Give grace a chance

At the heart of the Christian message is the funny concept that goes by the name of grace. It’s not a concept that’s particularly popular in the broader culture just this moment, if it ever was.

We seem to be in a moment when grace is seen as the opposite of justice and when justice must be had at all costs. I suppose this makes sense given just how much injustice we’ve seen over the centuries, but, in the worlds of the Gandhi, “an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.”

Every church ought to be a community of grace that embraces all of life. A parish is school of grace that leads us deeper into a transforming relationship with Christ and with his bride, the church. And yet, that seems to be so very absent from so many churches.

Can we really claim that we are deeply shaping people as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and then empowering them to live that Christ life out in the variety of social settings they find themselves in?

Success for the church comes from lives transformed and sent not from seats filled or pledge cards submitted. Sure, we want people to encounter Christ in corporate worship and we want people to be good stewards of the resources that God has entrusted to them, but that’s the very least of it.

And the changes that are the deepest are often the hardest to measure. Despite the long decline of American Christianity in the twentieth century, there’s enough pop Christianity in the form of the mega-churches to make many Christians think that there’s an American dream for the parish.

There isn’t. There never was. Churches have always been small, local, and organic communities united by profession of faith, shared ecclesial practice, and geography. Most churches are neighborhood churches. Then, neighborhoods went away and we thought we should all be cathedrals. Now the neighborhood is back, COVID-style.

And the neighborhood church needs a comeback too.