OK, that’s a bit over-dramatic. More like: When They Begin Demolition At Your Church. We take a few weeks each summer to visit other churches: to broaden our worship experiences, to hear certain ministers preach, to refresh memories. This is satisfying and, I think, valuable. There is always a twinge, knowing that we are missing the worship we cherish so much. And, our three associate pastors are in the pulpit much of the time in July and part of August, and they are all excellent preachers.
And so, it was with anticipation that I walked up Westminster Avenue toward Shadyside Church and that sweet encounter with God’s Grace. I regretted that my wife had to attend a rare Sunday meeting at work. I saw the orange fencing and blue dumpster from a distance. I was about to steel myself when I recognized a young couple we know bringing their daughter for baptism. The warmth of that greeting was still with me when I turned and saw the rubble and machines in what had been the peaceful cloister/courtyard between the church and chapel.
I had been expecting, even looking forward to, the beginning of the renovation that emerged from the vision of Building Community for our church. I told myself that it was excitement, not anxiety, that attracted the butterflies to my stomach. I tried to stave off both by documenting the scene in photographs. The blur in half shots belied my sentiments. Even so, I was able to picture the bright, open atrium that will be the church’s “living room,” where we welcome strangers and relax with our church family.
Inside the sanctuary, the sight of old friends and a good crop of visitors settled me. Three chimes and the processional hymn brought my focus to worship. I did not try to put demolition/construction out of my mind. Our sermon was titled “Praying Your Renovation,” with the text describing Nehemiah, mourning the need to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, which led him to pray. Our Pastor, Craig Barnes, as he always does, was speaking the subtext of scripture into our lives. Our congregation and its leaders had discerned God’s will to include changing our walls to become a place of greater hospitality, for visitors, for members, for those we have the privilege to serve.
Craig spoke about the presenting issue: the anxiety and inconvenience of a construction project. Then he invited us to consider those parts of our lives that need renovation: a relationship, a career, a health concern. Prayer drives our plans to become a part of God’s vision for our lives and for those he wants our lives to reach.
I came away reminded that bringing my anxieties before God rarely causes the anxiety-producer go away. There are times when the things I worry about actually happen – sometimes they are worse than I feared. Faith is trusting that God is ready to redeem every situation with his perfect vision, in his perfect time. And, lest faith become a palliative, Craig’s charge to us was bracing: God’s plans always include change.