the church in community
by Dale Bradley
I took this photograph from the cafe on the ground floor
of the Tait Modern gallery looking across the Thames River
to London City. St. Paul's Cathedral crowns the top of
Ludgate Hill, the highest point in London and at one time this
magnificent structure towered over the nation's capital.
At the time I was struck by two thoughts. First, I was reminded of times past when the church really was the centre of the community. Not only was St Paul's Cathedral the focal point of London and not only was it the religious centre of the community but it was also the social centre supporting the community.
But I was also confronted by the barriers this architectural monument created between the heart of the church itself and the wider community. I recall walking from the crowded St. Paul's tube station on the Central Line on my first visit to the famous landmark. Anyone who has been in London will know just what I mean when I refer to the press of people and the jostling of crowds of impatient tourists and weary commuters. Walking past stone citadels housing voracious merchant bankers and through the large front doors of the West Front of the Cathedral was my first experience of Sir Christopher Wren's genius.
There was an immediate sense of peace. I imagine that in the days of the great architect there was no less need for a place of solace. A refuge from urban cacophony and competitive pressure. I was so drawn into a place of devotion and worship that I found myself willingly dismissing thoughts of misery and exploitation that must have been the cost of building this monument and all the other similar edifices that stand sentry throughout the cities and villages of Europe. This has often been a troubling thought for me when visiting these great tourist religious iconic shrines. But here, in St. Paul's, you are drawn into a private place of reverent and humble adoration.
But as I prayerfully entered into a private place of
devotion and worship I also found myself resisting the
purely mystical. For we are flesh and blood. We are more
than the spiritual. We are participants in the great mission
of discovery that is the adventure of the human race.
And while places of refuge and experiences of the divine are essential, its not all there is.
Somehow the barriers of St. Paul's, that so wonderfully create a sacred sanctuary, also form a barrier that separates the sacred from the physical. And I was reminded that Jesus did not seem to focus on drawing people into the temple and synagogue but rather he left those places, (and in this I include his times of solitary prayer and those special times of communion with his immediate followers) and went into the streets and homes where people lived and worked.
And if he was physically living in our community
today I suspect we would find him doing the same.
Do you agree? Any thoughts on this?
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