Just a memory of God
"Most of us exist on the memory of God."
My first position as a trainee clergyman was at St.George's Paddington, an inner suburb of Sydney, Australia. This was a grand old church with a long tradition. There was a time when the place was full, but by now the pews were mostly empty. Times were hard. Someone had gotten into the organ compartment and pulled out all the lead pipes for scrap. You can imagine what the organ sounded like the next Sunday. The organist couldn't believe it when she opened up the back of the organ to see what was going wrong. So, now they didn't even have an organ to accompany the singing, what singing there was.
Yet, the church certainly wasn't dead. There was a lively group of "gentle folk" and a small group of enthusiastic young people. The Rector wasn't the greatest preacher in the world. In fact, his announcements often went as long as his sermon and were sometimes more interesting. The quality of the man resided in his personal faith. He was someone who knew Jesus as a personal friend and could naturally tell you about him. Put him in a pulpit and he lost it, listen to him person-to-person and you came face to face with Jesus. Quite a few people in the church came to put their trust in Jesus through the simple words of this man.
Sadly, while I was in the church, the youth leader decided to take on the Rector. I think he decided the Rector wasn't right for the church, or something like that. He used to call regular meetings to pray the Rector out. I suspect God didn't hear the prayers, certainly the Rector didn't go, but the youth leader did. Sometimes our prayers are answered in a way we didn't expect. All sad stuff really, blokes' games, you know what I mean. There, I was in the middle of it all, training to be a clergyman myself. It did cross my mind that the day may come when I would be the butt of territorial games, and even find my organ pipes melted down for scrap. In the middle of all this "playing at church", I wondered where the sense of it was.
Some months ago I met an elderly lady and we got talking about church. I asked her whether she attended somewhere. She responded, "I got churched out many years ago." An interesting turn of phrase, and one I could certainly understand. The games we play can leave us with little more than the "memory of God". For a church to just "exist on the memory of God", what a sad state that would be. Mind you, it would be worse if we ourselves lived "on the memory of God". A childhood brush with Jesus, a warm touch, a faded commitment, even just the memory of our parents' faith.... what a sad state in which to find ourselves.
The reality of Jesus' presence, not his memory, is what makes a church, and it is what makes us a child of God.