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08.08.2019

Holy in One! | Connecting with Culture

Rochester Cathedral have set up a mini golf course in the nave as an educational activity to draw in visitors.

Sacrilege! goes up the cry. How can this be a right use of a holy space? Isn’t this trivialising the good news? Doesn’t it just smack of desperation, when the Church of England can only draw people in with golf rather than the gospel?

Perhaps it is worth thinking through the issues before we vent our rage on social media.

Church of England buildings are consecrated for acts of worship, and this gives them a distinct status both legally and spiritually. There is a long tradition in many cultures of temples and holy buildings being regarded as ‘sacred spaces’, miniature models of the cosmos with God at the centre. That was certainly true of the Jerusalem temple and became a pattern for Jewish synagogues as well.

Despite popular terminology, however, officially (in the liturgy) Church of England church buildings don’t actually have an ‘altar’ for communion, they have a table; they are the gathering places of the family of God around the meal table, not temples where a sacrifice is offered. There is a temple – but according to the New Testament that temple is the people of God as the body of Christ, not a building, and it is our lives offered in obedience that forms the sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

The English word ‘church’ derives from the Greek term kyriakos meaning ‘belonging to the Lord’. But when the New Testament talks about the people of God, it uses a quite different word, ekklesia. We get into a muddle when we use the same word, ‘church,’ to refer to our buildings and to God’s people. It is God’s people – scattered as well as gathered – who are the ‘sacred space’, rather than any building.

Yet there is still a sense for many that church buildings have been ‘set apart’ – they have been places of prayer and worship, sometimes for centuries. There is, then, a question about what is appropriate and compatible with the primary purpose of the building. All sorts of things might go on – but, as Paul says ‘not everything is helpful’ (1 Corinthians 6:12, ESV).

There is always a risk of offending the perceptions of some. But is that not a risk worth taking for the sake of building bridges with those who might not otherwise darken the doors of a church?

 

Revd Dr Ian Paul
Ian is a theologian, author, and member of the Archbishops’ Council, Church of England. He blogs at www.psephizo.com

Comments

  1. This is a well-argued case but I think it misses two key points.
    1. If the building is not special then getting people into it cannot be our commission.
    2. People without theology training perceive the church to be represented by its buildings and the activities therein. What goes on inside matters. If the church is seen as no different from the world around, then people may enter but to what purpose. Jesus overturned the tables to expel what is not of God.

    I do not say ‘don’t’ , I say ‘how does this advance the Kingdom of God?’ Pr. 24.33 is not (just) about money.

    By Brian Henry - 9th August 2019
  2. Thank you so much

    By Ann Blackmore - 9th August 2019
  3. “It is finished!” – since then the glorious news is that the curtain in the Temple was split from top to bottom and the Presence of God will never be confined to a building. Our command is to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…..”. Buildings are a very useful resource that should be maximised (especially in the British climate!) but our primary commission is to invade every corner of society with the Good News of His Kingdom, fulfilling the cry of our hearts: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”. To quote Mark Greene: ‘The fruitfulness that changes lives and nations ripens in the valley of everyday, Monday to Saturday ordinary living.’

    By Peter Riley - 9th August 2019
  4. Some good thinking Ian, especially that we keep separate the ideas that church can mean both people and buildings.
    Our church building has been reordered and is being used with great benefit for Youth activities on a Friday night, for Wednesday lunch and coffee gatherings, for Childrens Holiday Club, for presentations of The Mark Drama and other similar events.
    Of course the building is set up separately for each event and there is no overlap in using the building for those and the times it is in use for our worship services. I think that is the key to helping people to consider how best the building can be used, and what are the reasons for maintaining it.

    By Alan Hartropp - 9th August 2019
  5. I struggled with the belief that “the Church building” was a sacred place. I also thought about Jesus overturning the tables in the temple and his words about it being a “house of God” rather than a “den of thieves”. In Jesus day it was a sacred place. I have since come to understand that we are the temples of the “living God” not a church building. Those times are gone. Acts 7:47 tells us “However the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands…”. This really freed me from the dread I had each time our church building was used for fund raising purposes. We now call it a Multipurpose Auditorium not a holy place where God dwells. It becomes a holy place when God’s people enter to worship and praise Him.
    And the folk who come to golf will be exposed to seeing and being with Believers. There are huge opportunities to establish relationships which will open the door to invite them to worship services, Bible Study etc. In 27 years my church family has grown from 30 ( of which number I was blessed to be a part) to over 4000. Our dreams were never this big. It is all His doing! We are humbled by it all. Praise be to God!

    By Jean Sheehan - 9th August 2019
  6. From the pictures I’ve seen it is in the cathedral nave: confirmed on Rochester Cathedral website. Going way back church and cathedral naves were public spaces for community activities as well as a ‘viewing point’ for services conducted in the chancel.
    An object of the exercise seems to be to encourage the young to consider engineering as a career.
    The website says, “… we hope that, while playing adventure golf, visitors will reflect on the bridges that need to be built in their own lives and in our world today.”.
    I trust the opportunity is taken, with exhibits and literature, to tell about the ‘bridge’ that is available through Jesus to ‘connect’ a human with God.

    By Christopher Whitmey - 9th August 2019
  7. Thank you.
    Build bridges, rather than have walls between us.
    I remember when our Church became local library a few years ago, whilst library renovated.
    All library groups, events relocated, folks who usually walked past on way to library, very unsure, this would work, but overcame apprehensions, to access all library services.
    Of course our own church family use local library & they wanted chance keep all services going & welcome their friends, colleagues, neighbours into the church building to use as library
    Some loved they could still have all services locally, others not so sure yet stepped through door local church. Folks happy sit & relax, enjoyed by those who love quiet to read a newspaper yet craved company of others, after school homework group, cross cultural groups. Others remained unsure, but happy enough to come and go as they pleased, for library services. So many relationships grew as doors opened every day of week & early evening, maned by usual library staff, lots familiar but in unfamiliar place. All usual church activities continued throughout.
    This question what goes on inside building? reminded me of public heath work, one target group men’s health. Involved contacting, social clubs, bars, garages, bookies. Have vivid memory of standing outside a “bookies” [betting office] wondering what it looked like on the inside, had idea what it might be like, but couldn’t see in. As I stood there I found myself thinking, I think I know what goes on in there, but not sure how comfortable I feel about going in. Struck me, this might be just how people might feel or think as they walk pass church buildings, you can’t see in, maybe think I know what going on in there, but not sure how feel about going in.
    The church became library for 6 wks yrs ago, people still talk about it. Build bridges

    By Kathleen O’Connell - 9th August 2019
  8. Hmm … yeah, absolutely agree that a church building is no more holy than the local pub or fish and chip shop, so I don’t have an issue from that angle. Also very aware that church leaders struggle hard to walk that sometimes-fine line between being contemporary and attractive in both person and message, yet not losing Christian distinctiveness. But … you can see the ‘but’ coming, can’t you?! It’s very hard to see how this particular project can do anything other than draw people into a building in a spiritually meaningless way, possibly even opening up avenues for mockery, as I think we are in danger of underestimating people’s intelligence. I think perhaps many also feel that there is perhaps something special about ‘church’ and may even want something they can label ‘sacred’ or ‘other’ even if they are unable to verbalise that or be conscious of it. In fact, I think some of the ‘non-Christians’ I know, I’m pretty sure, would find this more offensive than I would, a follower of Jesus! So, I guess I’m rather sad about this – not because it ‘spoils the cathedral’ but because it represents God and church more widely and perhaps makes it look a bit like another Disney adventure … sad, when people are desperately searching for a deeper meaning. Thankfully, God can of course do anything anywhere so I’d hesitate to limit God in any way – but I’m unconvinced this will help make the way straight.

    By Kate - 9th August 2019
  9. after several years living in sub Saharan Africa I began to reflect on the usefulness of the many many ancient church buildings in the UK during visits home. for many ‘spiritual but not Christian’ people the church building is a major stumbling block to faith (never darken the doorstep type thing)… for others they are beautiful relics, expensive to keep up and even more expensive to heat. I love certain buildings (eg the Beds chapel in Durham cathedral is a special favourite)… but I do sometimes wonder how much all these buildings help or hinder the work of kingdom in these days.

    By maya bates - 9th August 2019
  10. Thank you Ian.
    I remember the outcry 35 years ago when the pews were removed from our parish church.
    Since, the released space, has flexibly arranged chairs for the different services; theatre; concerts; dancing; a variety of children’s activities.
    It’s the biggest hall in the village and it is well used. Some non-church-service-goers begin coming to the services.

    Surely this is true worship of our glorious ever watching loving God.

    By Martin Hines - 10th August 2019
  11. I am a chaplain in Rochester Cathedral. When I said the 2 minute prayer at 12pm as usual, I said that Jesus came to parties and weddings and talked to children, now we will talk to Jesus, I invited those who wished to stand up and say the prayer that Jesus taught us. All the children present about 20 stood up and said it with me. That is worship.

    The cathedral is enhanced by the beautifully crafted bridges of the highest standard of craft. The message about building bridges is spelt out and how much we must do that for the children coming along in our world. We have had 400+ visitors each day since the golf began.This gives us chance to tell what is on.

    By Mary Quenby - 11th August 2019

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