Theology of Buildings
Probably all Christian traditions have some ritual for the “setting apart” of buildings used for worship and service. Roman Catholics, for example, make use of the oil of Chrism that is used in baptism and confirmation. Some traditions will consecrate their church buildings whilst others dedicate or bless them which can lead to problems when a building is no longer in use and the decision of whether some form of de-consecration is necessary as opposed to simply marking with thanksgiving, the service the building has given, releasing it for some other use or for demolition. The persity of aproaches reflect different feelings about any ontological change that may or may not be believed to come over a building.
For many people feelings about the question of, for example, whether the worship space / sanctuary of a church can be used as a badminton court during the week, operate at more of a visceral than spiritual level. There may be a sense of the cheapening or dirtying of a special space, akin to the servicing of a motorbike in the living room, but it may go deeper than this and contain the fear that God will disapprove and punish us for not respecting the place in which He meets us. Whilst this may be expressed in some senses theologically it may sometimes be better described as superstitious.
The reality is that within our tradition there is a mixture of views, reactions and theologies which are rarely, if ever, clearly articulated or understood. This persity of view and practice that exists leads us to say that to believe that there can beany one theology of our buildings would be far too simplistic. The purpose of this page, then, is not to attempt to lay down a ‘correct’ theology to which all buildings should adhere but to offer some theological reflections that may help churches to reflect both at the buildings they have or are planning and ask some appropriate questions.
The one strong statement that it seems appropriate to make and with which hopefully everyone would agree is that the buildings we construct and use should affirm and not contradict thestatements of faith that we would wish to make and the witness we would seek to make to the gospel.
This page is intended to become a repository for links, papers and other resources which may be downloaded or otherwise accessed and which come at the theology of church buildings from a range of perspectives.
An area that sometimes exercises the minds of churches concerns the question of if and how to allow other faith groups to use church premises. It is not solely a theological issue but it belongs here.
The Grove booklet series includes one entitled The Gate of Heaven – How Church Buildings speak of God’.
Listen to the podcast here from the BBC Radio 4 ‘Beyond Belief’ programme entitled Sacred Spaces broadcast on April 23rd 2018.