“The Church is Not a Building”
“Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands . . .” – Acts 7: 48
I glanced at the address and thought, “That must be near the Methodist church,” but I was wrong. My appointment was in the building that once was the Methodist church in my youth.
I do believe, in the words of the Avery/Marsh song, that “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.”
But I also believe that sacred spaces matter. Our buildings ground us in a particular place and provide continuity with the generations that have worshipped there. At best they are sanctuaries: receptacles for the holy. At worst they become idols that pull us into an “edifice complex” that defines “church” as the structure rather than the community.
Finding the sweet spot between those two sentiments will be our challenge as aging congregations find themselves using more and more of their finite resources maintaining aging buildings.
It comforts me that the Heavenly City in the Book of Revelation has no church buildings: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (21:22).
For now we must fix the roof, paint the walls, and make sure the boiler works on Christmas Eve. As long as we don’t forget that these spaces are places of worship and not objects of worship.
Holy One, draw near to us wherever we may be, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and author of A Course In Basic Christianity and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Reflections on the Atonement. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.