Founded, Established or Launched?
Episcopalians know that words matter. Words in our liturgy express what we believe and form who we become. The same is true of the words we use to tell our particular church’s story. When telling the story of our congregation, parish or mission, do we refer to the year in which we were founded? Planted? Maybe we just say “started”, or, “We began worshipping together as a community in 1928.” To be founded or established suggests something set in stone, unshakable. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord. Christ is made the sure foundation, yes. For an establishment church, the language of establishment and foundation seems fitting. But for a church that is the Body of Christ given for the world, to be launched may be far more accurate. What if we referred to our local church beginning as a launch? How might it change our self-perception if we imagined our church as launched like a ship? There may not have been a champagne bottle broken against the bow, but there was likely a good bit of prayer, song, celebration and hope that year. The language of Church as ship is certainly not original. Many of us have seen the interior of churches in which the ceiling of the nave has the appearance of the keel of a ship inverted. And along the way we may have learned that the word “nave” is derived from the Latin word “navis” or ship. In this tradition, the church is a ship that protects its people from the rough waters of the world that surrounds it. Taking the image of Noah’s ark, or of the apostles in the boat with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, the Church as ship is steadied by faith, by God, by Jesus. It is a place of safety. As Christians we are not so much to be protected from the world, but even more to be sent forth into it, following the teachings and ways of Jesus himself. Jesus did not stay in the synagogue! Neither can we love our neighbor as we love ourselves if we stay in the safety of the church building. Liturgically we embody this at the conclusion of our Eucharistic rite week after week, when we are sent forth to love and serve the Lord, in the world. A church that is launched is set on adventure and service, out onto the stormed-tossed seas. It understands that it is in motion, not static, and it expects to be shook up a bit from time to time. A church that is launched is very aware of the importance of a crew, all hands on deck. It also understands that it needs to take rest in a harbor on occasion, maybe even dry-docked for a season, to be restored, perhaps retro-fitted. Importantly, a church that is launched may understand that it is not necessarily permanent, it may indeed sink in the end, having served its purpose for a time. Well done, good and faithful servant. Parts may be used in the creation of something else, something new. The language of the Church as ship can be especially helpful in this pandemic and post-pandemic season, when we seek to find our bearings and discern how to proceed in a world that has been pitched and rolled and is still in many ways in turmoil. We have indeed been launched, out into the waters with compass and maps and charts, the scriptures, the sacraments, the Tradition. We have able leadership and crew. But the winds and waters are uncertain, and we can expect to be rocketed about. Nothing is set in stone except the love of God.