Your church talks to you.
You may not realize it, but it is definitely saying something to you.
No, I don’t mean the institutional Church – I mean your church building.
Its constant chatter is like a radio or T.V. left on all day. You may not be minding directly, but it is droning out its message at every moment and subconsciously it is making an impression on you.
A church building is trying to make a statement about the people within as well as forming the people who gather there to worship. Stand outside your church. What does it say to you? Do not be cowed by an “expert” who tells you what it should say. They can only tell you what it says to them and to people who agree with them. They can classify a building perhaps better than you informing you that it is “Modern Romanesque with hints of hints of (whatever) in the style of (whatever) reflecting the work of (whoever.)” But they cannot tell you what the building is saying to you. A church building is a symbol and symbols only have the meaning to which we attribute it. I may say a circle represents nothing, a big zero, an empty hole. You might say that it means eternity, totality, encompassing everything. Is one of us right?
Start with the outside of your building. What strikes you first? Is it a powerful presence or does it try to blend in? Chances are that these are very deliberate choices which are connected to movements. Some buildings want to blend in and not cause waves. They want to be approachable by their shear lack of making a splash. By contrast Saint Sebastian stands out almost in defiance of the neighborhood. A soaring bell tower marks the horizon, the façade rising briskly against the street. Over the doors in large letters it proclaims, “THIS IS THE HOUSE OF THE LORD.” A giant coat of arms tops this. What does this mean to you?
Does your church look “Catholic”, churchy, or could it pass for the local library? There may be zoning reasons, diocesan regulations, or perhaps a particular message is trying to be put across. But still what does it say to you?
Are there symbols marking what kind of building your church is? A visible cross? A statue? A prominent entrance? Any type of reliefs?
Architectural styles, zoning laws, diocesan regulations, the size and sacrifice of the congregation, the vision of the pastor and leaders of the congregation, modern movements, ideas about theology and the role of the laity, the community, local ideas of how faith mixes with the greater community all converge to bring about a particular building in which people meet to worship God.
What is your building saying?