The Church at Gass's Tavern

I just started reading the book Crashing the Idols: The Vocation of Will D. Campbell (and any other Christian for that matter) by Richard Goode and Will Campbell.

Richard was my faculty mentor at Lipscomb University my first year of teaching. I left Lipscomb after only a year, and I still lament leaving the orbit and friendship of Richard Goode. So it's been good to get into this book and to experience what Richard has been up to in his work with Will Campbell.

Will Campbell is a revelation to me. His life, work and theology are simply astonishing. No doubt I'll have much more to say about Campbell in the weeks and months to come, but for today a thought-provoking quote from Campbell on leaving the location of the church unnamed and unspecified, if only to protect it from being co-opted and "institutionalized":

I think it ["the Church"] does exist, but I'm afraid to look for it, because if I find it and name it, I'm going to run it, if I can. That's the evil of institutions. But Jesus said he would build his church in the world, and exactly where it is at any moment, I don't know. I don't think [one knows when she is in it]. I don't know when I'm in it. Take Gass's Tavern [in Mt. Juliet, TN], for example. For many years it was just a little country beer joint. I've done a wedding for just about everybody there. I've buried numerous patrons who have died. I visit the ones who are in jail. Sometimes I get up on stage and pray for the sick. Now, I could make the case that that's my church, but I won't, because if I did, the next thing you know, we'd have a bulletin, or drink only Pabst. And I'd expect to be rewarded for all the things I did there. So I don't say that's my church, but that is the Church at work in my life...If I believe that all institutions are inherently evil by definition, then I certainly can't assume that I can create a better one. I might have a good organization for a while, but, before long, any organization is going to become hardened and rigid. I think people do come together, like we do down at Gass's Tavern. It's when we institutionalize it--when we do it the same way every Sunday--that it becomes perfunctory and losses any meaning. I say this in spite of the fact that I like ritual, liturgy, and so on.

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3 thoughts on “The Church at Gass's Tavern”

  1. Richard,

    I didn't ever get the chance to interact with you while I was at Our Dear Christian College, but I have been reading this blog for a while now. Consuming it, if I'm honest. I haven't been through everthing that's here yet but I'm working through it. I've been drawn pretty close to commenting before, but haven't. I don't know what it is about this particular post that draws me the rest of the way but here I am.

    First, of the blog, thank you for it.

    Then, of the post, I think I believe this very thing. One of my favorite passtimes is the several minutes of conversation (or is it discussion) that takes place after a dinner with good friends, and while it isn't the only situation in which I get the feeling, I always get this urge that in those minutes we are the Church. I was even thinking while reading, "But I like liturgy, I like the tradition." then I read that last sentence and thought this cat was reading my mind. My immediate impulse is to bottle it and produce it, to let everyone else in on it, but I think that's what's special about it.

  2. Hi Reno,
    I resonate with the "bottle and produce it" feeling. Like you, so many times I've felt about an experience that "this is what church should be." But these experiences are so spontaneous and unforced that there is no way to bottle it and "make it happen." Church seems to come and go, like the winds of the Spirit, often showing up in the most unlikely of places. The goal, I guess, isn't to create church but to be prepared to notice it and participate in it when it shows up in your life.

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