Right in my bio, I declare that I consider church to be a verb. This is important to me—because we all remember our grade school grammar classes: a verb is an action word. For me, church is an action word. By this, I refer to the church as the ecclesia—the community that gathers in worship and service—that’s where the action is.
So how do we put our faith, our commitment to being the church, into action? That’s where it can get tricky. Because the commitment to being church implies a commitment to relationship; one cannot be ‘church’ in solitude. We, the church, are called to live out our faith in active, meaningful ways, in which we engage the world around us and share the good news of the Good News.
Naturally, we start with prayer. Our prayers, however, ought not to be merely requests for wish fulfillment, elsewise they become like a spiritual Christmas Wish List. If that’s the case, then we are missing the relationship – we don’t have a relationship with ‘Santa’ when we compile those wish lists. Our prayers necessitate, and in fact improve with, a deep relationship with God, one where we both speak and listen. And we do that in community every time we gather in worship. It’s a relationship, putting into action the faith that brings us together.
So what else do we do to venture back into that ‘verb’ space? How do we engage God’s people in God’s world in meaningful ways that are mutually transformative?
Some (most? all?) parishes offer outreach ministries in one form or another—thanks be to God. Yet I challenge us—”outreach” that only offers a good, like donated food or use of space, lacks the personal connection that is necessary for these ministries to flourish. If our goal is to help “those people”, but we don’t even know their names, perhaps we’re not as engaged and active as we’re called to be.
The ministries that we do, to the glory of God and in God’s name, must be relational. They must build community. As they are done in God’s name (not our own) they remind us to be humble. As they are done with one another, we learn the gift of compromise and cooperation. As they are done in new and different ways, they challenge us to go beyond our comfort zone. And as they are almost always an on-going process, they encourage us to persevere, with patience as we live in God’s time.
So we put our faith in action, fully engaging the world. We make ourselves vulnerable, we learn names and stories, we share meals and struggles, we hold hands and hearts. We may get dirty, we may be uncomfortable, we may get rejected. But we continue on: sometimes it’s a conversation with the person on the corner; sometimes it’s assisting the homeless person down the street to navigate the social services to get their basic needs met; sometimes it’s fundraising to be a part of a larger body that will eventually sponsor a refugee family—and then meeting those people and journeying together.
Whatever your faith is calling you to do, I encourage you to do it in real, relational, active ways. Challenge yourself; challenge your pew-mates; challenge your clergy. Let’s remind ourselves that putting faith into action is what the church is called to do, and that this calling to the church will never have an end date. Let’s remind ourselves that without putting our faith into action, the church will only be as active as the buildings in which the ecclesia now comes together.