My church is raising money to renovate the church building. The plans for the new building are posted on one of the walls of the church, and I have to admit it looks amazing. The new front of the church is beautiful in the pictures. The new sanctuary will be huge. There will be more classroom space and parking, which has been needed for a while. There is a lot of excitement about the project, which is good because it will take a lot to get it done. The price tag is huge, too. Many millions of dollars are needed to create this new space.
I’m not actually sure how I feel about the whole project. As part of the campaign to raise the money we are doing a church wide study on generosity. There is a book everyone is reading and the pastor is giving a sermon series. There are speakers regularly up in front of the church talking about how they are sacrificing so they can give extra money to the church. And there are plans for the team leading the campaign to visit with every family from the church in person to discuss the project and what that family can give to it, which just feels awkward and intrusive to me, no matter what anyone says about it. So campaign really feels like the right word; it feels like a military campaign. All the avenues of attack are mapped out in order to obtain as many resources as possible.
I have to admit, I feel a little uncomfortable with all of this. It’s hard to talk about, because several people from my Sunday School are involved with the project. I really like my Sunday School class, and I want to support them. One of them, a person who is one of the kindest, warmest, most genuine people I know, talked about an incident last Sunday related to the campaign. She was trying to pass out the books we are reading and a fellow church member told her “no thanks, I’ve already got the propaganda.” I know this hurt my friend’s feelings, because I know to her this isn’t propaganda. I tried to offer the thought that whoever made the comment might have been trying to say – hey, I feel pressured, please back off – in a way that was less direct and intense, that they didn't mean to be rude, and that we need to listen to and respect those kinds of communications even if we don’t agree. I’m not sure that helped very much. Another woman in the class commented that perhaps the people who are uncomfortable with the campaign are uncomfortable because they know they aren’t giving enough.
I don’t know if that’s so. I’m still thinking about it in relationship to myself, since I do feel uncomfortable with the project. I am giving to the building campaign, although not as much as I could give, or as much as the church wants me to give. I am giving up something that I want in order to give, because our charitable donations were already budgeted out for the year and I didn’t want to back off on any of those commitments. But I could give up more and give more to the project, undoubtedly. I just don’t want to. I could be self-deceiving in this, but I don’t think it’s about the money or a lack of generosity. I think I’m uncertain about the project itself and the enormous price tag attached. If the church were saying “let’s spend millions to expand our food pantry” or “let’s spend millions to establish a homeless shelter with associated mental health services” I think I could more readily get behind that, and I would be motivated to give more.
Building a huge, expensive, fancy looking building feels worldly. It feels like self-aggrandizement and seeking power. It feels like we are looking at the wrong things. I know not everyone feels that way. I know that the church leadership has prayed over this project and that they feel called to do this by G-D. I know they want to make more space in the sanctuary so more people can attend. I know they want a bigger space because some of the youth ministries are meeting across the street in another building, and because there are no more rooms for Sunday School classes. I don’t quite understand this, because I see rooms that appear empty and unused on Sunday mornings. But I can admit that I don’t have the perspective of the whole church and perhaps I’m wrong and those spaces are used and we’re just truly, honestly, genuinely out of room. I know part of the huge price tag is the location of the church, and the fact that the church is choosing to remain in a crowded, urban area where the people it serves actually are, instead of moving to a cheaper suburban area. I know the church does a great deal of service and that with more people attending and more space we can do more. And I hope that we will and that G-D will multiply and use our gifts to further his vision for the world.
Perhaps I just feel anxious about the whole growth perspective. My church before this was tiny; the entire church could probably fit in the sanctuary of the church I attend now (not just the people – the entire building). We were okay with that. We were okay with being a small, intimate church. We were friendly and welcoming and caring. We focused on service projects and fellowship. We didn’t worry too much about attracting new members. We loved them when they came but we never worried about it. And I loved my old church. I loved the people in it. I miss it, and them, terribly. It is still one of the hardest, saddest losses for me in moving a year and a half ago.
So perhaps I just am having trouble adjusting to this new church, with its own perspective and way of doing things. Perhaps I am having difficulty loving this new church for itself. I am trying, and I hope my friends, if they read this, will understand that and know that I do appreciate them and the welcome they have given us here. That I love them too and that I know I will grow into feeling at home in this church. That I am giving, and trying to participate in the church’s vision, and praying that this church will be G-D’s instrument. That I’m just slow when it comes to mastering transitions in my life. I hope they will understand that if I am uncomfortable it’s not that I don’t care, or don’t want to give. It’s that I care a great deal about having a church to belong to that shows me good ways to participate in G-D’s mission. I care tremendously about having a place where growing as a disciple is about love, service, generosity to each other and a broken world.