I love All Saints Day. One of the key differences, as I understand it, between religion and spirituality, is that the former is dependent upon community. We can try to be spiritual on our own. But we can’t be religious as islands unto ourselves.
The Latin root,
religio, means “to bind together.” We are bound together in faith communities with those who have gone before us, who have run the race already and are now among that great cloud of witnesses who cheer us on. We are bound together in faith communities with those who show up, week after week, to break the bread and share the cup and say the prayers with us. Sometimes when we are too weary or fragile to say them ourselves, they pray for us. We give thanks for people we didn’t choose, but who formed us as Sunday School teachers and choir directors and clergy and people who called us to share in God’s Mission. And we are also bound together in faith communities for those who will follow us: those for whom we are called to be lights in our generation. We commit to build up the Body of Christ for the sake of our children and our children’s children.
Let me be clear: I have nothing against spirituality! I am all for spiritual practices, and I know that religion without soul is like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. I just get tired of the occasionally smug claims of those who insist that they are “spiritual but not religious.” I honestly don’t know what that means. I am trying (with God’s help) to be spiritual
and religious .
And so I love All Saints Day. I love it that we remember the saints whom we meet not only in church but in shops, or at tea. (Coffee works, too.) I love it that we are trying, with God’s help, to be saints too.
One aspect of this truth is that we remember the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord. In my work as transition officer, I pay attention to who is claiming to “own” the church. Sometimes people think it is the priest’s church and s/he can do what s/he wants to do. Sometimes people who are in conflict with their priest say “this is OUR church.” But in truth, we are called to be stewards of the Church which was before us, and God willing, will be after us. It’s not our club. It’s not there to serve us. We are called to serve Christ and Christ’s Church as living members of the one body.
This is not controversial! This is not a “progressive” nor a “traditional” statement. It’s just true! It’s what St. Paul reminded the first-century Christians about; that it wasn’t his, or Apollos’ Church. It’s not Doug’s, or Rich’s, or Pam’s, or the rector’s, or the people’s. It’s God’s Church.
Gaining clarity about what the Church is (the old-fashioned theological word is “ecclesiology”) helps us to get clearer on our vocation. This clarity helps us to build up the body.
I often tell clergy that in truth all ministry is interim work. They will, God willing, both follow someone and be followed by someone. Consistency around boundaries is therefore a core value we aspire to. Clergy come and go. We have some training. We have some expertise. We have some ideas. We have some idiosyncrasies. But unless we are church-planters, we come into places that also have their own training, expertise, ideas and idiosyncrasies. When those clash we are tempted to think this is our church. Or worse still, “my” church. That idea comes from the Evil One. It comes from our own ego needs.
The Church has one foundation and one charter of salvation. We have been claimed by Water and the Word. All Saints Day is a good time to remember this. In many of our congregations it is also tied in closely with stewardship.
Stewardship is about what we do with our money. Show me your checkbook and I will have a pretty good sense about what you value. But deeper still, stewardship is about remembering our work in building up the Church, that is not owned by us, but is served by us. This is why I continue to try to be both spiritual and religious, to share in the work of binding up God’s people so that we are continually being challenged to do the work God has given us to do, in this time and place. With God’s help.