by Jake Hall

published in Family Matters eNewsletter, February 16, 2017

Ever since I was a little kid standing behind by Uncle Joel as he captained his boat, I’ve always wanted one myself. It doesn’t really matter what kind of boat, either. Each time I’ve gone skiing or deep-sea fishing or simply tooling around the lake on a pontoon boat, I feel kind of peace that’s hard to describe. For me, there’s just something about being out on the open water that evokes a deep sense of both peace and adventure all at the same time.

Throughout Christian history boats have been symbols for the church, signifying a vessel of salvation. It makes sense when you think about it. Jesus called fisherman to be fishers of men and the community they create is like a new vessel of sorts. The metaphor of a church as a boat has even shaped the way we speak about sanctuaries. In cathedrals, the main portion of the sanctuary is called the nave. Nave is a Latin word for ship. This image is so popular that in many churches you’ll find the symbol of a boat with the cross as its masthead carved in stone or etched stained glass.

I’ve been reading a little reflection by Joan S. Gray that further explores this thought of the church as a seafaring vessel. If the church is like a vessel, then Gray wonders just what kind of vessel should the church be?

For Gray, too many churches imagine their inner life through the image of a rowboat. Rowboat churches do what they can with the resources they have: money, wisdom, energy, people, and facilities. They depend on the power of the people in the boat to determine direction and exert the effort on the oars to propel the boat through the water.

Rowboat churches are built around doing more and working harder and leveraging the power programs like the oars of a small rowboat.

Gray wonders if an image of the church should be that a rowboat or is it more appropriate to think of the church as a sailboat?

Gray reflects through the image of a congregation as a sailboat with a sail spread wide, allowing the wind of the spirit to move the church where God wants it to go. It is God-powered. Not everything depends on the power of those inside the boat. Instead, those inside the boat set the conditions to capture the wind that is already blowing. While the church is not literally a sailboat, we can choose to operate in ways that allow the Holy Spirit - the wind of God - to become the source of our direction and power.

That is what our Vision 2020 discernment process is all about. In this season, we need all hands on deck as we crew Highland Hills for the future. I hope you will join us at our next congregational meeting on March 12th as we continue this important work together.