“They need help unloading a trailer of food.” The coordinator at the flood response crisis center handed me, my husband, and a local friend a work order. “It’s a church, or what used to be.” She shook her head of gray hair as she turned to the next group of volunteers.
Inside our truck, we followed her directions through an isolated river town in the heart of the West Virginia mountains. Flood cleanup had been going on for over a week. Soggy possessions piled along the streets next to homes that were now empty shells, filled, not with children’s laughter or a mother’s prayer, but with mud and mold.
Mounds of dirt and debris lined the sides of a strip mall’s parking lot. Outside the town’s only grocery store, shopping carts tangled with twisted metal shelving. The nearest food store was nearly an hour’s drive away.
Connected at the far end, the church shared the mall’s disaster, but this flood casualty was undeniably still a church. I have seen strip mall churches before, with their flat fronts blending into the mall’s length of bland architecture with perhaps a small sign above the door, but evidently, this church had never planned to hide. Its church-y facade with cupola and cross still proclaimed its identity. From the outside.
We parked the truck, asked how we could help, and walked through the doors.
Church – padded pews and stained glass windows. Songs of worship, words of praise. Prayers. A place of respite in a week of stress. A place for spirits to be fed with the Bread of Life.
But not this one. Not now. Not after the river had risen and with a roar, claimed its interior. Walls, ceiling, and floors, already stripped clean by volunteers, offered no such sanctuary.
“We will use this pile of boards to keep the food up off the wet concrete,” the pastor instructed, seeming resigned to his tragedy.
We started hauling lumber to turn a church into a food distribution center, and, in the process, constructed a real life object lesson.
Church – Sometimes, no more than a social club where members jostle one another for position and recognition. Judgement without mercy. Pride. Politics. Splinter groups. Holy Spirit grieved. Pantry shelves devoid of the Bread of Life.
“I am weary of bearing them [your assemblies, festivals, and feasts]. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong. Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless. Plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:14-17
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is NOT a church. It is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. It is to keep oneself unspotted from the prideful, me-first mindset of the world.
I plunked my end of a board onto the concrete floor. I straightened my back. One American Christian church, gutted of its plush interior, had changed into a food distribution center.
Hopefully yours will too, but does it have to take a crisis?
“I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35-36