A tragic loss (Post 2)
The second article is a short one from The Washington Post, “The tragedy to communities when church buildings are demolished to make condos.” The writer is a clergy person, and he makes some excellent observations about church buildings as healing presences in their communities. Over the years, I’m sure you’ve heard people say things like, “Church buildings are expensive burdens that are draining the church’s resources. Maybe we would be truer to Christ and more vibrant as a church if we did not have an expensive building and could use all our resources for ministry instead.” But this article invites us to ponder how church buildings can be important instruments of ministry. We live in a stress-filled world, and technology has not made us less lonely or depressed. In fact, loneliness, depression, and anxiety are rising at alarming rates. In this environment, one wonders how church buildings and grounds can beckon the community as Jesus did, “Come to me, all you who labor and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will refresh you.”
In a busy world of distractions, church buildings can be visible reminders that God is with us. They can be tangible signs of hope and prayer; they can provide a home for healing 12-step groups and other ministries devoted to caring for the community; they can be a refuge from the storms of life, providing a place where you can “seek God when you feel lost and find a community when you feel lonely.” At St. Stephen’s, we often talk about our role as a sacred “village green” for Richmond, where all sorts and conditions of people can feel welcome and at home, regardless of their religion. And we make a point of keeping the church open seven days a week, with a wide range of offerings for the well-being of body, mind and spirit.
St. Stephen’s Church occupies a prominent block in Richmond. We are surrounded by increasingly expensive homes and private institutions of privilege – two excellent prep schools, a venerable liberal arts college, and the Country Club of Virginia, all of which symbolize benefits that are usually available only to the rich and powerful. And yet, wealth and privilege of course can be significant challenges to a life-giving relationship with God, and many people who drive through our neighborhood and past our beautiful building might assume that a church like St. Stephen’s in Richmond must exist primarily for people who are of a certain race and class.
Communities that have lost church buildings to condo development and other uses have ended up feeling as if something vitally important went missing as a result. Our large and prominent church buildings and grounds present us with challenges and opportunities. One of the questions we are asking during our visioning process is, “How do we think Jesus would like us to use our building and grounds for the healing and well-being of the world?”