The drop-in center at Central Lutheran Church, Anchorage, Alaska, had been open for more than a year when Holy Week approached again. We had promised, as a congregation, to slow down and breathe deeply during the Lenten season. In that spirit, the staff and volunteers decided to shut down the center for the final days of Lent.
"We'll be closing the drop-in center next week," I announced to our energetic, noisy kids as they sat down to eat in the snack room. "It's a special time for us when we observe Holy Week."
Since most of our 30 kids don't have a connection with the worship life of the church, I had expected to hear questions about the announcement such as: "What's Holy Week?" or "Why do you have to close for that?"
I wasn't prepared for the question they actually asked: "What's the drop-in center?" The majority of the kids had attended this program since its start in March 2002 when the congregation began an intentional outreach to the children who lived around the church.
"You know what the drop-in center is," I said. "It's this — what we do here after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays."
The kids looked at me and smiled, as if I was either kidding them or had gone a little soft in the head.
"This isn't the drop-in center," they said. "This is church."
I started to correct them, but then stopped. I had to think about what they had said: In their simple definition, they had spoken the truth. They had redefined "church" for me by making me look through their eyes. And, as I did, the doors were opened wider, the shades were pulled up and the welcome mat was laid out.
This is the place they gather, hear words of law and gospel, share a meal, and go away skipping and laughing. This is the place they meet to test that love will be given, no matter what. This is the place where they ask questions that lead to faith.
This is church.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers