On Main Street in Louisville, the architecture is fascinating. Just through a quick visit, I heard the story of the streets: that there was all sorts of development and the buildings were torn down, and then erected were these modern glass business-type structures on one end, housing God-knows-what. Then, seeing the modernity, people missed the way in which the buildings had history, and looking at them as they passed by. The business responded by adapting their plans to hold onto what was important to the people walking by, but taking down the rest.
Walking down Main Street today, what meets the eye are these buildings-in-process: only the front remains and the crumbling back-end has been taken down. The façades were still standing, with wooden support beams in place, but the rest of the building is being completely rebuilt.
Eventually, people will inhabit the buildings, for business or nonprofits, restaurants, bars, apartments or studio spaces. But I’ll bet that they will be safer than they once were –– and I’ll bet they’re infinitely more accessible. I’ll bet the buildings that are erected are better suited for the people that will inhabit them, and the way in which the builders incorporate the traditional and old into the new will surprise and delight the occupants.
I was in Louisville for a gathering of our Ecumenical Partners on Outreach –– the folk across several denominations wondering and working on new church plants, among other things. So as we walked from the hotel, past Main Street, to the Presbyterian Church (USA) denominational offices building, some of the folk I was walking with –– some people who have been in church life and ministry for years, and some of us just beginning in denominational leadership –– looked up and giggled. “Well isn’t that a metaphor for where we are.”
Isn’t it, though?
When we got to the PC (USA) headquarters, we were blessed with a tour of their building, and how they did the same architectural wonder there: connecting two huge warehouses with a stunning atrium, utilizing the beauty of the old buildings to decorate and enhance the new. I was struck, too, that even in the tour of the building, they didn’t shy away from the history of the location and town, church and country. Underneath, there were tunnels used to transport human slaves in Louisville. They named it. We sat with that racist reality in our history. Even transforming the space into a usable room, we still named and sat with the history.
The awareness of where we have been –– on all these levels –– was incorporated into where we are going. In how the space performs –– from building décor, to decorations transported one site to another, to the open atrium of welcome … AND in how our history –– both what we can point to with pride, and what is our deepest shame and –– carries with us all into whatever will be. Just because we rebuild and restructure and reorient doesn’t mean that we leave behind or forget what matters. In some cases, we take down all but the façade and rebuild the back end to be more functional; and in other cases, we finish out the basement, and still hold deep attentiveness to continue doing the work we know we need to do.
May God grace us in this time of transitional structures and entities with awareness of our history, even as we look with wonder to our future.
Sparking Ministry Conversations
I wonder how this metaphor works in your church community. Think of your congregation (the people, not the building, it’s a metaphor). What stage are you all in “rebuilding"? A façade hanging and waiting? A resurrection story of restructuring into something more functional? A crumbling structure that needs attention (and is a little dangerous to walk into)? Something else?
How do you point to the past to help make sense of the future? How are you attuned to your history –– the hidden and real history of your location, community, and congregation?
What are you willing to "break down" and "re-build" for the sake of the gospel, so more people will enter in and be welcomed and affirmed and loved and use the “building” for their own needs –– even and especially when they are different from ours?
The Rev. Chris Davies is the point person for congregational assessment, support, and advancement at the national offices of the UCC. She loves church deeply, and wants to help vision how we can transform the world, for the sake of the Gospel.