But here’s something I’ve found that might make feel like fighting words: the most effective and vital congregations are usually not pretty churches. There are exceptions but most of the vibrant, impact-ful congregations out there have visibly imperfect buildings and visibly imperfect people.
I love a pretty church building. Big fan of stained glass and architectural interest. But when everything looks pristine over at First Church on the Hill, I wonder if there’s also pressure for the parishioners to look and seem pristine too.
A strong spiritual community is never pretty from the world’s standards. Never.
The cross was not pretty. And human life is a hot mess for most of us.
I just spent the weekend with a group of wonderful women who kept identifying themselves as quirky or unique or “different.” One of the differences, perhaps, is that they were open to sharing those times when they have most needed God. They were not afraid to share the unpretty things and yet, in sharing them, they exuded deep beauty. I experienced church with them.
I need Jesus to center me, to anchor me, to hold me together because I am a bit of a wreck much of the time. I find strength in the God who heals broken people and if you could see what I’ve seen, you would find strength. I’ve known people who are still breathing after catastrophic experiences with abuse and betrayal and abandonment. And nothing about those things is beautiful, until it’s shared.
The Church Jesus cobbles together is made of us the lost and the lonely and the excluded It has absolutely nothing to do with trimmed lawns and shiny windows. If that’s all we’ve got, our churches are going to close sooner than later. If there’s pressure to keep the ugly parts of our lives to ourselves at all costs, our churches are going to close sooner than later.
I remember Barbara Brown Taylor saying one Lent long along ago: “One cross is a crucifixion. Three crosses is a church.” Amen.