From the Curate –
A Sense of Place
I have always had an amateur’s interest in buildings and architecture, and watch with anticipation whenever scaffolding goes up on a new patch of ground. I have been keeping an eye on the buildings going up on Congleton’s business park but as so often I have been disappointed to see they are turning out to be the sort of unadventurous boxes that are going up outside many of our towns around the country.
With our high streets and towns becoming ever more similar John Inge in his recent book suggests that there has been an erosion of our sense of place1. Places are simply becoming spaces. Certainly our Church buildings in all three of our villages lend to their sense of place, but do they do more than that?
I have always been struck by the narrative of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis chapter 12 and following, where on their journey each time Abraham met God, he marked the place by building an altar. The place became significant for Abraham, through his encounter with God. In my own life I can think of a number of places that are significant because of my encounter with God: the beach on Iona below the Abbey, a wooden crucifix hidden away in the undergrowth of a retreat house in Cambridgeshire, and a small stone tower on the sandstone ridge at Fox Hill.
It is perhaps an easy jump to suggest that our church buildings are significant places today as they stand as altars of witness to the past generations who have encountered God on that spot. We must be careful however as Abraham’s altars to the Lord were constructed as God taught him on his journey, that God was not confined to any one place but that He could be encountered everywhere. Many of the largest and most vibrant churches I have been to have met in schools, market halls or theatres, while many redundant church buildings have been converted into houses or businesses. Do they still bear witness to God in the community?
As a Christian who encounters God Sunday by Sunday in our church buildings, the significance of the continuity with previous generations who have worshipped there, for me contributes to their sense of place. There is something very special about sitting down in the priest’s stall at Astbury to lead Evensong, conscious of the weight of history all around you. However to those who do not know God, our buildings can be just another ancient building to look at, on the way past from Little Moreton Hall to Biddulph Grange gardens.
Our buildings are significant Christian places today because of the continuance of a Christian community within them worshipping and encountering God week by week. Only though this connection do they become significant Christian places. Only through the outreach of our Christian community to friends and neighbours will our buildings become significant Christian places for others.
Christianity is connected with place from the very beginning, the forming of man from the dust and humankind’s placement in a garden and the connection of God’s people Israel to the land and our ultimate emplaced destiny of a resurrection into a renewed heaven and earth. Our rôle as Christians within the place that is each of our parishes is to build a community focused on God and to invite others to join us in that encounter, so that they to may join us in our ultimate destination of place.
1 Inge, J., (2003), A Christian Theology of Place, Ashgate, Aldershot
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