space is unique as a theological school, first for nuns, then for Lutheran women and men. Let me repeat that: the school was built to educate women first. It may be tempting to be dismissive of a training school for Catholic nuns, but considering how difficult it still is–globally speaking–for women to receive any kind of dedicated theological education, let’s just say this is significant. While the chapel was not a community church per se, it served as a basin for the missio Dei, and a nest from which hopeful young Christians followed the call of the Spirit to the world.

Surely, a fellow religious organization such as City Church, with its focus on developing relevant leaders for the world, would understand such a history?

At a time when property values are soaring out of reach, churches are shrinking, and decisions for survival must be made on a purely economic basis, does City Church (or any church) have a responsibility to history or tradition? What does it look like to honor the people who have gone before in particular places; who have celebrated the Lord’s supper, and proclaimed his death and resurrection in these walls? This week of Pentecost, I pray for a creative solution for the people of Issaquah, for City Church, and the Providence Heights campus. Come, Holy Spirit, and breathe new life.

I was in Montreal, Quebec recently with my husband, just for fun, just to see it. I love traveling, but don’t particularly care for being a tourist. What happens, then, is a whole lot of wandering, getting lost, looking at buildings, and generally marveling at how lovely/wonderful/hectic/serene it would be to live in such a place. I should have studied a bit of French before going as everything is in French, with English subtitles.

The first day it rained. The second day was incredibly windy, but fully bathed in sunlight, which made ducking into cathedrals and church buildings that much more wondrous as the daylight illuminated every hue and variation in the stained glass windows. The third day we started out at St. Joseph’s Oratory, located on the southwest side of Mont Royal. Constructed largely during the first part of the 20th century, it is truly remarkable in its modern aesthetic. Wending up the hill alongside the dome is a garden with the stations of the cross. The statues reminded me a bit of socialist art both in scale and scoured simplicity. Each station was nestled back off the path, some a short ways, others were recessed more, and still others, like the Pieta, were tucked into the landscaping. Usually, this station is referred to as “Jesus is taken down from the cross” or the Lamentation. However, here is an intimate moment between Mary and her son, the crucified Jesus.

Montreal was originally called “City of Mary” (Ville-Marie), and it was amazing to see her everywhere. One of the grand cathedrals downtown is called Mary, Queen of the World, and it is majestic. While I am awed at depictions of Mary in art, having been raised mainline Protestant, I never quite know what to do with her. Yet I’ve seen her included in contemporary theologies even if merely to debate her significance and the virgin birth of Jesus. Similarly, there seems to be an openness to considering her among the disciples in biblical studies, which is certainly better than removing her from the narrative altogether. Too often Protestant / Evangelical commentators focus on moments when Jesus turns away from family, placing an emphasis on the Christian virtue of forsaking all–even family–for Christ Jesus, to which I have to ask, what then of the commandment to honor father and mother? The image of Mary with Jesus crucified is powerful, and an essential corrective to our forsaking of Mary, mother of God.

Recently I read the Vatican II document on the church, the Lumen Gentium, which ends with some comments on how the church is to revere Mary. Just as she is the mother of Jesus, so is she also seen as a “type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.” The faithful are encouraged to meditate on and contemplate Mary in light of the Word made flesh (in her), and by so doing, enter into the mystery of the Incarnation. (Such a small excerpt doesn’t quite do the document justice, so I recommend reading it in context.) It got me thinking, in seminary we talk a lot about incarnational ministry and being missional communities, yet there is one aspect of the Incarnation which we consistently overlook: Mary, handmaid of the Lord God. Her response to the messenger truly is a model for us all; ‘God, I don’t know how You’ll make it so, but do as You will.’ Yes, one could argue that she didn’t have much of a choice, and that would be true as well. Of course she never imagined witnessing the gruesome death of her firstborn, but from the beginning she pondered the words of Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna in her heart. She must have been respected enough in the early church to have the words of the magnificat given to her in the gospel of Luke. Has she somehow fallen that we Protestants ignore her?

Perhaps it’s time for the Protestant side of the house to bring Mary back into the picture, and not just in the nativity scene.