Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Purpose of the Building

This summer has been filled with more travel and family visiting than usual. I just returned from a camping trip with most of my husband's extended family. It's difficult to express how grateful I am for their willingness to sacrifice their own comfort to enable me to gather with them. I'm truly thankful for their Christlike hearts and valiant efforts to include me.

The trip was full of good family visiting times, but wasn't without its challenges. I had a significant chemical exposure (mosquito fogging) that introduced a new symptom to my list. Other challenges included an air conditioner that gave out during a traffic jam, a mix-up regarding a campsite reservation, a sick family member, and fearless skunks.

One challenge was quite unexpected and involved the use of a campground pavilion. We were a large group and had planned to gather under the shelter during our last day (a rainy one) to play games and visit. The campground office said it was fine as long as there was no other planned activity there.

Unfortunately, the campground office isn't the only entity involved with the pavilion. As we eventually learned, a group of volunteers (I believe they're called "Friends of the Shelter") built the facility. As we also learned, they are quite protective of it. We were confronted twice, at two different times during the day, with volunteers who were evidently very unhappy that we were using their building. I'm not sure I'll ever forget the sight of the second volunteer. He stood watching us, with a red face and semi-balled fists, looking like he would really like to hit someone. To be fair, he did eventually decide to be friendly and at the end of the conversation said, "I'm not trying to run you out," which at the beginning he seemed clearly to want to do.

It's hard to say exactly when the conversation took a turn and became more positive. Perhaps it was the moment when my husband asked simply, "So is this shelter just supposed to be for the volunteers?"  Maybe that's the point where the gentleman remembered why the pavilion was built. Isn't a shelter in a campground supposed to shelter campers?  Isn't being "friends of the shelter" a goal that's underneath the greater one of being friends of the humans?

The encounters seemed ludicrous at the time and still seem so as I write about them. I can't help but think, however, how similar they are to the way many people with MCS experience the church. Chemically sensitive people want to find shelter from life's storms and wonder why they aren't welcome in churches that were theoretically built for that purpose. They wonder how so many church members become "Friends of the Church Building" (who focus on making it more beautiful than healthy) rather than friends of people created in God's image who just want to enter the building without getting sick.

I correspond with many fellow MCS sufferers. One recently told me a familiar story of trying to communicate with her pastor about creating a church environment that's safe for her and other chemically sensitive members. She isn't making much progress. At one point she wrote, "We are being made to feel like a bother for wanting to come to church."  

I think she summed it up well. Is that the message the church really wants to send?  It's bad enough to send that message to chemically sensitive church members, but truly heartbreaking to send it to seekers. When people develop MCS or any chronic illness, they tend to become more open to spiritual realities and more hungry for spiritual truth. God is surely not pleased if people hungry to know Him can't enter a Christian church building because of the product choices others make.

Mark 11:15-17 tells this story:
When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

Why was Jesus angry?  I imagine there were a number of reasons. Surely he was angry that commerce seemed to be taking precedence over spiritual pursuits. He was undoubtedly also angry, however, that the activities going on inside the building kept people who wanted to worship from being able to do so. The temple was designed with a series of courtyards and some people were allowed to go deeper into the complex than others were. Those who could simply walk by the marketplace activity to enter another court weren't impeded by the chaos. For those who could go no farther than the courtyard where the buying, selling, and money changing was going on, however, worship was a significant challenge. I imagine Jesus was angry that those who had no limitations on their ability to worship put barriers in the way of those who did.

I understand and appreciate the need to be stewards of and care for buildings, whether they’re campground pavilions or churches. I pray, however, that we never forget why they were built. They're for people.


Zona said...

Excellent article, Martha! I've shared the link on FB for others to read too :)

Martha McLaughlin said...