Of all the reflections in Chapter 5 of Receiving the Day, this one on page 66 really stood out to me:
Jürgen Moltmann, an eminent German theologian, ended his book on the theology of creation with a radical suggestion: “The ecological day of rest should be a day without pollution of the environment–a day when we leave our cars at home, so that nature too can celebrate its Sabbath.” Fifty years ago, before the building of the freeways and the suburbs, many American Christians might have found in this suggestion an endorsement of their way of life. Then, churches had small parking lots and served neighborhoods or parishes, and people walked. But things have changed. In recent decades, the lack of adequate parking space has been a significant factor in the withering of many urban churches, while suburban megachurches have prospered in part due to the efforts of parking stewards who volunteer to direct traffic flow across acres of asphalt. A few of my friends have chosen to live where they can walk to church, unknowingly emulating the walk to the synagogue that is imperative for Jews of the strictest observance. For most of us, getting to worship, and also enjoying many of the other suggestions for keeping Sabbath set forth in this book, would be impossible without our wheels.
Sound familiar, First Church? We all know the parking challenges that face our church, especially in the winter. (Many thanks to all those who help with valet parking during the cold, snowy season!) Furthermore, although FC certainly draws from our local SE/University neighborhood, I know that many of you drive across bridges and highways to get here on a Sunday morning (myself included).
This is a far cry from the church of my childhood, which served a mid-sized New England town and surrounding villages. Some people drove, yes, but not very far, and inadequate parking was certainly never a deterrent. Dorothy Bass’ observations are around the subject of Sabbath, but they inspire me to think also about community. I recall again my small-town church, where all church members were essentially from the same place: we shopped at the same stores and our kids went to mostly the same schools.
Now I don’t mean to idealize that kind of life. Indeed, I wonder if sometimes geographic closeness allows us to overlook other significant differences between people–economic status, educational background, etc. When we are blinded to these differences, we often assume that everyone else shares our privileges and problems. These assumptions can get in the way of good conversation and real connection.
So. I wonder if First Church can draw strength from our different position. We can’t rely on some of the usual definitions of community to define us–i.e. people all living in the same area. We have to identify something else that draws us together. Shared values. Shared hopes. Shared investments in the good of the church and the greater world.
Whether First Church is your “neighborhood” church or not, I encourage you to reflect on why you made it your church home.
Meanwhile, I’m going to try to wean myself a little from my car! I spend way too much time in that thing, as evidenced by the small collection of jewelry, toiletries, and other everyday necessities I’ve got in there–just in case. Wish me luck figuring out the Minneapolis bus system.