What do you think of when you see a church building on the street corner or up on a hill? Perhaps it’s just part of the scenery of our beautiful state. You probably have a mental image of a tall white steeple with a vibrantly dappled mountain in the background, surrounded by a quaint village (and if so, I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of Stowe Community Church, which is surely the most-photographed and post-carded church building out there). Or maybe you’re thinking of a swooping white fence outside a beautiful old building, which borders a maple-bedecked lane and an historic cemetery (which of course is found here in Old Bennington, and may be a close second to the one in Stowe). Our church buildings are indeed a significant part of our history and culture.
Our particular church building has the appearance of a large brick and stone fortress, if not a castle (I’ve heard people refer to it as Camelot). By the way, I’ve often wondered why the Baptists usually built with brick, and the Congregationalists usually built with clapboard. Is this some sort of strange origin of the Three Little Pigs story? Which makes me wonder about hay bale church buildings, but I digress. This building was built in 1878, and you could tell that whoever put this together was not messing around: soaring spires, intricate stained glass windows, and stadium seating long before it was cool. The architecture inside rivals that of the outside. It also conveniently located across the street from not just one, but two high-quality pizza shops (Baptists are also known for eating, of course).
Yet I still wonder what you’re thinking when you come across a “house of worship.” Perhaps pleasant memories of holiday services with family. Or the thrill and joy of your wedding day. Maybe the sadness of that especially painful funeral. Or the warm satisfaction in knowing that this is your spiritual home. Perhaps simple indifference, or maybe a tip of the hat for the community services housed there. Perhaps guilt, anger, or indignation.
I am incredibly thankful for the amazing gift of a fabulous church building, which helps further our mission in so many ways. A beautiful church building certainly enhances our worship as we gather together. But my biggest problem with an awesome church building is that it may give the impression that we have our act together. I’m not originally from around here, so when I pulled up to this building for the very first time, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size and beauty. I remember thinking, “There’s no possible way that I belong here.” As it turns out, architecture can deceive. I was dead wrong. I very much belong here, and thankfully I’m not alone.
I’m tempted to put a big sign over the door of the church building that says “No Perfect People Allowed.” I need remember that on the outside we may appear impressive and strong, but on the inside we are broken and tender. As a Christian church, we are followers of Jesus, and Jesus saved his harshest words for the people who thought they had their act together. The sad irony is that if you think you’ve got your act together on your own, you most certainly don’t. That’s why often the biggest step of spiritual growth is admitting you need help — help from God himself. Our spiritual strength begins by admitting our human weakness, which God has come to help and heal. We only move forward by the strange and often stumbling two-step of coming to the end of ourselves and falling forward into God’s arms.
So, sure, enjoy the beautiful architecture of your local church buildings. Yes, come get your kale at the Winter Farmer’s Market here in our hall (1st and 3rd Saturdays). Bring your friends and family to our next spaghetti dinner (February 10!). And if you’re affected by addiction (and who isn’t in some way?), please join us for our next Mercy Street gathering here on January 31. Or even join us for a worship service if you feel so led. Everyone is always welcome (except the Perfect People, of course).
But don’t let the building itself lie to you. We don’t have our spiritual act together on our own. We’re broken people being put back together by God himself, who is making us more than we could have imagined. True strength is found in weakness, which Jesus demonstrated by his death on the cross. We’re certainly not perfect, not even close, but we’re perfectly loved by God, and called together to follow him. So perhaps my “No Perfect People Allowed” sign will need an important footnote: “*except Jesus.”
Bob Wiegers is the imperfect pastor at First Baptist Church of Bennington: