There is something unique about old church buildings. Perhaps it brings back memories, its architecture, stain glass windows, bells, carillons. Perhaps it is the setting, whether downtown or farm land, or perched on atop a hill. What captured my family the most, emigrating from India to Canada, was the abundance of churches, sometimes three to four churches on a street corner! It was my privilege to hold Sunday Services in Ontario suburbs, back in the seventies, at places like Bond Head est. 1853, Bradford, est.1835) , Newton Robinson, est. 1855. (I recall the late Lieut Governor of Ontario Hon. Earl Rowe and his wife were members of this church and had their pew right in the front of the pulpit), Holland Landing (est.1842). When we entered those consecrated buildings with my young (then)family, we whispered in hushed tones, in holy reverence.
Then there are places I visited like Grossmunster, Zurich, Switzerland, the starting point of Reformation, where H.Zwingli and H.Bullinger preached, or the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, or the Westminster Abbey. I should not forget to mention my own home town All Saints Church back in Trichur, Kerala, India. It was 100 years old then, where I was baptized as an infant, confirmed by Bishop Stewart Smith from Scotland and also my First Communion. I may put in a little commercial (no charge) here. It is the most photographed sights in Nova Scotia, Canada; called the Three Churches, on Mahone Bay, south of Halifax. It is truly beautiful. As far as I know, all of the above-mentioned buildings continue to hold services.
I wrote this long introduction to convey my feelings when I read the Toronto Star daily Newspaper of 27 May 2013. The heading was “Once Holy Places, Today Homey Spaces” by Staff Reporter Sarah Taguiam. She wrote, as congregations shrank, these former churches could not afford maintenance, renovations etc. and are left with no option but to join forces with another church or sell to Developers for condos or commercial buildings. According to Sarah, Toronto’s religious population has not grown since 1970. From 2008 to 2011; the United Church attendance fell by almost 10%. Meanwhile the Presbyterian Church attendance decreased even further, 24% from 2001 to 2011; the Anglican Church by 29%. It is sad and makes one wonder what contributed to this decline? That will be the topic for another post.
According to her, Catholic churches are doing well with new immigrants. According to Research conducted for Bank of Montreal, The Toronto Star of 13 June 2013 reports almost half of Canada’s richest residents are new immigrants or first generation Canadians. This is a new one to me. It is true that immigration was an absolute necessity for the Canadian economy. But I have never heard of immigrants propping up churches! I should not be surprised. At one time, four Deacons of the old Evangel Temple located then at Church and Bond street, Toronto, in the seventies were from Calcutta!
There are cases where churches with bulging congregations had to move to newer or bigger facilities. Case in point is Peoples Church moving from Gerrard Street to Bloor Street and finally to Shepherd St. Were these the beginning of large, mega churches? In Lakeland, Florida one particular church bought, I believe, a Sears Stores, renovated it and called it The Church on the Mall with lively congregation and music.
In downtown Toronto, on Avenue Road, Just north of Bloor Street, there were two very old imposing and massive churches. One was once an Alliance Church where the famous preacher and author A.W.Tozer used to minister. It was bought by Hare Krishna Temple. The other, almost opposite to it was converted into a commercial building. My post is not meant to criticize, God forbid, but to ponder on these things.
Should churches, built by faithful parishioners with their attendance, offerings, tithes, Bake Sales and Garage Sales, etc. be sold and vacated? Can consecration and deconsecration be that simple? What are the feelings of those who were baptised, confirmed, married, had children grown up and who in turn married and so on? Many were buried on the church grounds. What value can we place on a sense of stability in their culture, life habits of families and consequently in the community? If the younger generation left the community for greener pastures, what is the responsibility to the Seniors who cannot move? Did all churches move because of shrinking membership or some followed only for bigger crowds? Did ego of the leaders play a part in this, like one mega church in Lakeland, Florida? The minister was sure the Lord told him to build the biggest church. It ended up with a scandal and court cases. I do not know what happened to the famous Crystal Cathedral in California. All these questions came to my mind when I read Sarah’s article.
I am not in a position to even form an opinion, never mind, giving one. But one thing is clear, crystal clear; buildings do not make churches, people do. We do not read of church buildings in the New Testament. I guess there were none. Yet they did extremely well; Christianity grew and spread like wild fire. They met, I take it, in various homes. In fact, there is a reference to “church in their home” ( 1 Cor. 16:19). We often hear leaders glorifying the “early church” but seldom mention this particular aspect. Can there be a “moderation”, a combination of “Home Churches”, blooming where they are planted, however small, serving the particular community but keeping their own identity as well as mega churches? I do remember few years ago Church leaders going to Seoul, South Korea to study the “Korean Home Church concept”. Did it materialize? What is next in view of Computers, Internet, and “Go To Meeting” Apps etc? Will we see Virtual Churches catered to Home Viewers?
All these thoughts prompt me to look at the origin of Church Buildings. We go back to the OT with the Tabernacle. It was a large, strong, decorated tent put together in such a way that it can be dismantled and carried to the next location. The idea of a building started with David, the song writer King. But I have reached my self imposed limit of 1000 words and have to leave that for another post.
God bless, Danny Paul