The church is the people not the building - the role of church buildings

This truism, that the church is the people not the buildings, is often quoted at the present during the lockdown. I have known it often quoted on SoF generally by those who have little time for sacramental or symbolic worship. I know only too well how misleading concern or down right obsession with buildings can be. Of course the church is the body of Christ. But the buildings have an essential part to play. Let me start with some personal secular experience.

When I worked for a housing association one of my tasks was to visit homeless families who were referred to us for re housing. I understand that temporary housing is much better managed now. At that point they were often put in a room in the cheapest and most squalid hotels the local council could find. It was very depressing and it made me think that a family is the people not a building but without a place of their own they do not have a home. I leave you to work out the application to the church.

The church building can be a very powerful witness to the Christian faith if it is obviously a place where worship regularly takes place. And the church is not only the people not the building, it is also primarily the universal church throughout history not just the local congregation. The church building will embody that at an instinctive level showing that the church is more than just the people making up the local gathering.

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Comments

  • cgichardcgichard Shipmate
    Yes to all the above. Especially relevant to me as my church family is currently without a building and so without a home. The biggest space any of us can offer is too small for 15 people to fit in, even when "social distancing" is no longer a factor.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited May 7
    Yes to the OP, but with the caveat that many denominations (including the C of E, of which I am, for my sins, a member) are somewhat lumbered with awkward, old, unsuitable-for-today buildings.

    There are often almost insurmountable difficulties (and expense) in adapting even a nondescript Victorian church to make it better for weekday community use (not just for services).

    It is greatly to the credit of all concerned that so many congregations (often quite small, numerically) do so much in the way of adapting and using their buildings, as part of their mission and witness to a generally indifferent world.

    Radical changes are not always possible (although I admire the sort of thing Richard Giles has done here, and in the US), but it is still necessary to regard the church building as a useful asset - a tool, if you will - or even simply as somewhere to shelter the Faithful whilst they gather at Altar or Font...and NOT as some sort of ecclesiastical museum.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited May 7
    Yes to the OP, but with the caveat that many denominations (including the C of E, of which I am, for my sins, a member) ...

    You could, of course, repent of your sins ...
    There are often almost insurmountable difficulties (and expense) in adapting even a nondescript Victorian church to make it better for weekday community use (not just for services).

    Yes. My last church was a Grade 2 Listed building which was (and is) entirely useless for anything but worship, and costs a fortune to heat and maintain. When I was there we did take out some pews at the back to create a circulating/exhibition area (and to push the Faithful towards the front). This was a Big Job as (a) we had to get it past the Church Members' Meeting; (b) we had to get listed building consent; (c) there were potential problems with asbestos (in fact things were OK); (d) we couldn't just take out the pews but had to remove pew platforms, take up and later replace and renew the floor, renew wainscotting ... this cost over £10k ten years ago.

    Besides that we had to do a lot of exterior stonework survey and renewal which included the complete dismantling and renewal of a large stained glass window ... I reckon the church has spent well over £100k keeping the building in good order (with some work still outstanding and interior redecoration badly needed as well) ... to hardly any practical advantage whatsoever. But it has had no choice. Of course visitors and wedding parties always said, "What a lovely church" but they didn't realise what a weight it was around our necks.

  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    I find myself confronted with this problem the other way around.

    Having preached this mantra my entire life, now I and many other "church-is-people-not-the-building" proponents find ourselves with buildings that we can't expect to use, or at least not to their full potential, for some time, with all the financial constraints that involves. I think we need buildings but I absolutely hate having to make them a key part of our strategic planning right now. It would be a lot easier rethinking church practice inside out without one. For now.
  • I good friend of mine who is a retired priest, when she was OLM in a West Yorkshire village, was in the habit of praying for a convenient landslide to knock out the two church buildings in the village so the congregations could claim on the insurance and build something fit for purpose to be shared between them. I couldn't fault the logic, and have often half-joked about the fact that our church building is insured for in excess of 2 million and it's a shame the place is so damp even a candle left alight probably wouldn't get it going. It's a lovely building, and dear to me, but it is a sucking maw for time and money and, more than anything, attention. 8 years I've been here and we've poured something like 200k into a building that is still cold, damp, leaky and lacks basic facilities like a kitchen sink. Meanwhile the congregation has perhaps halved and has done nothing of note for maybe 5 years. I don't know what the way out is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's being linked to another parish and gradually fading away until, 30 years from now, I put the last elder in the ground.
  • There's a reason why most Dioceses would love to advertise for a Diocesan Arsonist.....

    I've always been strong on the "church is the people, not the building" line. But I increasingly appreciate what a building means to a congregation, quite apart from the practical concerns. The building carries all sorts of memories and meanings: it is the place where I got married to the love of my life; it is the place where my late husband created the wooden carved stations of the cross; it is the place where a group of us worked so hard to raise the money to equip the kitchen that has so transformed what we can do to serve our community. I could go on.

    The building carries all sorts of meanings and significance to the congegation. And often, clergy just don't get it, because they are rarely around long enough for the building to have any such personal memories. So clergy tend to see the building in purely utilitarian ways. And bishops are even worse in this respect, given that very few of them have ever spent a long time in parish ministry. They frequently just don't comprehend the sense of ownership that people have in "their" church. It may be a cold, costly stone blob, but it is ours and without it we would lose an important part of our identity.
  • The building carries all sorts of meanings and significance to the congregation. And often, clergy just don't get it, because they are rarely around long enough for the building to have any such personal memories.
    I'm sure that's true. And what you have written is moving. Nevertheless too great an attachment to a building can create a sense of stasis in a congregation and stifle its pilgrimage; individually people may find it almost impossible to separate their faith in the memories elicited by the building from their faith in God himself.

  • There's a reason why most Dioceses would love to advertise for a Diocesan Arsonist.....

    I've always been strong on the "church is the people, not the building" line. But I increasingly appreciate what a building means to a congregation, quite apart from the practical concerns. The building carries all sorts of memories and meanings: it is the place where I got married to the love of my life; it is the place where my late husband created the wooden carved stations of the cross; it is the place where a group of us worked so hard to raise the money to equip the kitchen that has so transformed what we can do to serve our community. I could go on.

    The building carries all sorts of meanings and significance to the congegation. And often, clergy just don't get it, because they are rarely around long enough for the building to have any such personal memories. So clergy tend to see the building in purely utilitarian ways. And bishops are even worse in this respect, given that very few of them have ever spent a long time in parish ministry. They frequently just don't comprehend the sense of ownership that people have in "their" church. It may be a cold, costly stone blob, but it is ours and without it we would lose an important part of our identity.

    The worst of it is that around half that 200k came from the sale of an older, equally beloved, church on the other side of the island. We already consigned one building (the latest of I don't know how many over the last century) to history and don't even have a functioning building to show for it. Really it is far too big for our needs but it is the only place you can hold a large funeral, which here means up to half the population.
  • cgichardcgichard Shipmate
    There's a reason why most Dioceses would love to advertise for a Diocesan Arsonist.....
    To conduct what is known in some quarters in Australia as a "Greek stocktake".

  • TheOrganistTheOrganist Shipmate
    As some of the older people in our congregation point out to our HfD priest, they've been worshipping in the place for 50+ years and they've got 300+ years of relatives buried in the churchyard and their family will still be farming in the parish in fifty years time.

    The church is Grade I so the stock response of TPTB, secular and ecclesiastical, to any proposal is No.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Suspended
    edited May 8
    For me, The Church is primarily its church buildings, though I also have an appreciation for its historic social role and for the art and music inspired by The Church.

    That leads me to wonder as I read the thread whether something has been lost.

    Those who built our churches, from the Saxons through to the Victorians, did so with a belief that the architectural splendour and beauty of the buildings glorified God. God loved beauty so the people made beautiful houses for God. There was also a sense that they were sacrificing effort and hard cash to God, thus proving how much they worshipped Him. Even our newer churches, like the cathedrals at Liverpool and Coventry, glorify God in their architecture.

    I don't know how old the saying "'The church is the people not the building" is but it's obvious that one of the ways the people expressed their love of God was architecture.

    From the tone here that seems to have been lost and the upkeep of old churches and cathedrals is now seen as a regrettable distraction from what you 'should' be doing, rather than a continuation of that sacrifice.
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    I don't know how old the saying "'The church is the people not the building" is but it's obvious that one of the ways the people expressed their love of God was architecture.

    My dad, who had defence clients for many years, once remarked to me that he'd often wondered where the energy and care put into cathedrals went now, and had concluded it went into missile systems...
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Suspended
    Eutychus wrote: »
    I don't know how old the saying "'The church is the people not the building" is but it's obvious that one of the ways the people expressed their love of God was architecture.

    My dad, who had defence clients for many years, once remarked to me that he'd often wondered where the energy and care put into cathedrals went now, and had concluded it went into missile systems...

    It's true to say Henry VIII broke up the monasteries to pay for his wars with France so there may be something in that. Though the building of great churches and war had co-existed before that. Maybe the shift happened with the Reformation and later on (in the UK at least) with the Puritans. Though the Puritans also created a bit of a backlash. The Victorians are possibly an exception as they beautified and decorated absolutely everything they built.

  • From the tone here that seems to have been lost and the upkeep of old churches and cathedrals is now seen as a regrettable distraction from what you 'should' be doing, rather than a continuation of that sacrifice.

    I think where a lot of us are at is that it can be part of what we're doing, and there is a place for beauty and awe expressed in architecture in drawing people to God. The problem is that, as I mentioned, buildings can suck up everything - time, money, attention - and leave nothing left for people. The church (people) is no longer large enough to devote the resources required to maintain the churches (buildings) bequeathed to us by our forebears. And while we are absorbed with trying to preserve the buildings, the church (people) shrinks and shrinks because our attention is not on serving others and helping people come to know God.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Suspended

    From the tone here that seems to have been lost and the upkeep of old churches and cathedrals is now seen as a regrettable distraction from what you 'should' be doing, rather than a continuation of that sacrifice.

    I think where a lot of us are at is that it can be part of what we're doing, and there is a place for beauty and awe expressed in architecture in drawing people to God. The problem is that, as I mentioned, buildings can suck up everything - time, money, attention - and leave nothing left for people. The church (people) is no longer large enough to devote the resources required to maintain the churches (buildings) bequeathed to us by our forebears. And while we are absorbed with trying to preserve the buildings, the church (people) shrinks and shrinks because our attention is not on serving others and helping people come to know God.

    I would say The Church is struggling with down-sizing but that the architecture is only part of that struggle. Dealing with the loss of relevance in society is arguably harder for The Church and for many Christians.

    I don't think the church is shrinking because members of the church no longer have their attention on serving others and helping people come to know God. It's shrinking, and has been shrinking for many decades now, because many people no longer desire what the church offers and because the spiritual market-place is crowded with beliefs, many of which are wholly materialistic.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited May 8
    Those who built our churches, from the Saxons through to the Victorians, did so with a belief that the architectural splendour and beauty of the buildings glorified God. ... it's obvious that one of the ways the people expressed their love of God was architecture.
    ISTM that these wonderful buildings were often built not just for the glory of God but to the glory of the rich person, king or emperor who had funded them, or to the glory of the denominations which (at the end of the Victorian era) were in hot and ruinous competition to prove themselves "top dog" (see Robin Gill's "The Myth of the Empty Church"). Certainly in Britain many of the buildings that were erected solely by the efforts of the faithful were fairly simple chapels or conventicles with few architectural pretensions except perhaps a fancy frontage - of course there were exceptions but, as in the case of a chapel with which I was associated for many years, this was often because there were one or two wealthy families bank-rolling thbings.
    From the tone here that seems to have been lost and the upkeep of old churches and cathedrals is now seen as a regrettable distraction from what you 'should' be doing, rather than a continuation of that sacrifice.
    Two thoughts here. One is that the "primitive" Church didn't have buildings but met in public spaces and private houses ... which isn't to say that some of those Christians might just have yearned for buildings of their own! The other is that declining congregations get absolutely fed up of having PCC meeting after meeting, or all their time and energies, focused on "keeping the building up" when they'd prefer to be serving the community or engaging in Gospel proclamation.

    By the way I am not necessarily arguing for buildings which are merely utilitarian, nor am I denying that great architecture can lift people heavenwards. I do believe that God created beauty and loves it.

    (Cross-posted with above).

  • Colin SmithColin Smith Suspended
    Those who built our churches, from the Saxons through to the Victorians, did so with a belief that the architectural splendour and beauty of the buildings glorified God. ... it's obvious that one of the ways the people expressed their love of God was architecture.
    ISTM that these wonderful buildings were often built not just for the glory of God but to the glory of the rich person, king or emperor who had funded them, or to the glory of the denominations which (at the end of the Victorian era) were in hot and ruinous competition to prove themselves "top dog" (see Robin Gill's "The Myth of the Empty Church"). Certainly in Britain many of the buildings that were erected solely by the efforts of the faithful were fairly simple chapels or conventicles with few architectural pretensions except perhaps a fancy frontage - of course there were exceptions but, as in the case of a chapel with which I was associated for many years, this was often because there were one or two wealthy families bank-rolling thbings.
    From the tone here that seems to have been lost and the upkeep of old churches and cathedrals is now seen as a regrettable distraction from what you 'should' be doing, rather than a continuation of that sacrifice.
    Two thoughts here. One is that the "primitive" Church didn't have buildings but met in public spaces and private houses ... which isn't to say that some of those Christians might just have yearned for buildings of their own! The other is that declining congregations get absolutely fed up of having PCC meeting after meeting, or all their time and energies, focused on "keeping the building up" when they'd prefer to be serving the community or engaging in Gospel proclamation.

    By the way I am not necessarily arguing for buildings which are merely utilitarian, nor am I denying that great architecture can lift people heavenwards. I do believe that God created beauty and loves it.

    (Cross-posted with above).

    Certainly the building glorified the benefactor, both in this world and, so they were told, in the next. And I sympathise with the PCC committee having to deal with this. In fact it forms one of the minor plot strands in my novel (for the elimination of doubt I'm posting here as an enthusiast of church architecture and not as a researcher!) where the PCC has divided into factions: one focused on the building and the other on 'outreach' work.

    I also know that many early church buildings were very simple, but even simple stone is expensive when most buildings were wooden-framed.

    That stone in turn created a problem for The Church because stone endures so in many places the local church is the oldest building by some centuries and has become a symbol of endurance and custodian of the past.
  • Ex_OrganistEx_Organist Shipmate
    As some of the older people in our congregation point out to our HfD priest, they've been worshipping in the place for 50+ years and they've got 300+ years of relatives buried in the churchyard and their family will still be farming in the parish in fifty years time.

    One Anglican priest of my acquaintance tells a story about one of the four churches in his rural living. One of the churchwardens informed him after his induction that one of his (the churchwarden's) ancestors had built that church in the thirteenth century.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    I once turned to a member of the congregation and asked how long she'd be worshipping there. Now she was retired but I was not expecting the answer of two hundred years. The church building was only about fifty years old and the congregation about sixty. Rather she was dating her attendance from when her ancestors had taken to worshipping in the main Congregational church in the town, which had closed and some members had transfered to this daughter church. That is the simplified version.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Suspended
    Jengie Jon wrote: »
    I once turned to a member of the congregation and asked how long she'd be worshipping there. Now she was retired but I was not expecting the answer of two hundred years. The church building was only about fifty years old and the congregation about sixty. Rather she was dating her attendance from when her ancestors had taken to worshipping in the main Congregational church in the town, which had closed and some members had transfered to this daughter church. That is the simplified version.

    The Ryme of the Ancient Parishioner....
  • PuzzlerPuzzler Shipmate
    A certain independent school held its chapel services in its smaller hall. There was a tradition that pupils leaving donated a chair inscribed with their name, until there were sufficient. Thereafter over the years the Chaplain encouraged anyone who wanted to make a donation to put it towards the purchase of various items, lectern, font, alms dish, choir robes, frontals etc etc. Those who attended, together with their families, treasured these items , which transformed a plain building into the venue for a vibrant Christian community.
    So it is not just the building that matters.

    (Sadly the next Chaplain was having none of it and somehow got rid of everything. Even the chairs were sold off, as we discovered when having lunch in a pub some 50 miles away, seated on named chapel chairs! )
  • cgichardcgichard Shipmate
    edited May 9
    Puzzler wrote: »
    . . . various items, lectern, font, alms dish, choir robes, frontals etc etc. Those who attended, together with their families, treasured these items , which transformed a plain building into the venue for a vibrant Christian community.
    So it is not just the building that matters.
    I am acutely aware of this. For my church family, currently searching for a building, all the things that would transform a bare space into a church for us - the altar table, the chalice and paten, the icons, the candle stands, the censer etc. - are packed away in storage.
  • Barnabas_AusBarnabas_Aus Shipmate
    Our bishop, who has had little parish experience, wrote to all parishes two years ago this week with his proposals for restructure. In our case, it was for two of the three churches to close, the opshop to move from a church hall to rented commercial premises and a rectory [which was leased out] to be sold.

    What he failed to understand was the demographic structure of the parish, with three distinct communities. These communities maintain a balance of ministries, without which the parish would fail. The three church buildings - one stone, one little weatherboard God-box and a 60's vintage town church all have links to their communities. The stone church has descendants of families who began worshipping when the parish began 175 years ago, and who still maintain the buildings and the grounds.

    The bishop's lack of insight led to national media coverage of our response, and a swift backdown on his part. Parish life continued to grow until Covid-19 hit, but we are moving to new ways of worship and community ministry. The challenge will be to re-establish those community links which have been suspended such as kids' club, playgroup and kinship group [for grandparents and others caring for small children], all of which have been established or re-energised in the last couple of years. It is through these, along with funeral hospitality and opshop, that we live out our mission to the community.
  • cgichardcgichard Shipmate
    Did parish life continue to grow because the media coverage brought more people into the churches, or was it more that it strengthened the existing loyalties to each of those churches?
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Symbolism doesn't really do it for me. So the idea of the church building as a symbolic presence doesn't mean much to me. Either the building is enabling an actual presence, making it easier for the citizens of the kingdom of Christ to extend it where they are, or I suspect that people are deluding themselves in some way as to what the point is of having a building and investing money and effort maintaining it.

    Rant alert

    The ones I get really annoyed about, though, are people who take the line that the building and the people are there to keep on doing something they never themselves bother to take part in. That seems to me to be not just a false reassurance but a very dangerous one, eternally. So, if somebody else is preserving both the building and forms of services exactly how they imagine their great-grandmother would have known it, that gives them the delusional comfort that it lets them off having to respond to God's call on their lives.

    They are often the ones that complain loudest when anything is abandoned or changed. At it's core is an assumption that the kingdom of heaven is there to make us feel good about ourselves without having to do anything in return.

    Rant over
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited May 9
    No, I agree with your rant. Our neighbouring parish recently replaced their horrid Victorian pitch-pine pews with chairs (the floor was re-laid at the same time).

    Their Facebook page was soon swamped with cries of horror 'O! It doesn't look like a Proper Church any more! A Proper Church MUST have pews!', and so on ad nauseam.

    Of course, the PCC had gone through all the due processes of wrestling with demons the various conservation bodies, the DAC, etc. etc., so nothing was done without official sanction.

    I bet NOT ONE of those 'Shock! Horror!' people ever actually attends that church...or even stops to think that the pews were a 19thC addition to a mediaeval building, anyway.
  • English Heritage were quite, quite sure that the local Grade II* listed church had ripped out the pews, but it was designed with chairs, straw seated wooden chairs that have since been replaced. The plans and early photos exist showing this.

    But English Heritage were equally quite, quite sure a barn conversion in the village I grew up in had to be tiled in tiles that matched the nearby buildings, even if they had to be specially made, even though it the pitch of the roof strongly suggested they were all originally thatched, like some of the neighbours.
  • Barnabas_AusBarnabas_Aus Shipmate
    cgichard wrote: »
    Did parish life continue to grow because the media coverage brought more people into the churches, or was it more that it strengthened the existing loyalties to each of those churches?

    It was a mix - some who had drifted away returned, others were new worshippers, and a couple of the programs grew from a realisation that this was a parish with a will to make them a success. Existing loyalties were strengthened, but so were intertwining loyalties across the parish, eliminating some grudges which had lasted for the better part of a century.
  • My sister used to live (10 years ago) in a small Norfolk village, still quite feudal in thinking. The parish church was small, beautiful, Grade 1 listed, remote, and (crucially) near the Big House. Attendance was in single figures.

    English Heritage decided that the church needed repairs. For six months the congregation moved to the "tin hut" village hall on The Street. Once a month they had a family service called "DCD" - short for "Do Church Different" ("doing different" being very much a Norfolk phrase). Attendances increased, sometimes up to 30 at DCD services.

    Once the repairs were concluded, the Faithful discussed what to do. Of course they all wanted to go back to the Proper Church, every week. You can guess the outcome (although the church is now linked into a network of churches resourced from the nearest town which may improve matters).
  • yohan300yohan300 Shipmate
    edited May 10
    I'm with Canon Mustard who tweeted this:

    I reject the claim that “the church is not about buildings”. The #ExeterBook describes churches as “leomo laemena”, limbs of clay: the church Body, fashioned of the same clay (limmus) as Adam. People and churches: living and compacted clay, both fashioned for prayer and praise.
  • Raptor EyeRaptor Eye Shipmate
    If ruins of churches and priories can still resonate with people spiritually, how much more can a building which is still alive with worship and prayer?

    As I entered into a prison chapel I was struck by its atmosphere of holiness - I don’t know how else to describe it. The chaplain said that many people remarked upon it. She put it down to the centuries of prayer which had soaked into its fabric.

    Yes, the church is its people, past and present and future, and yes we have the richness of the church buildings to appreciate and utilise as well as to concern ourselves with and maintain if we can. It’s both/and, not either/or.

    Those free churches near to us who used to meet in school or village halls have raised the cash to convert buildings into churches. They might be modern and relatively maintenance free now, but later congregations will be worrying about the roof too, no doubt.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited May 10
    Two very different perspectives on the Bishops lockdown first from a Baptist Minister Steve Holmes and a different view from Richard Coles. A debate should come up about what is understood by sacred space. The Reformed theology of Sacred Space is basically the Reformed theology of Church. I am paraphrasing but something along the lines of where the people gather, the sacraments administered and the Word is heard let no one be in doubt there exists the Church.

    However, I also can remember the Scottish Presbyterian Chaplain at my University saying that a place where much prayer has been said has its own patina. Undoubtedly, when and where we encounter the divine, remains special to us. The Almighty may be beyond space and time but we are not.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Suspended
    Raptor Eye wrote: »
    If ruins of churches and priories can still resonate with people spiritually, how much more can a building which is still alive with worship and prayer?

    As I entered into a prison chapel I was struck by its atmosphere of holiness - I don’t know how else to describe it. The chaplain said that many people remarked upon it. She put it down to the centuries of prayer which had soaked into its fabric.

    Yes, the church is its people, past and present and future, and yes we have the richness of the church buildings to appreciate and utilise as well as to concern ourselves with and maintain if we can. It’s both/and, not either/or.

    Those free churches near to us who used to meet in school or village halls have raised the cash to convert buildings into churches. They might be modern and relatively maintenance free now, but later congregations will be worrying about the roof too, no doubt.

    Not necessarily. People can project onto a ruin their own version of spirituality whereas a building alive with worship and prayer might put them off because the religious practises within it do not accord with their needs.

    For example: I live in a town where many of the inhabitants and the thousands of visitors hold the entire local landscape sacred and celebrate it with bongo-drums, chants, clootie tree hangings, meditation, incense, charms, crystals, and you-name-it-it's-here, that can only be accommodated because whatever original beliefs occupied the local inhabitants have vanished.

    It's the same at Avebury, Stonehenge, and other ancient sacred sites which have become loci of spiritual practice.
  • Raptor EyeRaptor Eye Shipmate
    edited May 10
    Raptor Eye wrote: »
    If ruins of churches and priories can still resonate with people spiritually, how much more can a building which is still alive with worship and prayer?

    As I entered into a prison chapel I was struck by its atmosphere of holiness - I don’t know how else to describe it. The chaplain said that many people remarked upon it. She put it down to the centuries of prayer which had soaked into its fabric.

    Yes, the church is its people, past and present and future, and yes we have the richness of the church buildings to appreciate and utilise as well as to concern ourselves with and maintain if we can. It’s both/and, not either/or.

    Those free churches near to us who used to meet in school or village halls have raised the cash to convert buildings into churches. They might be modern and relatively maintenance free now, but later congregations will be worrying about the roof too, no doubt.

    Not necessarily. People can project onto a ruin their own version of spirituality whereas a building alive with worship and prayer might put them off because the religious practises within it do not accord with their needs.

    For example: I live in a town where many of the inhabitants and the thousands of visitors hold the entire local landscape sacred and celebrate it with bongo-drums, chants, clootie tree hangings, meditation, incense, charms, crystals, and you-name-it-it's-here, that can only be accommodated because whatever original beliefs occupied the local inhabitants have vanished.

    It's the same at Avebury, Stonehenge, and other ancient sacred sites which have become loci of spiritual practice.

    There was a tree where I used to live on which people attached their prayers in any way they liked: some written, some simply ribbons or pieces of cloth or paper, etc. In the church I attend there is an interactive prayer tree where people can do the same.

    A 'thin' place is a 'thin' place, whether indoors or outdoors.

    I believe that a building alive with worship and prayer becomes a 'thin' place, one in which the sense of spiritual holiness is tangible to many people. Perhaps like the burning bush, where one feels the need to kick off one's shoes.
  • I live in a town where many of the inhabitants and the thousands of visitors hold the entire local landscape sacred and celebrate it ...
    I think we might just be able to guess where that is!

  • Colin SmithColin Smith Suspended
    I live in a town where many of the inhabitants and the thousands of visitors hold the entire local landscape sacred and celebrate it ...
    I think we might just be able to guess where that is!

    It isn't Milton Keynes!
  • Er, no, I didn't think it was. However it's a place whose high point I might just be able to see from my bathroom window, if I stand on the toilet lid and it's a clear day.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Suspended
    Er, no, I didn't think it was. However it's a place whose high point I might just be able to see from my bathroom window, if I stand on the toilet lid and it's a clear day.

    Sorry, MK was a joke as it was the least spiritual place I could think of. If there is a ruined tower on the high point you are probably looking towards Glastonbury.
  • No need to say sorry, I knew you weren't being serious. I believe that they worship concrete cows in MK: http://tiny.cc/k3gtoz

    As for Glastonbury - you might be right!
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    I have been puzzling

    Not necessarily. People can project onto a ruin their own version of spirituality whereas a building alive with worship and prayer might put them off because the religious practises within it do not accord with their needs.

    You see what you are talking about are heterotopias, places which can sustain a number of divergent discourse simultaneously. However, by their very nature, despite what Foucauld says, places of worship are hetertopias at least for those belonging to the cult.

  • Colin SmithColin Smith Suspended
    Jengie Jon wrote: »
    I have been puzzling
    You see what you are talking about are heterotopias, places which can sustain a number of divergent discourse simultaneously. However, by their very nature, despite what Foucauld says, places of worship are hetertopias at least for those belonging to the cult.
    Not a word I had ever heard of. Indeed, the meaning of hetertopias is very hard to pin down online.

    But I understand what you mean. It still seems to back up my point that a building full of worshippers won't necessarily be more attractive to people than a ruin/empty building onto which they can transfer what beliefs they hold.
  • Raptor Eye wrote: »
    As I entered into a prison chapel I was struck by its atmosphere of holiness - I don’t know how else to describe it. The chaplain said that many people remarked upon it. She put it down to the centuries of prayer which had soaked into its fabric.

    Unless you are talking about Dartmoor Prison, I'm not aware of any prisons in England and Wales that have been used for centuries (over 200 years). Of course, you could be talking of another country, although some of the English-speaking countries have very few buildings that old. Where was this chapel?
  • Raptor Eye wrote: »
    As I entered into a prison chapel I was struck by its atmosphere of holiness - I don’t know how else to describe it. The chaplain said that many people remarked upon it. She put it down to the centuries of prayer which had soaked into its fabric.

    Unless you are talking about Dartmoor Prison, I'm not aware of any prisons in England and Wales that have been used for centuries (over 200 years). Of course, you could be talking of another country, although some of the English-speaking countries have very few buildings that old. Where was this chapel?

    Lancaster Castle? Obviously now out of commission but was still a functioning prison up until a decade ago, and has a chapel.
  • ForthviewForthview Shipmate
    I was thinking of that chapel also. It was so arranged that the prisoner/worshippers would not be able to see anyone else apart from the officiant, wooden screens between each person. Even if decommissioned now it might be good for the new normal post covid public worship.
  • PendragonPendragon Shipmate
    People have talked about St Quack's having a definite aura of prayer inside. Possibly helped by the lingering smell of incense from a Sunday!
  • Or of sweaty armpits ...
  • Raptor EyeRaptor Eye Shipmate
    Raptor Eye wrote: »
    As I entered into a prison chapel I was struck by its atmosphere of holiness - I don’t know how else to describe it. The chaplain said that many people remarked upon it. She put it down to the centuries of prayer which had soaked into its fabric.

    Unless you are talking about Dartmoor Prison, I'm not aware of any prisons in England and Wales that have been used for centuries (over 200 years). Of course, you could be talking of another country, although some of the English-speaking countries have very few buildings that old. Where was this chapel?

    It was Norwich prison chapel, which I see is 19th century so it was a bit of an exaggeration, but there had been prayer in that place in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, and it had a special atmosphere of God’s peace.

  • Graven ImageGraven Image Shipmate
    Interesting topic for me. I was part of a new church plant where we worshiped in a period of 3 years, before we acquired a building in all sorts of interesting places. At homes around a coffee table in the living room. Another home around a dinning table, In the store room of a doctors office with medical supplies hanging on the wall, in the city council chambers with a portable altar and two cars of stuff to move each week. We ended up buying an old recovery program building that had been a motel and converting it into a church building. At the start we often wondered what the children thought. One time we were meeting upstairs over the local police headquarters and a child out driving with his mother was heard to say, " Oh look there is our church policeman." So we did indeed have a real feeling of the church is the people not a building. Our outreach to the larger community was really only able to grow the way we wanted once we had our own church building.

    The second place I held services was in a jail multi purpose room. We rolled in an altar on wheels stored in a near by closet and added some religious pictures on the walls. Soon I noticed that the staff started calling it the chapel instead of the multi purpose room. It was used during the day for all kinds of different staff activities from folding laundry to sorting mail and even parol hearings. Multi-purpose room remained on the door but in conversation it was always from then on called the chapel.

    I think the feeling of being a part of the saints who have moved on is held in the building, and that is important. I can not say just what it is but in some places of worship I have a strong feeling of it being filled with the prayers of others over time. It does feel like I am standing on Holy Ground.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    When believers talk of going to a service they would say that they are going to Church. rather than going to the Church. They are refering to the assembly rather than the building.

    However, a non believer would invariably think that the church was a building.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Telford wrote: »
    When believers talk of going to a service they would say that they are going to Church. rather than going to the Church. They are refering to the assembly rather than the building.
    I’m not sure that by “going to church” they are referring to the assembly as much as they are referring the service itself, as an equivalent to how some believers would say they’re going to Mass. I’ve certainly never understood “going to church” to mean the building or the assembly. The word “church” does a lot of work in English.

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