November 16, 2018

Story On: The Necessity of Participation in Church and Civic Life

The change of the church season and the participation of the democratic process remind us of the privilege and the call to participate in a greater story being told.

Flick. The familiar green lights ran across the tower of electronics in the sound booth indicating that all systems were “a go,” so I plugged in my phone, opened up Spotify, and let the music come charging through the sanctuary speakers like a tidal wave of sound. It’s take-down day. It’s clean-up day. It’s change-out day. You know that day…it cycles around several times a year, when all the decor that it took hours or even days to hang comes down in 30 minutes or less, filling the recycling bin and dumpsters out back. All those installations that were carefully measured and then hung while someone hung precariously off a ladder for two hours, come down and find their way into the overly-crowded worship closet to be dealt with “later” (aka ordinary time).

Today was take-down day. Our church, the Washington DC Christian Reformed Church, celebrated its 75th anniversary over the weekend. Our summer/fall worship theme for decor centered around “homecoming” so we hung old, wooden window panes painted in bright jewel tones on the walls of our cinder block round sanctuary, making us feel like we were inside a home. Over the last few months, members of our congregation added photos and other memorabilia like bulletins and programs to the window panes, filling them with the familiar faces of those who still attend and those who have moved on or passed away. We had photos hanging of the first pastor digging the foundation for the building, photos of the servicemen stationed in DC who founded the church so the denomination could have a CRC church to attend while away from home. We had retirement programs from former pastors, photos of the time our small church put on a full production of West Side Story, photos of potlucks, Easter breakfasts, and Lord’s Supper celebrations.

This time take down day was a slower and more deliberative process. It was a therapeutic time in the sanctuary, surrounded by the faces of saints and dear friends, reflecting on God’s faithfulness, grateful for the way each of these people have been instrumental in shaping the life of this congregation. It was a reminder that every life has an important and valuable personal story which in turn helps to tell the greater story of our congregation and the even greater story of God’s kingdom. Each voice was part of a weekly chorus of praise echoing through our walls like a never-ending hymn of praise. Each member, each face in the window a unique and valuable participant…a living member in the work of God’s church.

As I reached up and pulled the Command tabs off the wall, a small, white sticker kept popping into view from my lapel saying “I voted.” Today was also election day. It struck me in that moment that there are many similarities between the hard and holy work of being the church together, and the hard and holy work of being citizens together. We might not think that our footprint or impact on the 75+ years of history of our church means much in the long run. We might not think that our footprint or impact of casting one vote in a national election means much in the long run. But in many ways, it’s not about the actual act that is performed, but rather all about our participation in something greater than ourselves…a willingness to be a full and active participant who shares in the work, who dreams for the future, who finds tangible and creative ways to make those dreams a reality. It’s about the camaraderie of standing beside others who look like you, think like you, denomination like you…but also closing those gaps to make a broader yet tightly-knit circle. The work of being a citizen of both country and church can be exhausting and not necessarily life-giving, but remember both the privilege and the call to participate in a greater story being told through individuals like you and like me. Story on, friends. Story on.

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A #54

Q. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?

A. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member.

Kathryn Ritsema Roelofs is a commissioned pastor in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and serves as a worship specialist with Thrive, a ministry of the CRC. She is also the managing director of the Worship for Workers project through Fuller Seminary.