For The Someday Book

A Church of Cast-Offs, or Only the Best for God?

Posted on: March 24, 2011

Our church is in the early stages of a major renovation of our basement, transforming it into a ministry center for community and church programs for the future. One Saturday, we spent the day going through all our old stuff, deciding what to keep, what to trash, and what to label “free to a good home.” By the end of the day, we had a great big pile of old chairs, empty filing cabinets, a coat rack, a baby changing table and assorted other stuff. Many of the church members looked over the pile and said, “That came from my house! I gave it to church when I didn’t need it anymore.”

Our Youth Room, like so many others, is home to many old couches and mismatched chairs.

I have often questioned why churches inherit so much of people’s old junk. Why should we think our leftovers, cast-offs and no-longer-good-enoughs are fine for God’s house? Do our mismatched, outdated sofas and beat-up armchairs send the message that God’s church is important and valuable in people’s lives? While we might enjoy seeing familiar pieces from our homes in the church, how does it look to an outsider who doesn’t recognize them, and just sees a bunch of old stuff no one wanted anymore?

It was a hard process for our church to get rid of this stuff. We did not want to devalue the gifts of old furniture and equipment over the years, or show disrespect to those who gave them. Nor did we want something that is perfectly functional to go to a landfill, simply because it will not look right or function well in our redesigned space. As good stewards, we did not want to be wasteful, and delight in giving a second life to things that might have otherwise gone into the trash. We did not want to reject something just because it was old, or worn, or didn’t match–which is probably why we ended up with so much stuff in the first place.

And yet, it is important that our new space look, well, new. We want to communicate to the next generation that we are building for them, and speak to their tastes and technologies. We want to invest our best, so that the vibrancy of our facility matches the vitality of our ministry. We have placed a high priority on doing things the right way (rather than the cheapest or easiest way), so that they are built to last. The beauty, newness and contemporary feel of the plans for the redesigned space speaks to our belief that God has a future for us, and a generous spirit that proclaims a sense of new life. We want our renovated space to communicate God’s abundant and warm welcome, and give us spaces that are beautiful and functional to serve the community. We want everything to be the best we can make it, because God deserves the best we have to offer.

Both those desires—the steward’s desire to reuse and make do, and the builder’s desire to make all things new—are good and godly, and they live in tension with one another in the church.  The church of Christ is a bunch of mismatched, broken people, a community where cast-offs and not-good-enoughs are welcomed and loved and made whole again. Christ’s love can be made known no matter how old or unstylish our furnishings, and perhaps our collection of old stuff matches our collection of quirky, battered people coming together to serve God and love others.

Heavenly Banquet (Image by GodSpeak)

And yet, I think of the heavenly banquet Jesus describes. For the outcast and forgotten, the people that others have considered trash and old junk, God has prepared a beautiful meal and a beautiful table. The food and wine are luxurious and abundant, table set with silver and gold befitting a king and queen. Unlike the world’s table, this table of plenty and beauty is set for all–whether or not you deserve it, or can afford it, or qualify as “polite company.” Why should we not offer the same care and beauty in creating the church space? Not to build a club for ourselves or people like us, but to invite people to taste and see the glorious abundance and new life of God.

I think we in the church live within this tension all the time, in all kinds of ways. At its best, the church is a collection of broken, mismatched, imperfect people who are loving and giving our best for God, to create a place of beauty and hope so the rest of the world’s broken, mismatched, imperfect souls might come to know God’s abundant love.

What do you think?

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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