I had a really cool experience today.

I got out of a workshop early (I’m in Boston still @ a conference) and decided to go check out this old church I saw from my hotel window. When I got there I found out that it was the Trinity Church, one of the oldest churches in Boston, built in the 1870’s. I was completely taken by the church, the atmosphere and I couldn’t stop snapping pictures.

It was so cool to sit in a pew that people have sat in for a 130 some years. It was captivating to think about what it would have been like to be there for the first mass held, after they completed the construction. The church was a marvel of its time, a historic skyscraper – and it is now dwarfed by parking garages and office buildings. It was an interesting contrast. Some of the kneelers (not being Catholic, nor ever attending a mass, I had no idea the things you kneel on to pray were called kneelers – fyi) were hand knitted when the church first started and are in memory of people who use to attend Trinity Church. One of the kneelers I took a picture of was in honor of a guy named John Henry Huckins, the first Bishop of Vermont, who died in 1868.

But, as I sat there thinking (in between taking pictures) I thought there could be something here for church today – specifically for the emerging culture that is distant from the church of today.

First, RICH IMAGERY: The church was covered in rich imagery – I disagreed with a lot of the theology of the imagery – but it was captivating. From the stone carvings on the outside of the church to the wood carvings on the inside, from the elaborate stain glass windows to the meticulous detail of the murals – I was drawn in. It made me feel apart of something bigger, older, wiser than I am. I was relating with the beauty of it and the story. Multi-sensory communication is the more effective way of reaching the emerging culture and using this type of imagery has already proven to work – I just think we should have more of it. The imagery made me feel connected with the historic church of North America, the ancient church of the Renaissance and the early Christian church. I definitely think this is an avenue that the church has to leverage more of in the future.

Second, DEEP COLORS & MEANINGFUL DETAIL: It seemed as though every inch of that historic church was full of meaningful detail and was complemented with deep colors. It created an atmosphere that was breath taking. The architecture, the high ceilings, the elaborate detail and the rich colors all worked together to make me sense that this was more than a building. The church had a soul – that you could almost feel. It was a synergy. The hand carved stone and wood – from pews to alters and everywhere else – was the work of someone from the 1870’s Boston community. You could almost see the sweat and blood that went into every part of that church. Paintings, knitting, stone work, wood work, organ pipes, decorations – they all had their own story. It was so much more than dry wall and banners. Do you get what I’m saying? It was public display of a community’s talents and a community’s love for the church.

Third, REVERENCE: I felt a deep reverence while in that place. It felt spiritual; it felt like I should definitely be on my best behavior. I’m not Catholic; I don’t pray to Mary, say penance, go to confession, speak Latin or revere the Priest – and yet I felt like I was in a sacred place. It had this nostalgic draw to it. I think, in a world that is constantly changing, people are looking for some consistency, some stability in an unstable world. I think the use of historic creeds, imagery and liturgy will lend themselves to the church of tomorrow – I think people want that kind of reverence. Maybe the answer is just helping people find that place of reverence in their heart for God.

I don’t know, but it was a very meaningful experience for me. Now I need to sleep.


Ryan B. said...

A church with meaning... Rarely do I see churches of the present take the time to construct a place of true sanctuary, community, and reverence. A certain patience lacks as church leaders frolic in the short-sidedness of what seems to be bottom line business practices curtailing as many stewards of God in the shortest amount of time. Record numbers soon stretch the church walls beyond capacity and as the elders scramble to find solutions to what they consider a "good" problem, foresight suffers.

Look at the churches of old - you managed to capture in words what many see and feel on a daily basis. They built them as staples of community and pride. A place that was centrally located - built with the notion of eternity, something that generations would enjoy. Go to any city across this country and you will find one of these churches, still standing as it did a century prior.

Now, look at the churches of today - Pre-cast concrete and massive parking lots in the middle of suburban purgatory, built not to stand the test of time, but to meet only the needs of today. Built to meet impatient leaders' bottom line business goals.

Sometimes when trying to answer questions of the present, we need to adopt the solutions of the past. While building a purdy church may seem vein or trivial, take a moment to compare the emotions of your church visit in Boston and the emotions of anywhere-church in anywhere-America.