First Easter in church
Our first Sunday worship services in our new building was on Easter Sunday 2021. We can't brag that we planned it that way. It just "happened" to align. Easter signifies new beginnings in so many ways, but for my church family, it signified "new" like never before.
When our family moved to Blacksburg for me to begin serving as pastor of Northstar Church, they had been meeting in the middle school for six years already. That's over 300 Sundays of setting up and tearing down to meet for worship and conduct children's ministry. That was in 2009, twelve years ago. It's an enormous commitment for a volunteer group to simply make "church" possible for its members and guests.
Moving into our first-ever church "home" was surreal. For starters, it's beautiful and functional. We got the word that we received our temporary certificate of occupancy on a Monday, and we were able to meet together on that Good Friday. Of course, we'd planned and prepped, but it was all new. Our leaders were sweetly surprised by how well everything flowed smoothly over that first evening and the following Easter Sunday morning.
Be the church
Our church vision statement is simply, "Don't go to church; be the church." We consistently qualify that statement to help people understand our heart and mission. For us, it's a reflection of the reality that we are the body of Christ and that the role of the church is to reflect and reveal Jesus in every part of our lives. How we live and talk and serve outside a church building is as important as what we do inside a church building. It's not about a building at all; it's about Jesus and how well we live for His fame and the world's hope in our daily lives.
The first time: overjoyed
Our first time in our new building was surreal. Thankful can't begin to describe my prevailing mindset. It was more like awe. Not because of the building. It was because of the powerful reality of God's presence in His people as it filled up. We use the word "overjoyed" for things that we can't possibly mean. It's a good word for how I sensed my church family felt this past week. We were overjoyed.
We certainly weren't over joy, as in "we've been joyful and now we're simply over that." And we weren't overjoyed as in "we're experiencing way too much joy here, and we need to dial it back."
It was more like what's described in Psalm 16:11 -
"You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures." (CSB)
Other translations render "abundant joy" as "fullness of joy." That's it. It's the picture of a cup being completely full, brimming over. That was the palpable sense of my church family this past weekend.
The beauty of being home
Last Easter, most churches across the globe met virtually or not at all. In the fresh, alarming realities of a supposed decimating virus, many Christian churches resignedly followed guidelines and didn't meet in person. This year, worshiping together at Easter seemed to be a victorious declaration that not only would we not not meet this year, but that in our meeting together, we declared what other generations of Christians have known - it's more important to embrace risk and one another than it is to not be together.
It wasn't our new building that created the experience of being overjoyed this past weekend. It was the happy, determined commitment of the church choosing to be together in spite of a lingering pandemic. All opinions about masks, lockdowns, and vaccines were left behind. What was most important to our church and many others was celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.
Northstar had the wonder of getting to do so in a shiny, new facility. But it wasn't the facility that made the weekend wonderful. It was the joy of the church gathered. God had blessed and provided us with a "home," but when we were together again - in a new place for us - we realized afresh the wonder that the church building wasn't our "home." Rather, we were His home.
In addition to the joy and wonder of "being the church together" in a new place and way last Sunday, one other thing hit me as I drove off last Sunday after our second service. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable realities last weekend that churches with buildings take for granted is the crazy convenience of just walking out of the building after church services. No putting up chairs. No putting school desks back to where they were. No need to pack everything up and take and store them offsite. Last Sunday, we just.. walked out. It was glorious.