One of the many things that Christians have argued about during the pandemic is whether consecrated buildings are necessary to the practice of their faith. For some, the experience of online worship has demonstrated that we can encounter God in our living rooms while still wearing our pyjamas. I understand the sense of liberation that comes from that! Others have, by contrast, been devastated by not being able to gather in church, finding that the separation from a community of fellow worshippers in a space ‘where prayer has been valid’ (as T.S. Eliot) put it, makes everything much more difficult.
I have some sympathy with both perspectives, and I’m not raising it this weekend in order to enter the controversy. Instead, I want to use this space to suggest some ways in which we might all take seriously the idea of consecration, and thinking about church buildings is a helpful way to start.
These few days running up to Pentecost are a good time to reflect on what it means for a building, or a piece of silverware, or even a person to be consecrated. It is the action of the Holy Spirit that makes things sacred, after all.
One of the key ideas here is that things (or people) are ‘set aside’. They are given over to a specific, spiritual purpose. To be a place of prayer and worship is what a church building is for. The other side of the coin is that it’s possible to misuse, or ‘profane’, things that have been consecrated.
My own experience of the Christian way of life is that there are very definitely places where it is easier to pray and places where it is harder. In the Celtic tradition the former are sometimes known as ‘thin places’, places where the boundary between earth and heaven is almost invisible. And some places, it seems to me, are worn thin by the prayers of the faithful over many generations.
With all this in mind, I wonder if you’ve ever thought about setting aside a particular part of your home for prayer? It doesn’t need to be large. Although you might find it helpful to put a cross or an icon or a Bible there, the main thing is that it becomes where you say your prayers. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that over time such a space develops an atmosphere that draws you back, making it easier to pray and easier to want to pray.
Right now would be a great time to give it a try.
May God bless you all,