Themes and Thoughts
Food From Thought

Is it really a church

Is Your Building a Church – Really?

In his book about Freemasonry, The Brotherhood (1983), Stephen Knight tells the story of the “Reverend Mu”, vicar of “Epsilon”. Soon after being appointed, it was brought firmly to Mu’s notice that Epsilon church was founded, used, and effectively controlled by, Freemasons.

Having discovered this – and the preponderance of seemingly-alternative objects of worship being venerated in “his” church – Mu began to look around at the building itself, its decoration, symbols and images, and found himself wondering if Epsilon church really was a Christian building (pp. 254-262).

Today, many Christians are getting much more worldly-wise about the spiritual origins and nature of the buildings we have inherited, and more sensitive to the spiritual effects of the presence of non-Christian activities within them (or those whose origin was outside the traditions of specifically-Christian belief and worship).

Recently, a church I know applied successfully to remove, or cover, some of the symbols and images which had been installed in the building, following its foundation and construction in which an important local Freemason was influential.

With very ancient churches, there is the possibility of pagan origins, and pagan/occultist worship having taken place on the site – and the presence of some very non-Christian images carved into the stonework. Some present-day pagans might argue that “churches” like this are really buildings which belong to them (and they may want them back!)

In Buncton, West Sussex, the destruction of an early-medieval sculpture, which was sited in a prominent position in the church, was apparently suspected to be the work of one of the (Christian) worshippers. Here, the sculpture may have given offence because of its explicitly sexual nature, though the in-your-face genitalia had been cut out in former times.

Recently, I listened to the experience of a woman who had long been part of her inner-city church, but now suddenly felt that its atmosphere was spiritually oppressive and intolerable. The change had occurred around the time that the building had been host to the performance of an Indian (Hindu) dance troupe; and now there is the suggestion, from the Church of England’s leadership, that Christians welcome Muslims and their worship, into their churches, a prospect which some will view with dismay.

Exactly what constitutes a Christian worship-building, and what would invalidate it, are vexed questions? In 1994, I wrote a PhD thesis on the subject, but wouldn’t, now, claim to be much wiser – except that today, like most people, I am more aware of the specifically-spiritual dimension to the question.

Perhaps it is not enough for two or three to worship in spirit and in truth; perhaps we also need an awareness of the nature of space and place which is sensitive concerning the spiritual beliefs and values of those who have also worshipped there, and the influences they may have left behind.