Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The Future of the Church? or St. Curvy
This is a photo from a famous set --all of which is worth viewing. It is the former home of the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church of Detroit, affectionately dubbed "St. Curvy's" What you cannot see is more impressive than what you can. Above the large plexi-glass skylight (inevitably put in place by some well-meaning but misguided diaconate) is an elaborate dome, with massive stained glass windows. That all this is still intact, though abandoned, is amazing.
Since I grew up going to Detroit for baseball games, I have always had a peculiar interest in it.
This picture tells a story. Of a city that had the most industry wealth in America and then fell into the dilapidation of crime, poverty, and gross corruption. This picture is just one of many churches and other grand structures from the sad implosion of the Motor City.
The decaying architecture of Detroit is the gilded age: gaudy, ornate, over-the-top, massive and opulent. Theatres , train stations, amusement parks, all abandoned and going to rot. An area area the size of San Francisco within the city limits of Detroit is vacant. Picture after picture of massive church edifices, Protestant and Catholic, now vacant and left to decay.
But, it also tells a story about the church. Obviously, this church had incredible wealth --a massive structure, all that curvature in the architecture and pews, the ornate woodwork and stained glass. It was a cathedral built for the ages, but the congregation didn't even last one hundred years. I wonder how long our expensive cathedrals of today will remain the home to vital congregations?
But, that is not my reason for writing. The church qua institution is in sad shape. But, Christ promises, the church as living organism will prevail. Why, then, does the institution of the church receive the majority of our time, efforts, and treasure? We need buildings, a modicum of organization, clear leadership, all of these things to be sure. But, our weakness is to make these things our top priorities, when mission ought to be our top priority. We spend most of our time oiling the machine, and fixing it when it breaks down. We, particularly those of us in ministry, ought to spend most of our time on three things: word, prayer, and people. We might add that those of us who are the regenerated ought not to expect the most time spent on us --but we, rather, ought to be spending most of our time on word, prayer and lost and broken people --helping them find their way home.
I am not doing this. I am praying to God that I shall, and that those I pastor shall, become like this, and not meet the same sad fate of St. Curvy's.