Our appearance seemed the antithesis to the United Methodist slogan, "Open hearts, open minds, open doors" ... well, at least the open doors part.
After several years of fundraising and generous contributions from past and current members, the Stafford UMC is refurbishing its southern entrance and steps. Generations of church members had climbed those stairs into the sanctuary, including four generations of Randy's family. Construction on the present building began almost 90 years ago, in February 1925, and the completed building was dedicated in May 1927. (For more on our Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired building and its history, click this link.)
When you think about it, a church should always be part of a construction zone. Churches ought to be in the business of building better people. Perfect people don’t go to church. We go to church to gather the tools to live life in the way Jesus modeled for us.
The construction crews chipped away at old, leaky steps. But we all need to work on chipping away the “decayed” parts of ourselves and being restored through the grace of Jesus Christ. So I think living in a construction zone has been a good metaphor.
Construction is never easy or convenient. It’s a messy, noisy process. But it’s worth it in the end – whether we’re talking the transformation of ourselves or a building.
Though the construction, we entered through the back doors of the church. And the life of the church went on. We celebrated the great "cloud of witnesses" who've gone before us on All Saints Sunday. We remembered the people who climbed the steps with us and were part of the church family here on earth.
The past three Sundays, families have lit the candles on the Advent wreath. The candles have symbolized hope, peace and joy. This coming Sunday, we light the fourth candle, the candle of love.
As Pastor Ben writes in the liturgy for this week:
With the flame, we will signify the love of God that surrounds and fills us at all times, but that we recognize in a special way in the Christmas story. There is no greater power than love. It is stronger than rulers and empires, strong than grief or despair, stronger even than death. We love because God loves us. Christ is coming! Christ is always coming! Come, O Come, Emmanuel!
It seems fitting that the construction on the new steps is nearing completion. When I went by the church yesterday afternoon, just one of the construction machines remained in the side yard. Because the steps still need to "cure" for a new days, we'll still use the back doors to attend our Sunday service.
But, on Christmas Eve, the front doors to the church will again be flung open to welcome worshipers who will come to celebrate the newborn King. The timing seems right, doesn't it?
"We wait at the edge of your nativity, O Lord. Make us ready by sweeping away the clutter of our lives, that our journey to your manger would be a clear path of hope and joy."
From the December 21, 2014, Stafford UMC church bulletin
(Christmas Eve services at Stafford UMC are at 5:30 and 11. All are welcome at 218 West Stafford St., Stafford, Kansas.)