Faith & Values
I grew up in the parsonage. I was the youngest daughter of parents who were ministers and who pastored a number of different congregations in small communities over the course of their ministry together. The “parsonage” was what we called the various houses our family lived in during those years.
Most of the homes were quite modest, but my mother had a knack for making them warm and inviting. The parsonage I lived in during high school was actually attached to the church building itself. At the back of the church, there were stairs that led up to classrooms used for Sunday school, and at the bottom of those stairs was a door. Walk through that door and you were in our living room!
It was drilled into me as a PK (pastor’s kid) that the church building was “God’s house“ and therefore appropriate, respectful behavior was expected. Just a stern look from one of my parents or another adult congregant warned me and other wanting-to-be-rowdy children, “We don’t do that in God’s house.”
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Never mind that “after hours“ some of us would still manage to find ways to play hide and seek between the pews and in the various nooks and crannies while the grown-ups were busy chatting — or, as they called it, fellowshipping.
Perhaps it’s this history of personal proximity to church that has imprinted me with a fascination for church buildings and church architecture of all kinds. I have gasped at the elaborate design and intricate detail of magnificent church structures, like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
I have been just as moved (and maybe more so) by little country churches whose white clapboard siding and simple cross-topped steeples remind me that faith doesn’t need finery to flourish.
As I’ve grown older and my own faith has matured, I’ve come to realize that “God’s house“ really isn’t a building at all. Oh, I understand what the grown-ups meant when they were trying to instill respect (and rightfully so) in me and other youngsters about the place where believers gather to worship. But really, if God is who the Bible claims He is, what house can contain Him?
Solomon, the son of King David, apparently came to that same conclusion thousands of years ago. He had done his utter best to build a grand and glorious house for God. He spared no expense and sought out the best resources and most skilled craftsmen, near and far.
After years of detailed planning and enormous effort, Solomon’s fabulous temple was finally complete. However, during the dedication ceremony, it struck him: God is uncontainable. 1 Kings 8:27 (New Century Version) captures Solomon’s words:
But, God, can you really live here on the earth? The sky and the highest place in heaven cannot contain you. Surely this house which I have built cannot contain you.
How Solomon-like I am sometimes … well, except for the wisdom part. I do my best, put together my most elaborate, painstaking constructs to build God a great big beautiful box, assuming He’ll live there. And I still can’t hold Him. He always breaks out — is always more than I was expecting.
I want God to stay in the realms of health and ease. But this week I found Him in the tears of mourning, brokenhearted parents and in the tributes of a husband and daughters who showed me how to grieve with a hope that celebrates eternity.
I look for Him in plenty — in seasons where I think I’ve got life almost figured out — but I find Him in days of scarcity and nights when I’m plagued with self-doubt.
I expect Him in the church bulletin but He shows up in the newspaper cloaked in the story about a stranger who risked his life to pull an elderly woman out of a burning building. I watch for Him to take a throne; instead He takes up a cross.
So, here’s the thing. I will always be fascinated by church buildings of every era, shape, size and design. However it is people of faith who have made a place for God in their hearts who are “the church,” wherever they meet. And I can no longer think of any building as God’s House and therefore the only place where He can be found. He keeps surprising me by showing up just where I least expect Him — which is always where I most need Him.
Jodi Detrick is a minister with the Northwest Ministry Network (Assemblies of God). She is also a public speaker, an author and a life coach. Readers may send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org