What a gorgeous day this past Sunday. Easter 2018 was everything a good church going person could ask for. The skies were blue, the temperature “just right” warm, the coffee smelled scrumptious, the music in all services superb and the message meaningful and refreshing. Our church campus was resplendent with families together, friends reconnecting, and the hope of beautiful afternoon. All of this on top of an “over the top” community Easter Egg hunt festival the day before that included a helicopter drop of colored plastic eggs. GateWay, you did yourself proudly.
It’s Monday, the day after Easter 2018, and now comes the twist in the plot. What if by some indescribable force, the seven acres of land and all the buildings and facilities of GateWay Church of Visalia, were lifted away and a massive hole left behind. Mind you, this is not a second coming, “left behind” twist in the plot. This is simply a sci-fi “moving” event of epic proportions with GateWay no longer in the picture or returning later. The neighbors are in shock, emergency services are completely perplexed, and the community of Visalia cannot believe their eyes. But in due time, all returns to “normal,” the questions become questions of legend rather than of trauma and life goes on.
In this twist, the cavernous hole is filled, and a new neighborhood park named Conyer Oaks fills the emptiness. After 150 years of continuous existence, GateWay is but a fleeting memory.
Back to reality; the doors will open on Tuesday and services will be conducted Thursday and Sunday. Small groups will gather, the choir and orchestra, as well as the worship band, will practice, AWANA will convene, Venture will meet and a wedding will take place this week on the GateWay campus. But I am compelled to ask and think through, what if GateWay was gone? Would Visalia miss us? What are we adding to our neighborhood and our city today that if we no longer were here, people would feel a great void? The Easter story is the good news of the Gospel; of life instead of death; of renewal and redemption; of transformation; of relationships and connection. Is this what we are adding to our community? Is our city prosperous because we are here? Would there be an economic decline if we are absent because God’s blessing on this town has been removed? Or are we merely taking up space, albeit stylishly?
In communities across the country, city planners and civic zoning officials are reluctant to grant building permits to churches because churches do not add any value to a city. Churches do not generate an income stream for the public. Churches do not pay property taxes. Churches consume city services but contribute little. Churches are seen as takers and not givers. Is this who GateWay is? I am hoping GateWay will be bold in declaring, living out and embodying Jesus Christ such that God’s blessing is poured out on Visalia. I am hoping because we honor God, it would be felt deeply by our community if GateWay were suddenly taken away. It’s in our hands.