Blessing the Town

In staff meeting on Tuesday, Wendy came into our meeting, beaming. “Guess what, just got a call from the Collierville Town Beautiful Commission informing us we won the September Beautification Award!” She then asked if we wanted to have our picture made in front of the sign and, needless to say, I said, “Of course, just tell me when and where!”

It is not that big of a deal, is it? Well, yes and no. No, if our only purpose is to have a nice building and lawn; but if our purpose is to bless our town and neighborhood by contributing to the overall beauty of the place, then yes, it is a big deal. It is a big deal when the external beauty of a thing echoes its internal beauty.  It is also a big deal if one of your values happens to be, “Heaven is local.”

The next phase of our building will really complete what we started two years ago. When we built our current facility, we did build something beautiful, something Collierville is proud of and our neighbors are glad is here. I was at Weight Watchers on Tuesday to go to my weekly “confession” and to give an account of my eating habits for the week, and one of the ladies there told me several times how it just makes her happy to drive by our corner of the neighborhood. I hear this all the time and humbly tell people—it never gets old, and I am so thankful. (I also have to wrestle with pride, just as I do with food!)  I make no apologies because beauty was a core value as we were building. Still, as most of us have champagne taste and a beer budget, we built primarily a large and beautiful public space, a bunch of nurseries and a few classrooms, without being extravagant.

We knew it was just a start; and now, God willing, we are going to build on what we started. The new space we build will provide needed space for adults and youth to gather, a great playground for our children to enjoy, a fully furnished kitchen, and a large pavilion so we have a place to feast, linger, and just be.

This will cost money––real money––and our prayer is that we raise all the money for this project in cash and two-year pledges. We do not want to take on any more debt, and we believe that as folks see pictures of the space we are building and hear how what we build connects to our vision to “Make disciples that embody Christ in the everyday by loving God, loving people and loving life,”  they will be excited as well.

One of the things I am deeply mindful of is this: “How will what we do bless the town and the neighborhoods we live in?” That really is a mission and vision question, isn’t it? I mean, if you think about it, there is no reason to invest a lot of money if we just intend to build something to entertain a small community of people. There are plenty of clubs and affinity groups you can join and pay lots of money to enter, that admit you to something that is by definition exclusive or is for people

with a specific passion or hobby. The church that Jesus built is different; it exists to be on mission. It exists for the sake of the people around it. Its whole reason for being is to be sent “into the world.”

Every day of the week, as the community of St. Patrick is scattered all over Collierville, Germantown, Memphis and beyond, carrying the presence of Jesus to offices, playgroups, schools, businesses and all the places we go, there is a building at the corner of White and Byhalia that is saying something. Buildings say something about what it means to be human and what we believe and value. When I was in Eastern Europe years ago, I stood on a bridge over the Danube River and what I saw on each side of the river was a study in architecture. This study in architecture was actually a study in ideas. These ideas were a reflection of the theology of the people who built the buildings and spaces people would inhabit.

On one side of the river was what Communism had built. As far as the eye could see, it was mile upon mile of square, nondescript 8-story buildings that were all the same. It was Andy Warhol’s “soup cans,” in buildings. No green space, no space for people to linger, no parks, no green space—no place to be human. Of course, the ideology of communism would build this because it  believed people were made for the state and had no other purpose than to serve the state. It was bland, sterile, and depressing. It didn’t bless the community—it inhibited community. It was like a scene from a nightmare; you wanted to run from it. It blessed no one but the state who viewed people as their servants.

On the other side was what Christendom had built. (Not that Christendom was all good, mind you, but there was an basic idea that a good God created the world and had made people in his image and, as such, were unique, special and had inherent dignity just by being.) There was a beautiful Hungarian church that was seven hundred years old that was prominent. It stood as a sort of silent sentinel over this beauty. Around it was a villa of unique buildings with open markets, green space, restaurants and public space for people to gather. It was beautiful, it called to you, and you wanted to be in that space. You felt like if you stayed there, you would be more human.

What we build next at St. Patrick comes from a deep theological idea as well—an old, old idea that goes all the way back to Abraham. When God started the whole idea of restoration and how he was going to heal all the broken things in the world, he called a moon-worshiping shepherd to himself and, out of sheer grace, blessed him. He told Abraham that he would bless him, and in turn he was called for the rest of his life and the life of his children and his children’s children—to be a blessing to those around him. That is why we build—so that we can be a blessing to the city, our friends, and our neighbors. All the spaces we build are spaces we will call people into so we can bless them and, in time, send them out to be a blessing!