In the second letter to the Church in Corinth Paul writes: “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (5:1). This is indeed good news for our souls as we consider the inevitable decline and decay of our earthly bodies. I think this also can give us hope as we consider our many church buildings that are in decline and decay.
Recently the newspapers reported on the front page that the Episcopal Cathedral in Wilmington was closing. The $400,000 annual cost to maintaining the property was prohibitive. The small number of remaining members will be transferring to a neighboring Episcopal Church and the building will be sold. This is also a struggle for many of our large, aging United Methodist properties, not only in cities but in the suburbs and the country as well. It is certainly a source of grief and a neon sign that announces decline and there is sometimes a feeling of failure.
Paul would not have us so bound to our church buildings just as we should not put too much stock in our earthly bodies. Buildings and bodies pass away but the Gospel lives on forever. As we attach ourselves to the mission of the church we will live eternally in heaven. There are constant resurrections here on earth with churches closing and being re-born in new ways in new locations. It is the cycle of life. Church was never about a building in the first place. It is about the spiritual life that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us in II Corinthians “we walk by faith and not by sight.” (5:7) Have faith and hope even when the church is closing, that God is up to something new and the gates of hell will not prevail against the true church.