Before moving to France, I didn’t know much at all about Strasbourg, the city where we lived for over 14 years. We quickly discovered that it has a famous Cathedral, one that is very popular with tourists. From time to time we would climb the 330 or more steps which take you up to a platform high above the city center, from where you get the most amazing views of the surrounding area. As you look down, one of the most striking things is the huge number of churches that can be seen. Everywhere you look there are church spires all over the city and beyond; dozens and dozens of them in every direction.
One of the first words I learnt after moving to France was the word for church, which in french is ‘église’, as many of you probably know. The word for cathedral is almost exactly the same in french but the words church and église are not at all alike. In fact, the word église is close to the original Greek word for church, which is ekklesia and sometimes we use the word ‘ecclesiastical’ when we’re talking about things to do with church.
Have you noticed though how we can use the word church in different ways and to mean different things? We often use the word church to refer to a type of building or the place that we go to on a Sunday. We also use it to refer to what we do when we’re together on a Sunday morning, the various activities that make up the service. That’s probably what we mean when we ask someone the question, how was church last week?
It can also be used in relation to a particular denomination or institution, like the Catholic Church or the Anglican Church or the Reformed Church. Or the word church can sometimes be used to describe any group of people. I’ve heard political parties, for example, describe themselves as a broad church, meaning that they have members from different backgrounds and with differing views and opinions. It’s this last definition of church which probably brings us closest to the original meaning of the word.
As a result of the covid pandemic, our experience of church over the past 18 months has been very different from how things were previously. So it seems like an appropriate moment to think about what we mean when we use the word church and that’s why we’re beginning a new series from this coming Sunday entitled, ‘What is church?’
To help us we’re going to look at some of the ways the apostles Peter and Paul described people who were part of the early church, those who were among the very first to believe in Jesus. My hope and desire is that our journey over the next ten weeks will take us to some unexpected places as well as deepening our appreciation of who we are and what we’ve been called together to be.