The church is made known in a weekly mailing. This is my latest letter to the community of University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.
Mary Bouldin sits in the church office on Wednesdays and puts Sunday's worship bulletin and announcements in envelopes for mailing to members who can't make it to the service due to illness, mobility or other issues.
This seems like a good place to start a reflection on the meaning of the church.
It is Mary who faithfully completes this task each week.
It is Mary and Lily White, our director of communication and office manager, who enjoy each other's company as the task is underway, who delight in the words and the silences between them, who look forward to their midweek ritual.
It is the members whom Mary knows, whose stories are alive to her as she stuffs the envelopes, whose stories reveal something about Mary, something about what matters to her and what she seeks in the world.
It is the room in which Mary sits, a clean place to do work, an old office made new by Lily and her wife, Kris, structured in a way that's welcoming and helpful to all who enter.
This is the church. It begins here, just as it begins elsewhere: with relationship. Mary knows Lily, and Lily knows Mary. They are “no longer strangers,” as the Letter to the Ephesians puts it (2:19). Lily knows that Mary cares for the folks who receive the mailing, cares such that she knows their names, where they live, and how life has brought them to their various addresses. Mary knows that Lily believes the mailing matters, so they share a conviction that the words of the church — the bulletin and the announcements — “may give grace to those who hear” (4:29).
This is the church. It continues here, just as it continues elsewhere: with a ritual that repeats. Mary will return next week. Lily counts on that, as does the church at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe, as does the church that moves out from zip code to zip code to the very ends of the earth.
The church is the “mystery hidden for ages” (3:9) now plainly delivered by the postal service.
The church is the good news conveyed in a single envelope that, somehow, also contains “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (1:23).
May the church recognize and receive itself today as the “gift of God” (2:8), “for all the saints” (6:18), a special delivery.