Pastoral Series

Church Matters: Buildings

   Why does Church matter? Lots of reasons – and in this series I hope to help us think together about how engaging with others enriches our own life of faith and makes a difference in the world.

Lots of kids learn to do the little thing where they fold their hands together and say “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and…” Oops, no people. Dovetail the fingers inside and repeat: “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people!” And they wiggle around a little.

I want to say the Church is the people, not the building. A building can be nothing but show, and the people do Church best when they are out of the building. We had a Church before we had Church buildings, and sometimes the maintenance of the building veers over into protectiveness of the building, and we falter in our mission.

But I love Church buildings. I love it that the most beautiful architecture in the world is inevitably found in sacred sanctuaries dedicated to God. I love it that, once upon a time in America, the tallest buildings in every city were the churches. I love it that dizzyingly different church buildings are all beautiful in their own way: a medieval cathedral, a white A-frame out in the country, even the storefront church battling the odds, meeting literally in the marketplace where people live, shop and eat.

In Lorraine Hansberry’s play, Raisin in the Sun, a young woman returns home after a year off at college. She’s learned so much that she doesn’t believe in God any more. Her mother, on hearing this, stands up, walks over to her daughter, slaps her on the face, and says “Repeat after me: in my mother’s house, there still is a God.” In a cynical, hollow, bustling, secular world, every church building is a bold, counter-cultural message: there still is a God.

So the building matters – not for our pleasure, but for a world that needs to know. And the church building also is for God. I love it that medieval cathedrals often have fantastic carvings, and detailed sculpting in the attics and behind columns, where no one can see. The art, the labor of creative beauty, is for God.

Visit your church’s building, and ponder the wonder. Every church you drive or walk by: pause, pray for the people who worship there, and give thanks to God. Church matters.

See All Pastoral Series