Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
One of my first memories of coming to serve as your interim presbytery leader was the magnificent church buildings in the St. Louis metro area. It was and still is amazing to see the Presbyterian churches off of Delmar, going from Second Presbyterian Church, then Westminster, past Trinity, and ending at First Presbyterian. Seeing the Ladue Presbyterian campus, the majestic columns of Faith and Des Peres, and the stained glass windows of Kirkwood gives the impression that church is significant and important to the people in Giddings-Lovejoy.
The book, Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape, is a collection of essays on life in the urban landscape of America. In one of the essays, “Tasting the Bitter with the Sweet”, Linda Marcadante writes about her struggle with coming home and leaving home in Newark, New Jersey. She writes about the role Sacred Heart Cathedral has in her current life and what the presence of that congregation meant for her community. She writes, “Set like a crown jewel at the head of Branch Brook Park, the Cathedral has two towers that rise ten stories, making it visible from far away. But although it is huge, it does not seem to dwarf human life, but to pick it up in an inclusive embrace toward God . . . For me, the glory of this architecture wordlessly preached sermons that I remember far beyond what I may have heard from the pulpit.”
Marcadante reminds us that there is more to a church building than bricks and mortar. Church buildings hold memories and presence, histories and dreams. Church buildings can lift our spirits beyond the words of a sermon. They can usher us into God’s presence.
In 2021 and beyond, there will probably be a lot of conversation around the role of church buildings in a post-COVID era. We have learned to worship, fellowship, and learn online. The role of the church buildings and the budgets needed to maintain and run the structures will come into question.
Also, for those congregations that will close their doors, their building will be monetized. What is the best use of those funds and how will those decisions be made?
As we have these difficult and necessary conversations in our session meetings, property committees, and finance rooms, let us keep in mind that the built environment can also bring glory to God.
Let us remember that a church building can inspire a community by its presence. We are challenged to take into account the community asset that our buildings hold, even when we close and sell them. I can only begin the many elements this conversation has. I hope the presbytery can become a platform where these ideas can be discussed and advanced.
Rev. Craig M. Howard