Friday, April 16, 2010


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?


melody said...

Great food for reflection, Father. There are some churches that render me incapable of this kind of reflection though. All I can think is: "That thing is ugly." lol
Your reflections could be taken a step further for the laity by asking what our homes say to us...and to our guests. When visitors come to our homes, do they get a strong sense of our identity and priorities? Do they see our 60" television first or our crucifix? What makes us visibly different from our non-believing peers? Any secular family can have a beautiful and orderly home. What makes us different? Should we appear different? Is it enough to live our faith through word and deed or does dynamic faith spill over into our physical surroundings?

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Mine says St Therese is awesome, it's a catechesis on the Life of St Therese, it's beautiful

Anonymous said...

Very interesting insights, Father. Melody makes a great point as well in extending the question to our homes.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Father, where did you get the pictures . . . . five of them . . . . . of the churches?

We have had visitors come into our house and look around . . . . . and then ask . . . do we have to genuflect? . . . . or, where is the holy water font?

bob kraus sr

Matthew K said...

My home parish says to me it was built in the early 80's. Despite that unfortunate timing, it really has a wonderful pipe organ.

We keep an image of the Sacred Heart within direct eye shot of the front door. It keeps the conversations with visiting Jehovah Witness recruiters very brief. :-)

Kevin said...

Unfortunately my church was built in the 70's. In the "Abandoned Adult Theater style". It is a horrible physical structure that fortunately is filled with loving Catholics that are determined to set it right.
Our fantastic Pastor is shepherding the reclamation process and some day soon we will inhabit a structure that actually reflects our heartfelt worship and testifies to our community, the glory of God.