Bricks and mortar
Do churches’ buildings enable mission or limit it? Thoughts from the church buildings forum
Two mystery worshippers chat over coffee. One says: ‘The sign outside my church said: “Christ is the light of the world”, but it was the dingiest place I’ve seen in a long time!’ The other replies: ‘Mine had a sign saying: “All welcome”, but the only way in was up a flight of six stone steps.’ We could offer positive examples too of course, of church buildings that are not only efficiently and attractively designed or adapted but which at the same time deliberately and often subtly reinforce a Gospel message of welcome and care, and evoke an experience of closeness to God, making them an asset rather than a burden.
Our visitors may be familiar with two significant statements relating to their experience. Winston Churchill said: ‘We shape our buildings and afterwards they shape us.’ George Carey said: ‘If change in any form is planned, set mission and outreach before you as your primary goals.’
Churchill’s statement, made in relation to the UK parliament buildings, describes something that many of us occupying inherited buildings struggle with, perhaps without really understanding the full extent of the shaping that can take place. We know that inspiring things can happen in unsympathetic surroundings but the additional effort required to overcome the disadvantages can be challenging and limiting. Of course, the challenge is crucial to the life and mission of the Church….
Clifford Patten, David Skipp and David Tatem are members of the United Reformed Church’s buildings forum
This is an extract from an article that was published in the October 2018 edition of Reform