This Is What Church Does: Ministry As A Lifestyle

This lovely video of a beautiful, young engaged couple being aged by make-up artists and revealing themselves to each other is going viral. Take a look.

A few things to think about in terms of our earlier conversation about the function and purpose of the Church as it morphs, evolves and dies in its current building-based, institutional form.

First, while the majority of viewers of this video see this clip in personal terms (emotional, touching, romantic, a love to aspire to, etc.), I see it in ministerial terms. My first thought was, “If this couple isn’t a pair of actors, they seem eminently ready to marry. Blessings on them.”

Thinking ministerially is different from thinking romantically or individually; it is a mindset that laity and clergy alike share when they are steeped in a lifestyle that constantly keeps before them the presence of Death in the midst of life. This is what church does. We observe the sacred moments of life’s passage and our covenantal commitments ostensibly bind us to each other in community even as we individually (or two by two) marry, welcome and bless children, suffer the inevitable greater and lesser losses of time together, and then hold each other in care until death comes. And when it does, we say the customary prayers and give thanks to God/Life and incine ourselves toward the consolations of memory and the promise of eternal life (for many UUs, not so much eternal life in heaven as a “shining name” in the shared memory of the community and a spiritual existence beyond our comprehension or imagining).

What other community is going to deal with mortality and death the way the church does? Nope. Not going to happen. You know why? Most other communities have a product to sell or a lifestyle to promote that promises good looks, better health, more popularity or legacy-making that conveniently skips around the inevitability of death. We in the church, well, we hang out with Death all day and we’re very comfortable with it. I didn’t shed a tear while watching the couple in the video because I have a front row seat to the ravages of time. I could only affectionately wish them strength for whatever fate has in store for them. “God, prepare us for what thou art preparing us.”

The lens of ministry is what we must prepare to bring to the world whether or not we meet in buildings or attend Sunday worship together — although in my heart of hearts I want always to be able to do that. I still believe that corporate worship is essential to the teaching of ministry as a lifestyle, which is what I believe the legacy of the church is and must be.  When we speak as Unitarian Universalists of Standing On The Side Of Love, I always translate that to mean ministry as a lifestyle and way of showing up (I am not a fan of slogans and suspect that SOSL will soon begin to sound as dated to many ears as it already does to mine).

Be that as it may…

My chief observation about the couple in this video is that they regard each other with compassion even when revealed in subsequently older versions of themselves. At no time do they laugh at or mock one another, or use sarcasm meanly to comment on the ravages of time. This orientation of kindness and tender regard is what the church can teach, and does teach by the simple fact of being one of the only natural multi-generational points of intersection in our culture. When elderly people are your friends and mentors, it is harder to objectify and dismiss them as sad, shuffling figures. The multigenerational nature of congregational life is something that must continue however the church convenes itself in its new, more sustainable forms.

I did not expect the young couple in the video to have Big Issues on their minds when they entered into the aging experiment, but it did occur to me as they considered the years to come that they were thinking in purely personal terms.I wondered what seventy years would reveal not only in the faces of this couple, but in society as a whole.  This is also what Church does: it orients the individual away from thoughts of self- survival and happiness and toward the well-being of the wider community and world. No couple preparing to wed in a month should be thinking about social unrest or climate change or the precarious future of their children — but there it is. By the time this couple develops bushy eyebrows and sagging chins, will we have less poverty, a much smaller prison population, a stronger or weaker infrastructure, better or worse public transportation, affordable housing for more people? Will the children this beautiful couple assumes and hopes will be born to them be able to afford higher education? Will black lives finally matter by then? Will the oligarchs still own Congress? Or will the Supreme Court have decided that, in fact, corporations are not people?

This is what the Church does. It says that “my liberation is bound up with yours” and sees many faces when it looks into the eyes of the Beloved.  The Church exists to train us to see the faces of many we would otherwise not see — to choose not to see, even to reject or turn away from in revulsion — when we look into the eyes of the Beloved.

In a culture that still conceptualizes big thobbing heart LOVE as a phenomenon between two people, the Church (or “organized religion,” if you like), represents, teaches and promotes a lifestyle that regards heartthrob-style love in communal terms. God loves us first, and we love in response. We’ll never look as sexy and appealing when we incarnate this love as does this sweet, young, beautiful, white, heterosexual couple out of Central Casting, but the power of what we do, and what we are, and how we love will more than make up for that.

 

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