Additional "From Further Afield" Articles


Church Buildings
Published: 8/21/2014 12:22:34 PM


I grew up in what I consider to be a quite small, familiar, conservative Lutheran church. I still have the liturgy memorized from pages 5 and 15 of the red hymnal. I remember climbing the steep steps up to the church balcony to play in the youth hand bell choir. Our youth group consisted of kids from about four or five families, and we did things like decorate the church for Advent, paint the youth room bright colors (leaving our hand prints and footprints all over the ceiling), and go caroling at the homes of all the shut-ins. I heard the Word of God preached consistently and clearly. I grew up in Sunday school and youth group, and I was proud on my confirmation day to stand up and say that I truly believed the things that I’d been taught.

When I moved to California to attend Concordia University in Irvine, I found a much different worship style and a much different church setting. I embraced it and loved it just as much as I’d loved organ music and the perhaps "old-style” of where I’d grown up. On campus I attended chapel four times a week in the big, airy CU Center. When I wanted privacy I could take a walk up to the Good Shepherd Chapel, gaze at the stained glass picture of Jesus as just that, and take time to pray. Even though it was in a different context, I heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached and I worshiped together with fellow Christians. The church buildings changed, but the message didn't.

During my time at Concordia University, I had the chance to travel to Europe (as part of a short-term mission team), and I marveled at the church architecture and the different feel of the buildings. My favorite church building became St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna; I love the way the building directs one’s view upward towards the heavens. Whenever I had a bit of extra time in Vienna I would go there to sit, contemplate, and pray. Five years ago I moved to Gy'or, Hungary and got to know the Lutheran church about 20 steps away from my front door and the people inside the church as well. I have friends in another Lutheran church, near Budapest. The building is modern and the congregation feels like one big family. And the congregation in my husband’s hometown worships in a small sanctuary, not even big enough to fit everyone in, especially on days like Christmas and Easter.

On Christmas Eve this year I had the chance to listen to a pastor preach at church in Gy'or and then hear a very different sermon at a church with my husband and my mother-in-law. These two churches are in different cities and the pastors were preaching from different texts, but I realized that they both knew the people in the church. They both knew what their people needed to hear. At one service the sermon was full of Christian vocabulary and assumed much prior knowledge on the part of the congregation, while at the other church the sermon was easily accessible for anyone who showed up, regardless of prior experience or lack thereof.

It gave me pause to think, especially in terms of my students and those with whom I’m trying to share the Gospel. It reminded me not to assume that all people come from a similar place.  Church buildings are not built the same, the people in those congregations are not the same, and the people outside the church are not the same either. We live in an exciting time when people are searching for something. The Holy Spirit can use that search to lead them to Christians who will discuss matters of faith with them. We can pray with confidence that the Holy Spirit give us the right words to use and the knowledge of when to use them. May He enable us to effectively communicate His love to the diverse world around us!

Er's vár a mi Istenünk,

Contributed by Sarah Berta-Somogyi