Where Your Heart Is: A Committed Heart
This might shock you, but I was once a sorta-ornery kid growing up.
Maybe that doesn’t shock you, come to think of it.
You know, preachers kids,
Get away with everything…
I didn’t do anything bad, not really,
But I did explore a lot, on my own or with one of the other kids.
It helped that the church we moved to was old
A beautiful, English Gothic style building styled by architect Albert Groves
built in 1917.
Deep oak pews that creaked when you sat in them
Abstract stained glass in reds and blues.
Churches like that one, Westminster Presbyterian of Saint Louis
have served generations as a tool for ministry and mission.
And for a curious 13 year old,
It was a like a treasure
Lots of classrooms and closets and dark rooms to explore
(we call those boiler rooms today).
One particular morning I remember looking through some storeroom or another
And flipping through some framed art
That once adorned some wall or another
But which now lived in storage
A friendly home for the dust of a stale basement.
The one I remember was behind two or three other pieces.
I had to flip them over to get to it.
But the one that stood out was a drawing of the sanctuary
A layout of sorts, with the chancel and the pulpit up front
The main and side aisles and the doors at the back
And then all those oak pews
Numbered, even numbers on the right, odd numbers on the left.
It looked a bit like those drawings you see on stub hub
When you’re looking to buy tickets to a play or a concert
And you’re trying to figure out where your seat is going to be.
It was a pew rental chart.
Westminster, like many many churches
In the early 20th century
Funded their ministry through renting out its pews every year.
Can you imagine a time when sermons were the hot ticket?
These churches didn’t do stewardship campaigns
They didn’t invite participants to dream the organization’s dream
And to become part of it.
Instead, they charged top dollar for the front rows
And funded their annual budget more like the Kansas City Chiefs
Than your kids’ soccer team.
All of this emerged when churches in our country
Were trying to figure out how to do church
In a society where there was no public funding, like there used to be in Europe.
It was a different sort of time, and
there was a lot wrong with all this solution.
For one thing, it cultivated class envy, a system of putting the well to do up front.
You might imagine that the most expensive seats were near the exit
Where you could sneak out, but no,
People wanted to be seen.
It became a prideful thing.
This whole enterprise missed
that some people weren’t in a position
to know whether they’d be able to give regularly enough to rent a pew.
And so it relegated them to the bleachers.
Maybe worst of all:
It suggested that worship, or anything in the ministry of a congregation,
was for sale.
It treated church participation, like the rest of society
As governed by a sort of SCARCITY
So that only those with more means could have the unobstructed view
Oh and everyone else can look up to them having it in the meantime.
It was awful. [Read more…]