Holy Places

Yesterday’s post responded to certain streams of thought in the church about it’s future and the needs for reform and change in our life together. As a starting point, it used Walter Russell Mead’s blog entry called The Holy Crap Must Go. In that essay, Mead says that the church is unnecessarily burdened by maintaining it’s church buildings and suggests that Christian communities should free themselves of that burden. Along with overly large denominational structures and an abundance of paid professionals, our church property is amongst the “holy crap.” But is it?

Yesterday, I suggested that we needed to first attend to our identity as a church, to determining what the church is in order to answer questions about how we structure ourselves, what we do, and what facilities we might maintain (if any). I maintain that those issues can only be resolved if we know who we are as a church.

I’d like to suggest, however, that the question of church facilities is not merely about their pragmatic use for activities. There is a value to a church building, specifically the worship space, itself.

We live in a world that has been disenchanted. The world is largely mundane. Little is seen as sacred. But there is clear witness in biblical and church tradition that the world is indeed sacred. It was created and pronounced good, even very good. The rhythms and calendar of worship allows for the sanctification of time. That we gather in particular places, while not necessary in the strictest sense, allows for the sanctification of space. Those specific places and rhythms speak directly to the fact that the sacred can and does exist in the world. This concreteness is important. Without it, the notion that time and space are sacred is a mere abstraction. The particular is necessary to make it a reality.

The sacraments should reinforce this. Here we have the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Eucharist which, along with witness of the Word, we have the promises of God made real and physical for us. In the eating and drinking and washing, the promises are brought into concrete reality. They are not mere vague notions, but given particular and concrete embodiment. Indeed, creation itself is sacramental in nature. It is a blessing of God given to us in concrete and actualized form, not a mere notion. Our worship spaces and our worship times fit this same pattern. And that is right and fitting, since it is in our worship that we encounter the sacraments with their gift of grace in word and physical form.


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