by Pastor Kim Eskridge
Paul and I were able to slip away for a couple of weeks last month to drive around Germany. Good friends and former FBCAers, John and Chris Hoover, who moved out of state as the pandemic hit, joined us for part of our adventure, the climax of which was staying in Oberammergau and seeing the Passion Play. The play depicts the major events in the last week of Jesus’ life and ends with Mary’s proclamation to the audience that “He is risen!”
We were amazed at the commitment of the people of Oberammergau that was needed to put together what was a much more professional production than I had anticipated. And the talent of these people! How is it that a village of about 5000 people could have almost 2000 people with the abilities, skill sets, commitment, and perseverance to invite the world to come and see performances three to four times a week for six months? Surely, the lives of everyone in the village are turned upside down during those months, as well as the year (years in this case due to COVID delays) of preparation. And yet, for almost 400 years, the people of Oberammergau have come together every decade (with only a couple of exceptions) as a community to keep a vow made to God long ago. The Passion Play could not be presented without the support and involvement of everyone in town.
The morning following the performance, we headed to Munich to see the sites. Some of our favorite places to visit are cathedrals and old churches. The workmanship of these structures astounds me, and they are often ornately decorated. After seeing the better-known churches, we meandered away from the most touristy area to see the small St. Johann Nepomuk Church (popularly known as the Asam Church) built by two brothers, Egid and Cosmas Asam in 1733 – 1746. Ornate doesn’t even begin to describe this jewel of the late Baroque German style. If you have a minute, Google it. This wealthy family built the church so that it attached to their mansion. Their idea was that only their family and friends would gather to worship in the church. Eventually, public pressure forced them to open the church to the community.
While it is common for us to refer to the faith community to which we belong as “our church” or “my church,” the Asam family took this to a whole other level. This has me thinking. What do we mean when we talk about “our” church? Certainly, if someone asked one of us this question, we would quickly reply that we don’t personally own the church. As children we learned that the church belongs to God. It is the body of Christ. The church exists to glorify our Lord and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ outside of our doors. It is the place where we worship Him. It should be a place where hurting and broken people can come to hear and experience grace. It needs to be a place where disciples are birthed and guided to grow in their faith and relationship with the Lord. And it’s not a building. It’s a gathering. But this still doesn’t explain what we mean when we refer to First Baptist Church as “our” church.
For me, “our” or “my” church indicates that I belong to the local body that is First Baptist Church, not that it belongs to me. I think this means that I shouldn’t hold too tightly to my preferences, such as favorite programs or worship styles. It means that “my” church isn’t about me at all. When we joined First Baptist almost 30 years ago, I was looking for community, for friendships, for help in discipling our children. And we found that and so much more. Over the years, this community of faith has become family. I love the people who are First Baptist Church of Alexandria, and I am grateful for our faith family.
It’s not the Passion Play, but this Sunday we have an opportunity to come together to welcome the community that lives outside of our doors onto our campus for the annual Fall Festival. All the fun and food are free. It is our church’s gift to our neighbors and a way of reaching out to them. Thanks to everyone who has volunteered to be a part of this mission. Be sure to invite families with children that God has placed into your life, and let’s pray that our guests will experience the love of Christ on our campus, even if they don’t really know what that means yet. We will be opening our arms wide to welcome them to our church, our community.