Building Church

Many years ago, when my eldest son was a little boy, we were building with blocks. He built a big building and put a steeple on top of it. “It’s a church, Michael,” I commented, delighted at his budding architectural genius.

“No, Mommy,” he replied, serious blue eyes holding my gaze. “It can’t be a church until you put people in it.”

At the time, we were attending church in a lecture hall on a college campus. A few years later, we were there at the dedication of a lovely chapel just off that campus. With scarcely time enough to get used to pews and a real altar, we moved. We attended a well-established church for exactly one week. The next week, that church was closed for renovation, and we moved to a gym. Shortly after the renovations were completed, the priest told us we were in the wrong parish. We went to a neighboring parish that met in a cafeteria. And a couple of years ago, we began attending Mass in a school across the street from our house, once again, in a gym. For our family, church has never been about the building.

This time, the gym is in the community we call home and our family has invested our hearts and souls in the church that worships there. The situation is a bit unusual — the actual parish church building is 30 minutes west of us, a lovely little church that could never begin to hold all the people who have moved to this neck of the woods in the last few years. So we have a satellite office set up a couple of miles east of us. It is there that two beautiful atria have been lovingly prepared for the children who will come to meet the Good Shepherd in Maria Montessori’s excellent catechesis program. It is there that the youth group meets and the Knights of Columbus gather and the choir rehearses. It is there that there is church. To meet the needs of the community 30 minutes south of us, another office space serves the same purposes. Together, all three sites are a parish.

Recently, this world was rocked by the announcement that our pastor is departing. Any time there is a change of leadership, we wonder and, quite honestly, we worry. Who will come here? How will he like nine Masses a weekend in three different locations, each 30 minutes from the other? What will he think of us? Will he understand what great and good and holy things have happened here and how much we love our church, however odd it is? How can we convey how eager we are to embrace him and welcome him to our parish homes — all three of them?

I’ve heard that worry is like a rocking chair; it will give you something to do but it won’t get you anywhere. So, we look to get beyond worry and to replace that worry with trust. And with prayer. Because church is not a building. And it’s not a priest. And it’s not even a community. Church is where God is. And in this community, the people are on their knees, calling Him urgently, knowing that ultimately he is the pastor who will gather this flock spread over three lush, green Virginia counties, and lovingly lead them to His church.

Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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