Archive for the ‘sacred space’ Tag

Sacred Space   Leave a comment

The other day I happened to be reading an article on urban planning, in which the author wrote at length about what is wrong with suburbia and, by extension, rural communities. He spent a considerable amount of space lamenting the lack of “sacred space”. I thought was strange since most urbanites I know are not all that into going to church while, conversely, rural and suburban dwellers go fairly regularly. Then I read his definition of “sacred space”. To him, it was not a place to worship God so much as it was a building with breathtaking architecture. Think St. John’s Episcopal in New York City or the Crystal Cathedral, which is now a Catholic church. He lamented that evangelical Christianity “infests” the suburbs and evangelicals just don’t know how to worship God. We inspire good works, but not great ones, he said.

Wow! Color me embarrassed in mediocrity.

First, we’re guilty on the architecture charge. Evangelical churches are rarely grand affairs and when they are, they’re usually big not beautiful. Are we just architecturally challenged or is there a reason for this austerity?

I can’t speak for megachurches because I’ve never been a member of a megachurch, but I’ve been a member of some small Great Commission (aka Southern) Baptist churches. They were simple affairs, rows of pews for sitting, hardwood or low pile carpet for floors, a low stage in the front with a simple pulpit for the preacher to put his notes on and a Lord’s Supper table before it. My husband was raised Catholic and his first question upon seeing my church was “Where are the statues?” Now he understands that we consider statues in God’s church building to be idolatry, but more we structure our chapels so as not to distract from the worship of God. He’s center-stage, not the building.

This is partially because evangelicals do not consider our church buildings to be “sacred space”. The heart of the believer is God’s holy temple. The building where we hold Sunday service and teach English and citizenship to the foreign born is … well, a building. It’s convenient that we own it, but its main purpose is to house the congregation in collective gathering. I don’t feel the loss of a glorious space to worship in because I don’t worship God in that building. I worship God where I am at the moment – in my home, at work, driving through traffic, and sometimes in the church building. Biblical Christianity started in people’s homes and in the streets of Jerusalem. It didn’t need a glorious cathedral then and it doesn’t need one now. So, if our church buildings are uninspiring it may be that we’re spending our collective money on more important things.

Great works versus good works? What constitutes a “great” work? Evangelical Christianity was responsible for two “Great Awakenings”. The first one ended slavery in England and the second one was headed toward ending slavery in America when it got derailed by the Civil War, though some used it as an excuse for the Civil War. Evangelical Christianity sent missionaries throughout the known world to spread Christianity throughout Mediterranean Europe, Africa, the Middle East and as far as India while Christians were being persecuted by Rome. Modern Evangelical Christianity sent missionaries to the third world with the good news of Christ. Congregationalist evangelical Christianity’s church polity undergirds the American system of federalism. Evangelical Christianity drove German, Danish, and Dutch Gentiles to smuggle Jews out of Nazi controlled areas (google Corrie ten Boom). Evangelical Christianity smuggled Bibles into communist-bloc countries. Evangelical Christianity sends thousands of emergency workers to natural disaster sites with food, clothing, reconstruction experience (google Southern Baptist Disaster Relief). So,

I guess it depends on your definition of “great works”. It’s true that Evangelical Christians did not build the great cathedrals of Europe, but my spiritual ancestors were busy being the victims of the Inquisition and then, when they got to the United States (escaping religious persecution, by the way), we (in our loosely affiliated congregations) felt it best to concentrate on things we’d already excelled at – like, evangelism, prayer, Bible study, and convincing people that the wholesale slaughter and/or enslavement of your fellow human being is not a godly thing to do. We left the building of great edifices to denominations with more monetary resources and less important things to do.

I love great architecture. There’s not a lot of it in Alaska, so one of things I like about traveling to other places is poking around looking at aesthetically pleasing buildings – including churches. That is “glorious space”, but if you require awe-inspiring architecture to “get your God on”, there is something lacking from your relationship with the Divine. There is a portion of me – call it my heart, call it my spirit – that is “sacred space” that goes with me wherever I go, so that I am never out of touch with God unless I choose to be. That is worshipping Jesus in “spirit and in truth” and not creating “high places” where we bow down to the idols of God of our own design and hierarchal superstructure. In this way, we walk in the dusty footsteps of great past believers like Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Saul who would become Paul, Mary of Bethany, the church at Philippi, and Peter.

For a true believer in Jesus Christ, God is always right here with us and we need no more “sacred space” than our own heads.

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