I overheard a three year-old ask his mom "What is church?"
Our church rents out the meetinghouse weekdays to a pre-school. It's been great this last week seeing the kids flood in at 9 a.m. and, for a second shift, at 1 p.m. I've tried to strike up conversation with a few of the moms and an encouraging number of dads dropping off their kids, but I haven't met with much luck. In these first few days I think they're fairly preoccupied with how their child is adjusting to preschool (and perhaps--appropriate to context--praying that there won't be a meltdown in the foyer).
As I eavesdropped on a momma-child conversation this morning, I could almost predict word-for-word how she would respond to the toddler's question:
"Church is a place we go to learn about God."
I think this mom threw in the fact that we go to church on Sundays.
On the one hand, this all too common answer is just that: all too common. Church is 1) reduced to a building/space we go to, and 2) its mission paired down to education. Missional sisters and brothers, I think you'll agree with me that church is not somewhere we go but something we are. And we are a heck of lot more than just our educable intellects.
But, on the other hand, this mom may have nailed it. I was praying through the BCP Morning Prayer Service today, and it caught my attention that the BCP refers to the Old and New Testament readings as "Lessons" (with capitalization there and in all sort of other unnecessary places). When I read that phrase today, my mind's reflex was to ask "What's the lesson I should get of this?"--perhaps in the same way my childhood story Bible story books always ended with a moral.
Church, to some extent, is the space and the people that train our hearts to ponder about the morals, the lessons, the "go and do likewise" dimension of Scripture and our workaday lives. I remember reading Mike Frost in The Road to Missional (my review here) describe a parent-friend who trained his kids to pick out moments of shalom and "broken shalom" at bedtime each day. We could say in other words that they were looking for the lesson, the moral of each day. And as Jamie Smith reminds us, our habits, especially our habits in community, work to train our hearts and desires.
So maybe church really is "where we learn about God."