Years ago, our church family split apart, partly over disagreements and difficulties related to a new building in which we planned to meet. I became convinced that having a permanent physical space wasn’t really important for a church. The church was made of people, not bricks and mortar, after all. We can worship God anywhere, so who needs an actual building anyway?
I remained convinced of this perspective when my family joined a church that met in a high school. Worship happened in the auditorium, children’s ministry took place in the classrooms, and a team of volunteers moved bins of equipment and supplies in and out of the school every week. It became our normal, and what I believed continued to make the most sense.
You might think I’m getting ready to tell you that way of doing church is actually wrong, but I’m not. It still works; it still makes sense for our community. The Church is still, certainly, made up of people. And when we had to stop meeting in person last spring for safety concerns, my determination not to become dependent on a physical space served me well. Church online, broadcast to my television screen each Sunday morning? Awesome. Small groups and youth groups meeting via Zoom call? Fantastic. What a blessing technology has been to allow us to continue to gather even though we’ve been physically separated!
I say that sincerely. But as some parts of the world begin to open up for more in-person interactions, I’ve also realized that physical spaces do, in fact, matter a whole lot.
For the first couple of months my church began meeting in person again, we used another church’s building on Sunday afternoons. Finally, though, when the school year ended and our part of the world grew safer, we were allowed back into the high school that had been our church home for the last decade. I didn’t expect to feel any different that first morning back, though I’d smiled and nodded when our pastors and other church members expressed their deep gladness to finally be “going home.” After all, it would be the same group of people we’d been seeing in person for several weeks now, just in a different building. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me, but I was happy for them.
Oh, what arrogance! How blind I was to the effect that Sunday morning return would have on my heart!
Anyone who knows me even a little bit will not be surprised to learn that I cried nonstop the morning our church returned to our high school building home. Tears streamed down my face so quickly I eventually gave up trying to hide them and just stood in the auditorium, weeping openly.
What happened? The church is not a building! Right? Right? Right . . . but . . . I can no longer deny that place matters. Of course it does! Why else would God’s gift to His chosen people be a Promised Land? Why was it such an honor for Solomon to build God’s temple? Why did Jesus feel and express so much anger when people were misusing His Father’s house?
Because place matters.
I’m writing this from my favorite coffee shop that I didn’t realize how desperately I missed until I was back here at my favorite corner table. And the next time I get to settle onto a friend’s couch or back porch, I’ll be hard pressed not to burst into tears again at the sacred nature of sharing space.
I realize that some of you reading this still might not be able to physically gather with others. And I recognize that, for some of you, a church building or meeting space isn’t where you feel most at home, connected to God, or even comfortable.
But for all of us, no matter where we find ourselves today or tomorrow, place matters. And because He loves us so much, I believe any place God meets us becomes holy ground. The wooden altar facing stained glass windows in the sanctuary of our childhood church. The dark auditorium borrowed from a high school. The corner chair in our living rooms where we sit with our Bibles. The patio table or park bench or back porch where we pray with a friend. The cracked leather seat on the bus where we read a devotion on our phones. Anywhere we meet God, anywhere two or more gather in His name, can become a sacred place.
And if you’re missing a sacred, physical space today, you’re not alone. So many of us have been missing our places, but God is with us no matter where we are.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
God meets us exactly where we are. Sometimes God wouldn’t be able to caught our attention if we were to be in a different spot!
Mary Carver says
Such a great point, Dova! God puts us where we are and meets us there too.
Beth Williams says
God’s church isn’t a building but the people in the building. We must remember God made us for community. We were meant to be with others & share life with them. Sure it’s alright to do church via Facebook or TV, but God wants us to stay connected with our fellow people. They can pray for us during trials & cheer us on. Life is much sweeter with your tribe & friends. Even if you can’t be with your tribe yet, you can text or email them to check in & show your love for them. Remember this God is with you no matter what!!
Mary Carver says
Amen, Beth! We are made for community and, thankfully, that comes in all shapes and sizes. And yesssss, God is with us no matter what that looks like!
Amen and again I say Amen!!!!!!
Just a couple of days ago one of my “daughters” (a dear friend much closer to my own daughters age) has gone to be with Jesus. I too am grateful for the technology that has allowed me to say til we meet again and stay in touch with her girls. I think of times when I was a child and we got word of family events through the mail and eventually by phone. I’m old it isn’t the technology that is bad but how or why it is used. From the dawn of time it has been our hearts and souls that God and his son Jesus have desired. I’m so grateful He never gives up on that.
Mary Carver says
Loretta, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m glad you were able to use technology during this difficult time and praying God’s comfort for you.
Kellie Johnson says
Oh how I love this ❤ Places were and ARE important to God. You’ve pointed us to His word for cues, it’s beautifully written. It’s something we don’t talk about enough. Thanks for this today-
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Mary what you say is so true the Church is not the building. We are the Church the Hands and Feet of Jesus. You got it so right. We can worship Jesus any were. We are to be the people Jesus wanted us to be Mary. Just like he was when he walked on earth. Helping people of all walks of life loving people of all walks of life. No matter what skin colour they have or what age the are. Doing the Lord work while on earth. No Our focus on the big fancy building. How many people we can get into that building. No it about going the extra mile if you can and are able to help that person in need. It doesn’t have to any thing fancy you do for them. May just stopping to listen to that person no one else wants any thing to do with. I done that. I made a difference in this person life. As she this person feels no one likes her because she has learning disabilities. But she is saved and a Daughter of the king and that king is Jesus. I have told her that. Who see beyond her disabilities. Jesus see her also as a beautiful person. Just like me and you are. So me doing that I am being the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. Taking time to listen her and tell her I will pray for her. Doing that has made a world of difference in this person life. That is the type of Church Jesus wants us to be. That type of Church person that goes the extra mile for people like this and shows the Love of Jesus to people like this. To many of us contrate on the big fancy building. We can belong too and be seen going to it. To make a show of ourselves. By say to people I go that big fancy church called. We all dress in nice fancy dresses men in suits kids are nicely dress to. What would happen in that Church if a poor person came in with dirty clothing on. Would they expect them.? Remember Jesus looks at are heart not the fancy building or the way we are dressed. That means nothing to Jesus. He far rather see you be the hands and feet of him to the world out there if you can. Helping even one person. Making a difference in their lives. That is the true Church. Mary thank you for what you shared and for being honest. I say Amen to what you wrote. You shared your heart. I do agree with all you said. Love you all incourage. I keep you all in prayer. Dawn Ferguson-Little Northern Ireland xx
This touches my heart so deeply. Thank you for helping me get a better understanding of place. God’s Holy Spirit abides in me! God made us to fellowship with each other. Praise God! Praise his holy name. God is so good.
Mary Carver says
Amen, Olivia! God IS good. So grateful this article was an encouragement to you.
Sarah VT says
This! My family’s church closed 6 years ago and we have struggled to find a new church community. We still don’t know where we will end up, where God is calling us, but I do know that we miss it. A lot. And I do know that God has a community for even us.
Thank you for this …and for ending with my favorite Bible verse… God’s got us.
Mary Carver says
Yes, absolutely – God’s got us. But also, being without a church home can be really difficult. Praying God leads you to a new church family soon!
Becky Keife says
My husband and I have dinner once a month with three other couples. We rotate homes, each taking a turn to host. We didn’t meet for over a year due to COVID and last night was the first time it was our turn to host again. Sitting around our dining room table sharing a meal… moving to the patio for coffee and cookies and laughter — definitely felt sacred and like a gift not to be taken for granted!
Mary Carver says
Becky, I love this so much! We had a “dinner club” for a while too and I miss it a lot.
Theresa Boedeker says
We can miss places just like we miss people. And sometimes they are so tightly intertwined we don’t know which we miss most.
My daughter is a senior in high school. She has been in theater since 4th grade. Her school was the last school in our area to put on a full musical before everything shut down last year. Fast forward to this year and our hometown musical theater opened back up with 42nd Street and she saw it last week and she cried through the whole thing. From the producer welcoming everyone back through the standing ovation. It’s amazing how some things affect us in such different and beautiful ways.
Mary Carver says
Ohhhh, I love that your hometown theater has opened and that your daughter was able to enjoy it. What a gift!