Letters from the week of 8-14 October 2018
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Thoughts about re-purposing old church buildings
While I have never been part of a congregation in any of the situations you describe (7 October 2018), being forced for whatever reason to worship outside the walls of beloved and consecrated church buildings, I have experienced another aspect of the building issue in two congregations: being in buildings which become the focus rather than God whom we are supposed to worship. How many congregations pour money and energy into staying in buildings with beloved history that no longer are truly appropriate for the smaller congregation or for the neighborhood that has changed around it or for countless other reasons? When it is the building that takes all our energy and focus rather than the worship of God and mission to those around us, we edge on idolatry. Yes, I love grand worship, the majestic sound of a well-played organ, a full, well trained choir, servers who know and love what they are doing, a full congregation singing traditional hymns with vigor - the whole panoply of Anglican worship at its best. Yet the reality is that many congregations now have the privileged opportunity of looking beyond what is no longer possible to ask where God might be leading. That requires the painful work of becoming willing to let go of some of our beloved buildings in order to discover ways of adapting our worship and expanding our spiritual growth and mission. Jesus didn't say "Come unto me, ye that are passionate about Gothic-style buildings and a single version of flawless worship." In fact he warned his disciples who were in awe of the glories of the Temple that no stone would be left on another. That happened, and our Jewish cousins found new and life-giving ways to worship and pass on their faith.
I also wonder how some of our grand old buildings might be re-purposed to enable more love, more outreach, more worship offered with wonder and joy to those who feel isolated from ancient grandeur, yet are starving for the message behind the grandeur. I wonder if letting go of some of the buildings of the past might be a way to jump-start ministries that are needed now, worship that is needed now. The Book of Common prayer in its many incarnations is wonderfully flexible and can carry the Anglican/Episcopal/Christian traditions of worship into many settings.
In the interest of full disclosure, severe allergic reactions to something in the air there keep me from joining my Community in worship in our lovely old Chapel. I can only worship with my Sisters when we stay in our simpler Oratory in the Convent. It is conceivable that this experience of isolation colors my opinions, although I also have the history described above of being in other congregations where building worship rather than worshipping God in a building became the order of the day. I also know of and have rejoiced with congregations who have found new uses for their buildings, new ways of worshipping, and have freed themselves from the tyranny of the past in order to worship God in the present. So now you know my biases and can judge my letter appropriately. Shalom to all.
Sister Diana Doncaster
Community of the Transfiguration
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
8 October 2018
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