I sat outside Pilgrim Hall (the office and education building where I’ll work in the future) and took this picture of the church right before I went in to preach for the first time. It’s always been an important message in my preaching and my ministry to talk about how we – by which I mean mainline institutional churches – need to remember that we are communities of faith, not just the residents of a particular building. In other words, the four walls are not the description of a church. Nonetheless, as I sat outside that morning I thought about a lot of things in the building that do describe the church I want to work for.
I like the style: Congregational Gothic, I’ve taken to calling it. The marriage of the old wood meeting houses of the congregationalists, while echoing back to the larger Christian tradition of gothic cathedrals. I like that some time in the not too recent history there was a conscious choice to use stained glass to replace the windows, for the sake of light and art and “transported-ness” that it can add to a space. I like that there are so many doors into the church, and that they come from every direction… like the whole world is welcome, no matter where they’re coming from.
Are there challenges in this building? Of course, just like everywhere. It wasn’t until the end of my sermon that I realized there was a crowd in the transept (the seating which occupies the “horizontal” line of the cross floor-plan). I had never even thought to look over at them; I’ve never preached in a space with a transept! I know many churches and pastors that have struggled even worse with issues like this, and I know plenty of places where the building has started to shape the church, and not the other way around. I also know that in many of these situations the conversations about how we worship and how we use our buildings has become a conversation like politics at Thanksgiving… easier, and much quieter to avoid altogether.
This morning, the thing that gave me hope and excitement was the clear evidence all over the building of how this congregation has a history of blending, combining, changing, and making choices to be more truly church throughout all their years. The building is important, but only so much as how it has reflected and served the community within it.
Also, that morning?… I felt like I was home, and where I needed to be.