As soon as I entered the sanctuary of my home church on that Sunday morning many years ago, I knew immediately something was terribly wrong. It was hot, brutally hot. The air conditioning had gone haywire, and this was August, in Georgia, and - as we say in that part of the world - it was hotter than a $2 pistol on Saturday night.
We sweltered through the service somehow, but the pastor made sure the air conditioning repair men were on the job first thing Monday morning. Since I was serving as Summer Youth Worker at the time I was at the church that day and saw them begin their diagnosis.
Our church custodian, a delightful older man named Louis, saw me watching them and said, "I told the preacher he shouldn't get that air conditioning fixed!" "Louis," I replied, "it was hotter than the hinges of hell in that sanctuary yesterday." Louis said, "And that's good! If people sit in church when it's so hot they just might get the message that there's a better way to live!"
I have thought about Louis many times since leaving Georgia. The church I served in Park Ridge did not have air conditioning in the sanctuary, nor did the church I attended in Oak Park, nor do we here at Elgin FCC. I have never known the heat to motivate anybody to flee the flames of hell, but I have spent some pretty miserable Sundays with my fellow worshippers.
But that is about to change! Even as I write these words technicians and workmen are installing air conditioning in our sanctuary. Maybe I am so excited about it because I am spoiled. I go from my air conditioned house to my air conditioned car to my air conditioned office to... Well, you get the idea.
But there are practical considerations. Aside from the obvious comfort factors, we will no longer have to contend with huge, prehistoric fans making more noise during worship than a couple of 747s, nor will we have to leave our doors propped open and be at the mercy of every car, truck, motorcycle, fire truck, ambulance, and booming stereo that passes by the corner of Center and East Chicago streets.
Someone said to me, "Well, I guess you can wear your robe on Sundays during the summer now." That's not the point. I am merely looking forward to leaving worship without looking like I have gone back to baptism by total immersion and just practiced it on myself.
But there is a deeper message here. Everything we do, no matter how practical or mundane, is mission - even what we do with our building. In Transforming Congregational Culture Anthony Robinson says most mainline church buildings (including UCC churches) "are either underbuilt or poorly maintained. The message such facilities convey is not, generally, a great commitment to mission or outreach but a lack of care and appropriate self-confidence."
So the installation of air conditioning at FCC is not just about comfort. It is about signaling to ourselves and to our community that we care about our worship, and everything else we do. It also says we are alive and well.
My only question is this: What are we going to do with all those leftover funeral home fans?