A wide spot in my imagination.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Laughing, Happy Sinners Wanted

"A place where sinners laugh at themselves and make other people happy.”

What is the church all about these days? Why does the church exist? Why am I a Christian? Why are you, dear reader, a Christian (if you are)?

I suppose these questions have always been important and have been asked in various ways for the last 2000 years or so. But ever so often they take on new relevance.

A church member here preached a very fine sermon last Sunday tackling those very questions. His sister (a minister) had emailed that his nephew (a cradle roll Presbyterian) had become a teenaged agnostic or maybe even an atheist. The sister was trying to figure out if the church was worth sticking with.

On a plane last week, I read Phyllis Tickle's book, The Great Emergence. She rips through a rollicking list of changes in the past 200 years -- from evolutionary science to the role of women to technology to transcience -- all of which have changed the church and have asked questions about the role of the church.

At the same time, the church where I serve is growing in this amorphous, willy-nilly kind of way that is invigorating and challenging. We probably need a larger building. But before we start mixing mortar, we thought it would be a good idea to think about, and maybe answer, the questions above.

So we began a formal process of trying to jot down a few sentences that define our church's values, our mission, and our vision.

Last night, a group of thoughtful souls sat around a table and bantered about vision. We were sort of working with the starting point, "In 3-5 years, United Christian Church will be..."

We talked and wrote and compiled lists and sample sentences filled with very good ideas. Our working premise is that church serves a three-fold purpose: It's a place for all people (emphasis on ALL) to enter, be welcomed, be included. Once they're here, the church is a place for healing, learning, growing. Third, we have a vision of our church as a "ministry center" -- a place that is a hub of all sorts of needs-meeting work and encourages people to do that work.

In trying to articulate all of that succinctly and compellingly, we were earnest...and wordy. The folks around the table were also funny and open-hearted.

At various points, we talked about the importance of fun, laughter, imperfection and passion in a church. Based on that, I tossed out a tongue-in-cheek vision statement: "United Christian Church is a place where sinful people come to laugh at themselves and make other people happy."

Not exactly high-faluting. Certainly not traditional. Possibly even a little shocking to some. But I like. I think it captures the three-fold vision we were exploring.

No doubt our vision writing group, with input from the larger congregation, will, in time, craft a more poetic, evocative formal vision statement. In the meantime, I'm holding on to this one as an informal mantra of who the church is called to be: "Sinful people who come together to laugh at themselves and make other people happy."

Can I get an, "Amen"?


  1. Interesting opening questions here. Oddly enough, I heard a remarkable sermon just this morning that answered all of them quite satisfactorily.