Towards the end of last year, I came across two For Sale signs outside church buildings in the area where I live. These churches are of different Christian denominations and are less than a mile apart in Sparkhill, Birmingham. It was interesting from me the terminology ‘redundant church and land’ displayed in one of the notices. I continued to glance at them as I commuted to my ministry for several weeks. Every time I passed by these buildings, I could not help but wonder about the communities which, through the years, have used these buildings, and the way they lived out and witnessed the Christian message. I also wondered about the value and relevance of the Christian message today.
The world is seeing a plethora of political, economic, and social turmoil. There are innumerable examples of countries that are experiencing violence and exile. Over seven million people have escaped Venezuela since 2013, making it one of the largest displacement crises in the 21st century. Ukraine has recently marked a year since Russia invaded its territory. This conflict has seen the needless loss of life, widespread destruction of infrastructure, and nearly eight million Ukrainians seeking refuge in Europe.
Today, minorities worldwide are being persecuted. The Uyghur people are suffering in China. In Myanmar, the catastrophic coup d’état of 2021 is still being endured by the nation. LGBTQIA+ people in several countries are severely punished and discriminated against. Only recently while Pope Francis visits the DRC, we heard the horrific first-hand accounts of sexual violence, mutilation, and kidnapping which are affecting numerous communities in East Congo
There is no doubt about the urgency to act on climate change. Last year, extreme floodings in Pakistan destroyed entire communities, eradicated livelihoods and uprooted thousands of people. Violence and division still exist today, there was a recent attack on a Pakistani mosque and an Israeli synagogue. All of these occurred around the time that humanity commemorated the Holocaust’s horrific effects at the end of January and when the world is recovering from the pandemic and now facing a significant economic crisis with rising costs of living affecting millions of people around the world.
The tragic list can continue endlessly. But then, I ponder about those churches in Sparkhill, and I am drawn back to the core foundations of our Christian faith. God himself became human, suffered death, and was buried. Yet, the story does not end there. God rises again, promising to stay with us on the journey. And of course, God does not live in a building. God is among His people.
This is precisely the exercise that Pope Francis has invited us to explore through the Synod on Synodality, walking together. An effort to walk alongside one another, listening to the voices of people who are marginalised, those who feel excluded, or are experiencing hardships or conflict. I believe the church today has the opportunity to rediscover and to reformulate itself through this process of synodality. This is a chance to address with open and inclusive eyes, the concerns of our local and global communities and moving from a clerical, hierarchical church to one that is community centered. A church in which the Christian message is integral to our daily activities rather than redundant or incidental. Perhaps there will be smaller churches, but they will be more relevant, vibrant and meaningful.