By Fletcher Lowe, reprinted from Living God’s Mission.
One of my favorite hymns, especially around All Saints, is “I sing a song of the Saints of God” – with one big exception: Toward the end of the second stanza are these words, “…and one was slain by a fierce wild beast, and there’s not any reason, no not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.”
Well, I do have a good reason – being slain by a fierce wild beast is not my preferred way of dying!
Given that reservation, the hymn does illustrate clearly that the real action of the Christian is not in the church building but out in the world. “One was a doctor and one was a queen and one was a shepherdess on the green…. and one was a soldier and one was a priest…. you can meet them in school or in lanes or at sea, in church or in trains or in shops or at tea….”
I, too, want to be a saint of God, where the Christ in me meets and greets the Christ in the other. Wherever. This Covid pandemic has put a new dimension on the life of the church community. Because, for the most part, we have been unable to meet en masse, in person in our church buildings, we have recovered the fact that the church is not the building, but the people – and the people are in shops and in lanes and at sea, and everywhere. We’ve recovered the truth that the action of being a Christian takes place wherever we live and move and have our being. In a pandemic that calls on us to be the church in our worlds, we are the church when we relate to those with whom we call by phone or meet at social distance, or write a note or connect with someone who lives alone or, or, or. And doing all that for Christ’s sake!
Without Sunday churchgoing, we are freed of the sense that ministry is defined by our going to church to worship or to teach or to be on the altar guild or to usher. Freed are we to be the church in our daily lives. Is that not some of the good news coming from the pandemic shut down? We are freed of the illusion that ministry is the domain of things churchy. Real ministry in in our daily life as we relate with others because of our faith.
So, as the song goes, you may want to meet Christians in shops and trains and even at tea, but we already are saints of God via our baptism. We are called to live that out, as another hymn puts it: “…now we go to seek and serve thee through our work and through our prayer; grant us light to see and know thee in thy people everywhere.” (Episcopal Hymnal, 336)