Sunday, September 25, 2022

A Place to Gather

Tolbooth Kirk
(Stock photo)

Cold Town House Pub
(Robertson Memorial Church)
The contrast of the deep red louvers against the misty grey sky, as well as the darkened stone steeple captured my attention. As the tour guide enlightened us on the history of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, that steeple along with a profusion of others dotted the skyline. When the opportunity surfaced to ask questions, I inquired about the significance of the steeple with painted louvers. The guide spoke of the historic church. It is the Tolbooth Kirk (Church of Scotland). As he ended the explanation he continued, "The red louvers help it stand out to tourists. It is the headquarters for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Festival is the largest arts and culture celebration in the world which ended about 10 days ago. Most churches in Edinburgh are now used as theaters or pubs."

St Andrews + St. George's West
Westminster Abby
Westminster Abby, St. Paul's Cathedral, and St Martin's-in-the-Field are a few of the historic religious structures in London. Their unique architecture and grandeur is inspiring. Their vibrancy and daily functionality as a community of faith, in my opinion, is diminishing. While in Scotland, I enjoyed refreshment, nourishment, and respite in two cafes located in historic church structures. Both establishments provided training to their workers in 
order to enhance their vocational and social skills. Undercroft Cafe at St Andrews and St George's West in Edinburgh and Cafe Ness in conjunction with Inverness Cathedral, dedicated to St Andrew in Inverness are examples of repurposing existing structures to enhance the human condition both as patrons and employees. This concept may honor the original intention of a congregation more practically than a stone structure attempting to survive by the donation of tourists. While understanding the original development of grand structures weaving together the political, religious, and artistic realms in order to establish power over others, I greatly appreciate those institution which can serve a practical, day-to-day purpose for everyone. 

In my four decades of pastoral ministry only once have I been part of a congregation's closing. I doubt those who founded and built church structures thought congregations go through life cycles. The Gothic and Victorian structures, as well as the wood framed rural buildings were meant (at least in theory) to last forever.  As congregations close, one positive asset is the large and functional kitchen which grace many buildings in the area I serve. The kitchens, as well as the ability to easily renovate have enhanced the viability to sell the structure as a residence. It is appropriate that a "House of God" can be transformed to a dwelling where individuals or families can gather and enhance their lives. 

Congregation in Fargo warehouse area
We all need a place to gather. We gain insight, build community, and find support from others who share a common purpose. From grand cathedrals, to strip mall structures, to pubs, to used book stores, the opportunity to be strengthened by a "Power Greater than Ourselves" will remain a part of human existence.  
Leakey's used book store in Inverness
(Old Church - pulpit in background)

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