We Are the Church5
I had the privilege of being at Westminster’s Building dedication in May of 1991. I was 19 years old. I can still remember the freshly laid sod, new gravel in the side parking lot and trailers still out front from the last minute preparations. To have a church building had been a pressing goal since Westminster was founded seven years earlier in 1984. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears had been given by the members to see Westminster to this point. We had gone from meeting in the Kosko’s living room, next to the Old Depot downtown, followed by meeting at the Civic Center for a few months. Lastly, the old hospital building on River Road was where Westminster would hold worship services in the years before its current location at 804 East Park Avenue. I think most members who were attending then would agree that, while the old hospital building was nothing to look at aesthetically, it would house many great memories and profound growth. Dr. Wilson Benton, Senior Pastor of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri, preached the sermon for the building dedication service. He challenged Westminster that the church is the people not the building. Dr. Benton said to not rest on the building bringing in new members but shared with the congregation to let folks see us living out the gospel as sinners who need a Savior. He also challenged us to love the church. The local church should be given top priority in our lives.
It was with this backdrop that our church began its residence in the current building. What a blessing a nice facility is for its members to have and enjoy. However, we quickly learned that this alone cannot be the single factor for drawing new folks in. We couldn’t rest on our building to do the work for us. As I have been a member of Westminster for many years now, I appreciate WPC’s officers keeping it simple. We have had one parking lot addition, one classroom expansion, a playground added, and currently a new outside pavilion constructed. We are still functioning with the original small kitchen. Our officers have held firm to the church being debt free. We have been blessed by officers who have been good stewards. The thing that makes Westminster special is the people. An important lesson I learned early on in my Christian walk was that, if the church building were gone tomorrow, the church would still exist because the church is the people, not the building. As sinners we tend to rely on the external to draw others in instead of the meat of God’s word, corporate worship, and the fellowship of believers. The church is the hub of the means of grace. Stephen and I have been so blessed by all the members of Westminster over the years. We have lost many servants who have gone to be with the Lord. We have lost great members to moves out of town, etc…. I really struggled with this loss in my early twenties…. I loved the group we had so much I wanted to scream, “OK, nobody move!” It was really hard for me to say good bye to folks who had been such a blessing to the body while they were here. I kept thinking, “If they had all been able to stay , where would we be!” Dr. Guy Richardson helped me with this thinking in one of his sermons that said a church is like a river, you always have folks coming in and going out. I realized this fact and was convicted to make the most of people who come into our fellowship whether it be for a few months or years…. enjoy the time we have together because it isn’t forever. The right now, today, is a special time. I can remember someone asking me after we had moved to Greenwood early in our marriage, how do your find friends here? Who is your group? I remember telling them at a ballgame that my church family was my group! I meant my entire church family, not one age group. These are the people that you are living life with week after week, raising children with, and worshiping with each Lord’s Day. What a blessing the people of Westminster have been to Stephen and me. From our attending youth group as teenagers, to our wedding at Westminster, to the prayers of our church family with the birth of our children, to the raising of hands at the baptism of each child, the support I had when I was diagnosed with melanoma, the prayers when Baylor was airlifted to UMC with a febrile seizure at 11 months old, to the small group bible studies, ladies retreats, choir/music ministry, vacation bible schools, pulpit committees, Sunday school classes, covered dish meals, youth group trips, baby & wedding showers, wedding celebrations and funerals, church picnics, Lori Smith cancer free celebration, to the monthly dinners out with friends, officer retreats, prayer meetings, Dinners for 8, mission conferences, to hosting Grief Share, men’s steak suppers, etc……. The church has walked with us through each stage and phase of life. We have been so blessed by the people of Westminster. We are a family. It was so encouraging to me to read Mary Dudley’s answer to an application for a job this summer. When the question was asked, Please tell us about your faith in God and how you’ve develop spiritually. She wrote, “ I have always gone to Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCA) and had great examples and leaders all around me. Westminster is definitely a place that I call home and my second family.” She added, “I also had adult mentors around me that taught our Jr. high class. The study that they taught us was Becoming a True Woman: The Way God Designed You to Be. Through that study and their help and prayer for me, God has shown me what it means to be an example to others around you and how much of an impact it can have on other people. “ In Brian Habig and Les Newsom’s book about the priority of the church called The Enduring Community, they point out that Jesus Christ loves the Church. They said, “ He loves her so much that He died for her. As His people are conformed to His likeness (Rom 8:29) they love what he loves. Hence, they love the Church, his bride. But where does that love for the Church, a global entity, find its expression? It finds expression in loving the local church. “ As I reminded Mary Dudley as she left to be a camp counselor for the summer, “It is so true, you get out of something what you put into it.” This is same for the church. If you attend little, you gain little. If you give your heart, you gain much. As the Stansels often say, “Put yourself in a path of blessing.” I am thankful to be at Westminster where we hear solid biblical teaching by Richard and Ian each week. The teaching we have had from the pulpit all these years has been life transforming. While Westminster isn’t a perfect place and is filled with sinners who need Jesus each week, the common bond is that we aren’t alone in this life. God gives us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as well as brothers and sisters in Christ to live life with. In Jack Miller’s book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, he states, "The nature of the church is not first of all to serve itself but God. Every one of us has a part in this and are accepted by Him. This is our identity as Christians belonging to the local church.” As we learned as children the little saying with the hand motions, “Here is the church, there is the steeple, open the doors and there are the people!" The fellowship of believers is one of the blessings of the local church. We are in this life together. Dr. Cortez Copper told us while serving as interim pastor, that Westminster should be an oasis for the people of Greenwood. As Westminster’s building turned 25 years old last month, let’s celebrate not the physical building, but the body of Christ that we have had the privilege of serving with all these years. We are the church. I love each one of you!