I ask you to forgive a bit of theological stretch but the theme of closed, locked doors looms large in John 20 – something I find connected to the pending crisis of the church today. I realize that I’m getting ahead of the liturgical calendar since Lent won’t begin for another week and Easter is farther out than even retailers are prepared for.
John 20 begins with the early morning visit of Mary Magdalene to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid, the evidence seen by two disciples that Jesus’ body wasn’t there, and Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus and her report to the disciples.
What do the disciples do with this news? They retreat behind closed doors (v 19) because they were afraid of the outside world. A week later we find them still behind closed – and now locked (v 26) doors. Eventually these disciples will emerge from behind the closed, locked doors to become proclaimers of the good news of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Church, like most things deemed significant and important for life, would become an institution within society. If an institution wishes to retain its influence and significance it looks to build edifices as visible reminders of its presence and permanence.
Would you trust your money to a bank that operated out of a recreational vehicle? I certainly wouldn’t!
Generations of laborers and artisans toiled at the building of the cathedrals whose spires, arches, and decor provided an awareness and engagement with a Holy Other. The cathedrals were oftentimes the centerpiece of a community and a place of shared religious and civic activity.
Fast forward to the present day…we find ourselves the beneficiaries of church buildings that were designed and built for the single purpose of providing religious instruction to the community. Sanctuary or worship space makes up the largest square footage in our buildings with fellowship areas, i.e. dining room; fellowship hall – taking second place. Other spaces for classrooms or offices are also a part of our architectural bequest.
Our church buildings are no longer seen as the community center, rather they are viewed as crumbling, monoliths of the past. Some congregations now possess buildings that are unsafe, far too costly to maintain, and too impractical to use.
Still, we would prefer to remain behind closed, locked doors. We do so because we are sentimental; because we are afraid; and maybe even more so because we are confused.
An article from the US Catholic about church buildings strikes me as an appropriate topic for congregations to begin considering. How do we honor the structures we have been given from the dedication and hard work of a previous generation? While at the same time, we ask ourselves when is it time to re-design or re-purpose our architecture to meet the needs of ministry in our present day? How can and do we use our buildings beyond serving as worship spaces for a few hours each week? A link to the article is below:
Don’t misunderstand me…I do not advocate tearing down structures thereby losing the historic connection in our church. I invite church leaders to consider how well we currently use our buildings and how we can become innovative and less fearful of the outside world in granting access to our buildings.
I do advocate that we seek ways of unlocking and opening doors so that others might be witnesses to the risen Jesus.