Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The "Death" of a Church

A church very close to where I live was just sold for $2.2M to developers. I'm not sure what the deal is, or why the church decided to sell. Perhaps they are taking the money and starting a new ministry somewhere else; perhaps they are moving somewhere else in the neighborhood; perhaps the community slowly died, and the building was only a shell of what the community used to be. I work elsewhere in the city on Sunday mornings, so I haven't been around to see whether or not there are active church services there or not. A reasonable amount of internet snooping led to no new information, and so I'm left with my conjectures.

A few neighborhood blogs have covered the announcement, most notably Frozen Tropics and HStreetGreatStreet. This is the former church of St. John Church of God, if you're wondering which one:

St. John Church of God, Jan. 21, 2014, H&13

Near the front steps:

The former St. John Church of God, Jan. 21, 2014

The chain and lock seem just a little heartbreaking to this Vicar, and when I peered in the front doors, the door to the sanctuary was open, revealing the pews and "Do this in remembrance" lettered on the altar and all the little things that make a regular building a church, hymnals in the pews and signs to the bathroom and bulletin boards with outdated announcements no one has bothered to take down. I found myself a little sad for this little church.

But. Church buildings shouldn't be museums of places where people used to gather in faith but now sit empty. Church buildings shouldn't burden their congregants to the point where all they do is maintain the building and neglect their mission. Church buildings shouldn't exist just for the sake of existing. The building of the church isn't the church, the building is just a place for the people who make up the church to use as a tool for mission. And if that building is getting in the way of the church doing what the church should actually be doing, it needs to go. Period.

I'm not saying that the church building can't be the center of gravity for a community, or a place of sacred reflection that feeds the souls of those who come to worship there. But if the building itself becomes the object of worship, it needs to go. I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of faith communities could be set free if only they could get rid of the idol that is their church building. I wonder what these communities would discover about themselves, about their priorities, about their faith, if they were willing to set out on an adventure, to see their building as a tool for doing ministry in the world around them.

So, on further reflection, I'm not sad for the community, or that little church building, of St. John Church of God. Good for them for going out on faith and moving on, in whatever direction they are taking.

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