[photo of the building at the corner of South Portage Path and West Exchange Street in Akron, Ohio
you can see it at
It's the second photo in the gallery ]
or did we ?
For many, many years it was known as First Grace United Church of Christ.
For a time, years ago, it was typical for 1,200 people to meet there for weekly worship and many other activities.
When we knew that we would be in Akron over a Sunday, I looked for a church we might attend. Nathaniel suggested the one that his friends Janice and Lucius are involved with. That’s when we found out: nowadays, it’s a congregation but not a building. When we met with the First Grace congregation for worship this past Sunday morning, there were about 35 of us in the cafeteria / commons room of Crouse Community Learning Center, a charter school of the city of Akron.
Last year, the congregation left the building behind. In the past, it took an awful lot of money to keep the building in good repair: in fact, that mission was becoming impossible. Now, they pay a nominal rent on a public space each Sunday.
They made such a huge decision because they agreed that the building is not the church: the congregation fulfilling God’s mission is the church.
According to their facebook page, First Grace UCC “is committed to being a radically loving and welcoming community of faith, centered in the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Listening to their announcements, watching them gather bread and coupons as gifts for hungry neighbors, and witnessing the mutual love they share, I can affirm their commitment.
It’s difficult to make it out in the upper photo, but the sign at their former location says, “NEED FOOD? CALL 855-560-XXXX. They mean it: they feed anyone in need. They operate an after-school program in the same school building where they worship. They volunteer in numerous local organizations. In a nearby plaza, they operate a Fair Trade shop to benefit craftspeople around the world. They are committed to mission.
You might be asking yourself, where is Dan going with this story ? Is he crazy enough to want us Bethel members to move out of our building ??
Well, if you believe that the building is the church, then the answer is Yes, we need to get out more.
But- If you understand that the Jesus calls his church to get out and mix it up with the community…
If you are about God’s business of seeking in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin…
If you commit to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be God’s servants in the service of men, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory…
Then I’d say, probably we may continue to use our current building, or any other building that serves God’s purposes, for awhile longer.
[Jesus said, ] It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. (John 6:63)