A View from the Pew: Someone Else’s Building


“If you’re not here just bring me a bulletin from the church you visited, and everything will be okay.”

One of my pastor’s favorite jokes this time of year when his congregation disappears for the summer has an interesting premise: people go to church while on vacation.

My question is, do people really do this?

Growing up, I always did. My dad was a pastor, and if he wasn’t in his own pulpit, on vacation we would visit other churches. I always found it a little fascinating. Seeing how others do church interests me. What interested me less in my youth was sitting in Sunday school with strangers, but that wasn’t a choice we were given.

Now, though, unless we are visiting one of my family members, all of whom are in ministry, I no longer practice this curious tradition. If we are gone on a Sunday, we typically have a family worship service in which each member has a part. It can be very meaningful and is much easier now that all of our boys can read. My wife thinks I do this out of a sense of obligation, but I really enjoy these times. It doesn’t hurt that it sends my children a message that worship is important and we shouldn’t “take a vacation” from it. But the fact is we aren’t going to someone else’s building to engage in corporate worship.

Maybe that’s it—it’s someone else’s building.

We teach children from the time they’re crawling around on the nursery floor that the church isn’t the building, it’s the people. But the building is a physical manifestation that represents the people. We have our building. We like our building. We feel comfortable in our building. We do not always feel comfortable in someone else’s building, particularly if we’re not completely sure what will happen in that building if we go in there.

I was recently participating in a retreat at a church in a different city, and one of the members of my discussion group offered that he always looked forward to visiting a certain church while he was on vacation. It was a casual, off-hand comment, but it stuck with me. It immediately took me back to my childhood and all those occasions when we went to someone else’s building for church.

Am I shortchanging my children by not exposing them to different buildings and the different styles of worship? I’m not church hopping when I’m back home just to experience different styles of worship or different traditions; we have too many responsibilities each Sunday, and, frankly, I want my children to understand the concept of commitment to a church.

Vacation, however, is the perfect time to let them try out something different. It requires that we get out of bed, get dressed, and go to someone else’s building. A lot of times, it’s just too much work, too much discomfort, too much risk to attempt.

Isn’t this what it’s like for people who haven’t grown up going to your building? It’s easy for us church-going types to sit in judgment of those who find other activities on a Sunday. We don’t fully appreciate the challenge of going to someone else’s building because we never have to do it. When we’re in town, we go to our building, and when we’re not in town, we go to no one’s building.

I don’t know if all of this reflection will have us donning khakis and heading to a church near where we stay at the beach in a few weeks, but it will cause me to have more empathy for the person who enters the doors of my church on a random Sunday.

However, if we do decide to go to someone else’s building during vacation, you can bet I’m bringing back a bulletin.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who does media relations for the Georgia Institute of Technology. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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