Building from the Bottom up
‘When Foundations for the House of the Lord were laid’ (Zech. 8, 9).
I have always thought it significant that our particular Christian tradition(s) emphasise the fact that the ‘church’ – in reality the ‘congregation’ – is more to do with people than with place. We talk of having been ‘gathered’ rather than having been ‘built’. That sense of God inspiring like minded individuals to meet together, to share their faith with each other, to make common cause in worship and witness; to pray, to study the Scriptures, to share bread and wine, to be salt and light within the wider community, to be the active presence of the Kingdom of God breaking in to the world of its day. And we need to realise that this sense of ‘being gathered’ is not a ‘one-off’ event in history, but rather that every time whoever is attending here, we have that sense of a ‘gathering’ – every act of worship is unique in itself – its nature, its quality, its content, its delivery, its whatever; always different, depending on who is present and how those present are able to welcome one another, irrespective of who we are, recognise each other for who we are, relate to one another as we are, and engage with one another regardless of who we are.
Every time there is a gathering for worship, we believe it will be distinctive in form, character and content. Yet there has to be that which, in spite of its distinctive ‘individuality’, makes it recognisable for what it is, an act of worship. And that is what it is that ‘underpins’ – a good Suburb word that – what we do. It is a sense of at-one-ness; all singing from the ’same hymn sheet’ as it were; we may be closely related to each other, we may be strangers to one another, such is the mix of any gathered congregation, but nevertheless, when we are gathered in this way, how we relate one to another, humanly speaking, necessarily retreats into the background as we are made to realise that for now, just for now maybe, we become sisters and brothers in Christ; recognisable as such, not because we look the same, or act the same; any family resemblance has to go much deeper than that; it is that which isn’t visible to the naked eye, but rather that which can be seen ‘through the eyes of faith’; it is this that causes us to be able to recognise in one another that essential family resemblance; that which allows us to declare that we are indeed, ‘all one in Christ Jesus’. And because such an understanding goes beyond physical appearance, goes beyond biological, social, cultural, ethnic relationship constructs; on this anniversary day as we remember with fondness 110 years of faithful worship and witness lived out in and among the community by the various generations whom God has gathered here over the years, we can imagine ourselves to be ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ with any and everyone for whom their faith journey caused them to be led to this place at some time or another. What we refer to as the ‘communion of the saints.’
There is a certain irony about invoking the metaphor of ‘foundation’ as far as this building is concerned given that there is little evidence of their being any actual physical foundations. But that as it may be, there is a sense in which the foundations for this building were laid well in advance of any actual construction work beginning on the site. It was the prayerful devotion of the original signatories to the covenant that brought the church into being, meeting then as they did elsewhere on the newly emerging Suburb; being faithful to God and to one another and earnest in their desire that a building be constructed that would reflect the rich heritage of the dissenting traditions, so valuable as far as the fabric of Church life was and is concerned. This building does indeed have foundations. And it is because such foundations are as firm as they are, that the congregation gathered here in this place has been able to function effectively; each generation, every ministry, all in their way adding to the accumulation of blessing that has been bestowed upon God’s people in the place over the years. And so, to tomorrow; and to the future, and as it unfolds in all its ‘glory’, God will be at the heart of it, as surely as God is at the heart of every present moment.