Last month our parish was received into the Diocese of Quincy, at the 134th Synod. The last few years for Quincy have been marked by the fracturing of the Episcopal church, the retirement of a much loved bishop, the separation of the majority of the diocese from the national church, and the lawsuit filed by the Episcopal church against the diocese seeking their parishes, endowment funds, and name.
The threat posed by this lawsuit was discussed at Synod. These new brothers and sisters of ours face being forced from their parish homes by those who have no intention of ever occupying the little churches nestled between the corn and soy bean fields of west central Illinois.
Serving to illustrate the waste of it all, is the fact that if the Episcopal church wins, whatever they might recover won't even make a dent in what they've spent on legal fees. Any proceeds from the sale of these buildings will go into the fund set aside for more lawsuits. A fund which replaced the budget line item previously entitled "Missions."
The pain of what may come is one we know well, because we've been through it. We had a bishop who said we could rewrite the New Testament. In our case, there was no lawsuit, we were a single divided parish, but there was a world of hurt that came with walking out of the church we'd helped to build.
A lot of folks would point out that a church is just bricks and mortar, and that's not what Jesus died for, and they are right. But the pain exists because a church is also infinitely more than just bricks and mortar.
It is the physical place that we have our history and our home. We built it, or our parents or grandparents did, and our memories are there: our baptisms; our weddings; our grandpa's ashes. All there in a place where we came together and trusted that because there were two or more of us gathered in His name, He'd show up.
And that showing up is what makes those bricks and mortar holy ground.
Throughout Scripture, we see that those who went before us built altars made of stone in places that have names that are recorded. They did it as an homage to God. He'd do something amazing on a piece of land and they'd mark the spot. We know that we can never begin to repay God for saving us, and we know that what He requires is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart and of praise and thanksgiving...we know all that, but our hands cannot keep still. The awe that compels us to the ground on our knees, compels us to build Him these altars.
Some are small, like the little Baptist box that we worship in in Wheaton. Some are soaring works of stained-glassed glory, like the cathedral at Chartres, built and re-built over a thousand years. Evidence of people who knew that nothing they could do would ever be thanks enough, but whose hands and hearts could not rest.
So is it wrong for them to be sad about possibly losing their parishes? I cannot say that it is. They are being sued by people who have sold former churches to Muslims and nightclub owners rather than allow the parishioners to "buy" back the building their parents or grandparents built.
Frankly, I think some righteous anger is fitting. We are not promised ease, and we know it. But we are to be working toward the Kingdom that is to come, participating in the building of the new earth. We plant altars as outposts, building blocks toward the future. To be required to hand these outposts over to those who are seeking to destroy the faith should bother us.
But it should also strengthen our resolve. The fact is that we built those altars because we know God acts in places. And if He does so in one building, He will do so in another, whether it is a living room holding folks perched on arm chairs to pray while Sunday School is held in the kitchen, or the local school gymnasium. We've lived through that, seen it happen, and are growing.
Against the wisdom of the world, five parishes from outside the state and four from within have come into the diocese. In the face of lawsuits and pain, Quincy is growing.
Because the reality is, too, that we know the end of the story. He will prevail against the powers and principalities of this world. And those little stone altars we built in faith - even though they be handed over to those who don't know how to honor God - will be redeemed.