A church is people, not a building…but if walls could talk, it’d be about people

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
Two years ago this month, the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church was destroyed by fire. I will not soon forget the date. We left that Sunday morning after a memorable service, and upon returning from Newton, witnessed the rising cloud of black smoke and fire that reduced the building to a smoldering ruin.

Since then, I’ve often heard the comment, “The church is not a building, but people.” I heartily agree. Even so, it is still an important event when such a building no longer exists.

Though I do not miss the problems and challenges the aging building presented, the church and that structure are a part of my own family history. My grandparents were long-time members. My mother began her own spiritual pilgrimage there as well.

In addition, as told by my parents, my first appearance at any wedding was in the old sanctuary. According to their story, I was more than a handful. Dad was up front while mother, sisters and I were a few rows back.

It seems I tried to crawl under the pews to get to my father. Sometime later, there was more than a slight calamity followed by a hasty exit of yours truly and his mother.

My uncle and aunt-to-be were the happy couple at the nuptials. As far as I can tell, to this day, my behavior did not adversely affect their long-term relationship. They have been married almost as long as I have been alive.

Either way, I plead both guilt and innocence based on my extreme youth.

My choice not to forget what happened within the walls of an old building is a plea to others to remember the spiritual impact of past events and highlight the opportunity to have an even greater impact from now on.

Within the walls made of wood, brick and mortar, though now reduced to dust, the Spirit of God acted to save the lives of those he touched with healing grace.

If walls could talk, one could hear the confessions of children as they declared for the first time their acceptance of Jesus’s invitation to live forever in heaven.

If only walls could talk, one could hear the determined cry of those who sang, “We walk by faith and not by sight.”

If only walls could talk, one could hear the quiet sounds of women as they made quilts to sell to feed the hungry.

If only walls could talk, one could listen to the prayer and planning sessions where men embarked on yet another mission with Mennonite Disaster Service.

If only walls could talk, one could hear the sound of coins in offering plates as small groups of people took up collections to support a missionary at home or abroad.

If only walls could talk, one could hear the joyful exuberance of our city’s youth as they played, sang, prayed and shared testimonies of God’s faithfulness in their teen years.

If only walls could talk, one could hear the confessions of adults as they repented of their own shortcomings, as they forgave one another and asked forgiveness for their own conduct.

If only walls could talk, one could hear the sound of celebration and worship as friends and loved ones bid the deceased a temporary “farewell,” congratulated a newly wed couple or welcomed a new convert into the fellowship.

If only walls could talk, one would hear myriad concerts, all focused on Jesus Christ, who gives us hope and the promise of eternal rest.

Yes, the church is not a building. Nevertheless, the building was an earthly instrument worthy for expression of God’s glory.

The building may have been large, old, creaky or imposing to some. To others, it was a symbol of God’s boundless faithfulness, grace and mercy.

This point was evident even after the last embers died. Churches from various denominations spoke with unified clarity as they stood along side our congregation during this difficult time.

In addition to their emotional support, they provided financial contributions. Loving deeds like these show sentiment that words alone cannot express.

More from article archives
Ens celebrate 46th anniversary
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN G. George and Evelyn (Thiessen) Ens will celebrate their 46th...
Read More