People may not come to church but they’ll come to a bowling alley: Random thoughts and links on sacred space

The quotation comes from the pastor of a church in Birmingham AL:

People may not want to come to a church, but they’ll come to a bowling alley. People have needs other than spiritual needs. There’s a need for safe, clean, uplifting, family-oriented entertainment.”

Read it all here

Laura Ortberg Turner reflects on the sacrality of different churches which she has attended:

The church I attend now is two thousand miles away. We take communion every week, walking down squeaky hardwood floors—all one hundred twenty of us—past stained glass windows, toward the giant cross behind the stage. The smells and history and personality of this building shape my experience of worship, too. The strong wine a regular testament to the shock of the resurrection; the pews an invitation to sit close to the people I don’t know but already love; the constant, drafty chill a reminder of the building’s history in a city where everything else seems new. There is a sense in the room that we are surrounded by people who are not there, and if I don’t quite mean ghosts. I also don’t mean just those who are alive and present. It is full of that great cloud of witnesses that has filled the sanctuary for a century before us.

Steve Swayne ponders the differences between what he labels “stadium” and “sanctuary” culture. Thinking about the way people milled around a college commencement ceremony, he connected that behavior with “stadium” culture. He much prefers “sanctuary” culture.

And beyond lower blood pressure and better health outcomes, sanctuary culture at its best forces us to see and hear more of the world around us. It helps us to see and hear that world better. And if the history of lectures and libraries and liturgies shows us anything, the deliberation inherent in sanctuary culture, more than the carnivalesque nature of stadium culture, holds the key to make our world better than it is today.

Just a couple of quick observations about that. First, I’m not sure that “lectures” participate in “sanctuary” culture, or that they have for thirty years. I remember a class at Harvard for which I was a Teaching Fellow in 1987. The class enrolled almost 1000 undergraduates and we often remarked that the room was never quiet. Students were always coming and going.

And the idea that people sit quietly in church or concert halls is a relatively recent phenomenon as well. Pews only came on the scene in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and we know from sermons throughout the preceding history of Christianity that preachers complained bitterly that their congregations were milling about, coming in and out, engaging in conversations (even transacting business deals).

And I wonder what Swayne would think about the phenomenon of Social Media Sunday?

At the same time, physical space does shape us profoundly and helps to form us as human beings and as Christians. Worshiping in something that looks very much like an auditorium or movie theater invites behavior appropriate to those places.


2 thoughts on “People may not come to church but they’ll come to a bowling alley: Random thoughts and links on sacred space

  1. “Worshiping in something that looks very much like an auditorium or movie theater invites behavior appropriate to those places” — Yes, indeed it does. The attitude of different denominations toward sacred spaces differs drastically. At a funeral or wedding in an Episcopal church it’s hard not to be surprised by the way many of those attending act as if they are at a social event, rather than a religious service. The signs at the door are clear and they remind people to enter silently because others are praying. Yet the chatter continues unabated until the service begins.At that point they may pay attention – or not.

  2. As a church planter, I spent a year and a half leading worship in an elementary school multipurpose room (cafeteria/gym/auditorium) – white linoleum floors, basketball markings on the floor, fluorescent lights, turquoise colored curtains across the stage, decorations in front according to whatever theme the school had picked for the month (Chinese, Revolutionary War, Halloween, science, etc.). We set up our altar, our candles, our flowers, our banners, our chairs – and I assure you that many, many people told me that when they entered the worship space, they no longer remembered that they were in a school. The holiness reached out and grabbed them – holiness created by the assembly of people, in the power of the Spirit. I love creaky hardwood floors, stained glass windows, and ancient ghosts as much as the next person – but I assure you that holiness can be found in any setting, if treated with reverence and care.

    Susan Brown Snook

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