Church, we are taught, is not the building. Church is the faithful people: the people are the building. The Eastertide readings make this clear: let yourselves be built into a spiritual house (see 1 Peter 2:2 – 10, Easter V). A spiritual house. And yet…those people have to have a place to gather, “to offer spiritual sacrifices to God…” So our buildings become sacred spaces, in part by what we offer in them, but more importantly, by what we receive, and become, and take into the world from them.
This weekend I was reminded of this once again, in two very different settings. On Saturday, in the vast space of the National Cathedral, the diocesan service of Confirmation took place. Grace Church presented Lauren González-Torres, among at least one hundred others from twenty parishes and missions. Banners and long processions converging from three aisles. Formal garb on vergers, acolytes, bishops and clergy. Music and song — Cathedral choir, jazz and solemn chant. The Gospel en español and in English. Strong communion wine –port. And in a sense, this space is a massive ‘port’ where so many varied vessels find an anchor while bobbing around on the waves and the tides of life.
Because it was the people, this congregation from many congregations, that truly filled the space. Ladies in their finest glittering floor-length gowns; girls in white dresses; boys in ties and bow ties; old, young, middle-aged; able-bodied and halting. . The Cathedral was transformed from a huge empty cavern into a reverent and raucous cross-section of this diocese and city and country — brought together by the spirit of God.
Then, on Sunday evening, a visiting friend of twenty years and I sat quietly in the much smaller space of Grace Church. She played hymns on the piano, as she did at the tiny mission in Trenton, New Jersey so long ago where we first crossed paths. Since then, she converted to Judaism, but the hymns still touch her soul, and the music was quiet and full. We prayed together, and remembered those in that long-ago beloved community: Ed and Allen, so devoted to one another; Anne, a seamstress from Liberia, receiving occasional messages from her family hiding in the wilderness during the endless civil war; Liz, despondent and depressed, bringing her fears and woes to a place each week where she knew she would be accepted; Andy and Sue and their baby Lauren, working hard to build a life together; Nan, who went on to be ordained; the Trenton jazz community who came to offer their music as they offered it in other venues to a struggling city.
In spaces vast and intimate, God’s people gather; we become church; we are blessed so that somehow, by the grace of God, blessings we may be.