October 1, 2019
The Church as Corgi
From its beginnings, Christians have used metaphor to describe and teach about the Church. Most enduring is Paul’s metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ, with each Christian a member of that Body. An eye, an ear, a foot, all important and contributing to the life of the whole. Cyprian and Augustine in the early church, and Luther and Calvin in the Reformation, notably referred to the Church as a Mother (to go with God the Father) and as the Bride of Christ. In the 20th century, Robert Farrah Capon wrote of the church as a hat on the head of a mystical body, allowing the mystical body to be located.
Metaphors usually don’t hold up under intense scrutiny. But they can certainly help us to see, to describe, to understand. Given that, and also the many examples of metaphors in the life of the faithful, I propose that to engage in metaphor is a vital practice of the Christian life. Doing so can teach and inspire in circumstances where literal descriptions fail or fall flat.
It is in this vein that I offer the metaphor of the Church as corgi. I refer to the little dog with short legs and cheerful spirit, popular on the internet, in photos, and household decor.
This is not a theological metaphor, but rather a practical one. Neither is it a practical metaphor for big churches, though perhaps it could inspire them. Rather, the corgi is a metaphor for small and medium sized churches, the so-called pastoral and program sized, because the corgi is a small or medium sized dog. Notably, the corgi has the fortitude of a big dog, capable of long walks and of shepherding the flock when it goes astray. Yet it has the convenience and comfort of a small dog, easy to take on rides in the car, happy to curl up on your lap or by the hearth.
But there’s more. With the short legs that put the corgi in the small and medium sized category, the corgi is close to the ground, Ever on the alert, the corgi is sensitive to changes in course and to movements from the periphery. Even when feeling puny, corgis lurch to attention whenever a ball, a jogger, or anything moving comes into view. The corgi can pivot and change direction with impressive agility and speed. In this way, the corgi has distinct advantages over larger galloping breeds, beautiful and lovable though they may be.
As small and medium sized churches consider their particular vocations within the life of the greater church, perhaps they could consider these advantages. With minimal staff, decisions can be made quickly. With a congregation of a size that allows members to know one another, needs can be shared and met with remarkable agility. Programs can be adjusted to respond to circumstances within the community and beyond. Recently, the BBC featured a story about Corgi Cafes. In large cities throughout Asia, in Taiwan, Japan and China, customers line up for blocks for an hour of interaction and play with a covey of corgi dogs. Churches, too, have a particular charm, and can be surprisingly cute and engaging.
Of course, like so much of church life, the corgi does look like a dog designed by committee. And like the Episcopal Church, the corgi hails from England, and is beloved of the queen. Perhaps that's where the metaphor fails...