April 15, 2014

What if the Church IS the Building?

How many times have you been told -- or told someone else, maybe with a slight tone of spiritual superiority -- that the church is not the building?

I know, I know, it’s the people. I do know.

But it is the building.

Your neighbors see a building. They may have even been inside. Often for something other than worship. Often somewhere other than the sanctuary.

The built environment matters. It shapes what we see, where we walk, where we drive, the very textures beneath our feet. Buildings shut out noise, let in light. Doors are open. Or closed.

As church membership declines in many places, sometimes it seems the buildings are all that will be left.

So what if we take these buildings seriously?

Turn them inside out?

See them as our legacy?

Repurpose them in creative ways?

Fix them up, not for us, but for futures that we can’t quite see yet?

Open up the doors?

Offer them to the community for purposes that may be beyond our imagination?

Sell them if there really is no way to repair them, or if there really is no one around to use them? And invest in someone else’s building where it matters for the church to have a place?

It’s very Anglican to care about having a place, being a physical presence.

It assumes that the world will change around us and the church will still be there.

It is of course very possible to fetishize the building, to make it the golden calf.

But it is also possible to fetishize the congregation, to worship those who are here, and those who have been here in the past, rather than standing in the midst of everyone who is around.