Finding the Meaning of Church

What is the Church? This is a question that is often asked of me by others, but more importantly, it is a question that I often ask myself. I believe that there are two ways to answer this question.

The Church is a building in which believers in Jesus Christ gather. This is the most common way people look understand Church. Historically, believers first gathered in people’s homes as we read in the book of Acts. As the numbers of believers grew and the persecutions of the early Christians subsided, the faithful began gathering in dedicated spaces and over time the Church as we know it today was established and understood as the house of God. The space is sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit and becomes a place of joy, a place of celebration, a place of consolation, a place of healing, a place of reconciliation, and a place of worship and prayer.

The Church is her people. We can have a building, call it a church, but without the faithful, it is just brick and mortar or wood and nails. Through the prayers of the faithful, the space is dedicated as they welcome the Holy Spirit into their midst. In a very simple, but meaningful way, during the Consecration of a Church, the faithful, one by one, come forward and place oil in the akymitos fos, the candle placed on the Altar table. Drop by drop the candle is filled with the prayers of the faithful. In a meaningful way this light embodies the community. The light is filled by offerings of the whole community not one individual or a select group of individuals, just as the Church finds its existence through the gathering of all the faithful.

The faithful, then, sanctify the building through worship and prayer. As we know, worship and prayer are active, not a passive existence. These acts bring the community of believers to life and allow the parish to become vibrant and life affirming. Without worship and prayer, the building is no longer a church, but a lovely place with pretty things.

As individuals within our community, we need to ask ourselves, how are we making our Church as a building, a Church of dedicated, prayerful, and worshiping faithful? Have we, and are we, combining our drops of oil with those of our fellow parishioners in order to let the light of Christ burn not only on the Altar, but in our hearts and our homes. This is our calling as Christians – to find meaning within community, within the Church.