Most of the time, when people think of what churches do, they think “indoctrination.” It makes sense. Churches have schools, offer education and preach a particular story. I don’t think it is the primary role of the church, but it is one role that churches have had.
And indoctrination is not all bad: some people do need to be reminded that they should do unto others good things. It’s a shortcut to thinking – a way of training one’s instincts for the good.
I want to suggest, however, that churches are primarily about something different: churches do relationships. (They also enchant the world, but that’s another essay).
“Relationship” happens before rules. Connecting happens before doctrine. It is from experiencing relationships that the church has had with all those people who have been in the church (and outside), that the church created doctrine. Sometimes its rules don’t make much sense, but they made sense at some time.
Doctrine is not the end point of the faithful person. It is not our purpose. Our purpose is more about connecting people with each other – and through those relationships we begin to see what God looks like. Our first encounter with God is usually through the encounter of other persons. Like our children; or our parents; or our friends and spouses. And sometimes our enemies.
In England they recently agreed to consecrate women bishops. It’s a remarkable change for Catholic Christianity – one that England’s sister churches throughout the globe have already experienced. And the reason for the change is that the church’s experience and relationshp with women has changed. The challenge still continues: how do we maintain relationships with people who think differently about the consecration of women? Personally, I find that there is even a question about the merits of women’s ordination itself to be a bit strange, but there are many world views, of which I’m not familiar that have their own internal logic.
From our relationships that we begin to understand the church’s mission. How do we, as a community, become a place for healing, joy, peace and fortitude? We need to know where people are hurting; where they have conflict; and when they are weak. I suggest that this includes most of us at some point.
I imagine that in Westchester people have different sorts of anxieties. Money is a pretty central; raising children in the midst of affluence and unregulated desire; environmental challenges. Many families are trying to sort through the immense changes that the culture is experiencing. How do we become the place that serves them?
This is part of a greater strategy to discern our mission. Recently I asked someone who had been a member of the church for about 40 years what he thought the mission was. He had just suggested closing the church down. And he couldn’t give me an answer. I don’t think this is unusual.
I do think, however, that there is a purpose and a reason for our community: but discerning it comes from maintaining and fostering connections with each other. From those connections we can begin to formulate the way this church can be a place of strength and love for any person who walks through our doors.