Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Church Buildings: Ruins or Resurrection?

This week I attended a presentation by Bob Jaeger from Partners for Sacred Places.  He was in Erie for the Non Profit Day sponsored by the outstanding local organization, the Nonprofit Partnership.  I had heard of and read about Partners for Sacred Places before, but it all becomes more real in person.

To me, many of our church buildings are ruins of Christendom (maybe most of them in these parts).  Some are fine examples of architecture and art which are drenched in the histories of their communities.  Others may not be so artistic or historic, but they have been centers of worship, faith, and mission for years.  And yet community and economic changes have often resulted in deferred maintenance.  Sometimes the cost of upkeep and updating is beyond the resources and capacities of the congregation.  And often, even if the buildings could be properly repaired and brought up to code, they would still be ineffective for the life and mission of their congregations today -- too many stairs, too much space, old, inefficient, unwelcoming.

Many congregations lost the resources to support paid clergy during the last few decades.  Often this was met by new forms of partnership and/or the use of ecumenical, retired, or locally trained and ordained clergy who serve with little or no pay.  It worked for a while.  But now, or looming soon, comes the lack of resources to pay for the building.  The serious consequences cannot be avoided -- there is no cheaper way and deferred maintenance, even if possible, only pushes more difficult decisions on to someone else.  It is another form of "kicking the can down the road."

Partners for Sacred Places brings a determined and hopeful perspective to this.  First of all, they believe in the importance of our historic church buildings and what they mean to a community.  And they are working on ways to maintain and sustain them that values the congregation but opens up to the wider community in new ways.  I commend their work wholeheartedly.  I especially commend their growing work on the economic impact of churches, even small ones, on their communities. Here is a link from their web site if you wish to learn more about the Halo Effect.  I will be writing more about this and the implications for our understanding of mission.