Rev. Dr. Robert Holst, President Emeritus of Concordia University St. Paul, expressed his belief that for too long he viewed the church as simply people and not brick and mortar. Holst expressed his thoughts at a Board of Regent Meeting on Thursday, May 12, 2011, as he reminisced over his past twenty years as president of this fine institution prior to his retirement effective June 1st.
As a regent at CUSP these words took me by pleasant surprise as I continue to grieve over the sale of University Lutheran Chapel, Minneapolis. I was captivated by Holst’s insightful words as missional minded individuals in Synod propose and do sell the physical plant of faithful Word and Sacrament ministries for “relational” ones.
The impetus for Holst’s “refinement” came over a course of years as people asked him if CUSP was going to leave the city of St. Paul. Was CUSP going to move to the suburbs following the lead of Northwestern and Bethel to Roseville, and Arden Hills, respectively?
Rev. Holst stated that in addition to the people being the church, the building is also the church. The building also speaks of the Triune God; a God of peace, truth, and mercy. Holst said, “The Word always becomes incarnate,” and by that he was meaning the brick and mortar of the building and its location. In this case the location happened to be in an ethnic, immigrant,minority setting.
There is an incarnation in the Word–brick and mortar. Holst went on to say that with a church building, “… there is a safety on these grounds, no gang colors, the church offers something different, noble, heavenly.” And the people look to this. And it is for these reasons that CUSP has not moved under Host’s presidency. The people know that this building speaks of Jesus Christ—the brick and mortar says something, it says a lot.
While Holst spoke I took these notes. During time for Q & A I asked Holst if he could expound on his saying that he has come to view the church as more than people. I asked him to focus on his statement that the brick and mortar and location was a powerful statement to the life-saving Gospel that we are here for you, we have not left you. And he did just that.
Many are aware that the physical piece of artwork called a crucifix or a cross confesses the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. Bob Holst helped me understand that the missional work of the Gospel is also confessed by the presence of a church building, or, as in the case of CUSP, a parochial school building. May the church and her missional leaders not lose sight of this truth.