A story in Acts 16 tells how Paul and Silas, in poor physical condition after a severe Roman beating, chained in a dungeon, inhaling the delicate scent of human detritus, damp and cold, were entertaining the rats and cockroaches by singing hymns of praise, as you do. It isn’t what happens to you, it’s how you deal with it that counts.
Then, an earthquake destroyed part of the prison; doors flew open, chains fell off; Christmas came early for the prisoners. Anyone, in any earthquake, gets out of any building just as fast as possible; aftershocks are sometimes worse; it is all so unpredictably potentially lethal. The gaoler, acutely aware of the inherent civility and understanding of his superiors, took out his sword to end his life before they did, assuming that his prisoners had escaped.
Paul and Silas again defied expectations and devoted their attention, not to the collapsing building, but to the health and wellbeing of their, up to now, far-from-kind gaoler. This is our lesson for the Church Anniversary.
Buildings are important. Our church building is important in so many ways: it is the only place a mum can sit down for free with her toddler and enjoy a cup of coffee if she wishes; it is the cheapest place to eat a square meal, and in good company too; it is one of the few places single people can come to play table tennis; the range of girls’ uniformed organisations meet here freely and engage with the older members of the church; the fifty youth club members can interact with the adults who give their time to play games and pray together; you can learn to stitch blankets, to excel at karate, lose weight, sing in one of three choirs, leave your children at the preschool playgroup, discuss, study, and pray with a cell group, or just worship on a Sunday.
But the building is secondary. It is important that people feel happy here, it is important that it is cheap to run, it is important that our kitchen meets the highest food safety standards and that people can see and hear the speakers clearly, it is important that our garden is beautiful to lift the spirits of those who don’t have one. But the building is secondary.
Our first priority is love: loving God, loving people, loving the World. People includes us: Love your neighbour as you love yourself. People includes the homeless, the hungry, the orphans wherever they were born, the young people however much they have drunk, the sick, the dying, the abused, and the isolated. The World includes the garden, the streets, and Baildon in Bloom; we should be friends of Baildon Moor, of Bracken Hall Green, of the River Aire, and of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.
Some of our loving has to be done in a building, we call it the church, we all own it, we are all responsible for it, none of us can just use it, we have to make sure it is fit for purpose and that enough of our money goes into it to ensure just that. It has been here, in one form or another, serving this community and praising God since John Wesley first preached in Baildon in 1748; now is no time to throw in the towel.