Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
The fire at Notre Dame cathedral in France is dramatic and tragic. The response ranges from sadness to singing. The cathedral has transcended its original purpose and is an embodiment of French culture and history. This is the place where emperors were crowned, and royalty is buried. The cathedral receives over 12 million visitors each year. I visited the cathedral as a teenager. I understood then how a church building can create awe and wonder as it transports the human spirit into the presence of the Almighty. Now the cathedral is faced with a monumental rebuilding effort. French President Emmanuel Macron remarked in his commitment to rebuilding the cathedral, “It’s part of the fate, the destiny of France, and our common project over the coming years.”
How does a church building become part of the fabric of a community? When does sacred space become public space: a place of intersection between insiders and outsiders where all feel ownership and community?
At the May 4 Presbytery Gathering, we will have a workshop from Robert Jaeger, president of Partners for Sacred Spaces. Robert will invite congregations to envision themselves as space that is both holy and part of the community. Their website says “Partners for Sacred Places lives at the intersection of heritage, faith, and community. Partners’ staff brings a wide variety of skills and backgrounds, grounded in a passion for the value of historic sacred places as valuable community assets (https://sacredplaces.org).” Partners will help the presbytery look for congregations that are seeking ways to use their building as community space. Their goal is for 80% of weekly traffic and activity in a church building be non-membership related.
Partners is not for everyone. But the concept introduces a conversation in the presbytery about the meaning of evangelism, and how a congregation perceives those outside of their doors. Are those outside resources seen as people a church can use to increase its membership and help with financial support? Or, are they outsiders in need of what the church can provide? Is the role of the church to turn these outsiders into insiders? Or are they also people who seek God in a variety of different ways, and we should seek to partner with them to do God’s will in the world? What happens when those on the inside go out, and the church is translated into God’s kingdom in the world?
We will wrestle with the idea of church buildings, evangelism, and justice for the remainder of the year. This will include conversations, workshops, Presbytery Gatherings and events around poverty, race, hunger, and congregational vibrancy. We will see how all of these factors inform evangelism.
2019 is shaping up to be an exciting time in the presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy! I am so glad you are a part of this work and ministry of God through your thoughts, prayers, and actions.
Blessings this Holy Week and Easter season.
Rev. Craig M. Howard