A House, But Not a Home

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47 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    Wow. The snobbery is thick on this one.

    I wonder if you had any conversations with people for whom that church *was* their home. Of course it wasn’t yours; by your own admission you were visiting.

    That’s not to say that your conclusion isn’t even valid – that it was indeed a dead church where the people filling the building seemed to be optional. But you seem to have drawn your conclusion just by walking through the doors. Not good.

    To each his own, I guess.

  2. Jean says:

    This is an issue that has occupied a lot of my time recently, partly because I’ve been studying Leviticus and Hebrews. For me the issue begins with “What is taking place in the Service?” If you come from a tradition that believes that a theophany takes place in the Sunday service, then your expectations for the service will be impacted in the direction of holiness and and sacredness of space and time.

  3. Duane Arnold says:

    Tim

    I’ve been to several churches like this… not just one… And, actually, no one approached me.

  4. Duane Arnold says:

    Jean

    “sacredness of space and time…” Many have lost this concept. Xenia may weigh in, but those are the qualities that have drawn many into the Eastern Orthodox tradition…

  5. Michael says:

    Tim,

    I don’t think it’s snobbery at all.
    It’s a different vision of what a church is or ought to be…one that I share .

  6. Jean says:

    We might speak in terms of a spectrum. At one end, God gathers his people to bless and sanctify them with his gifts and the people in turn offer up praise and prayer. In that paradigm, the service, the liturgy and the building and furnishings are primarily for the body of Christ. This paradigm is not designed around non-Christians, who are welcome to visit and observe. Holiness, not of a pietistic nature, but out of reverance and awe are highly prized at this end of the spectrum.

    At the other end of the spectrum, the church gathers primarily for gathering and converting unbelievers. In this paradigm, anything that might be considered offensive or confusing or unintelligible to an unchurched person are removed from the service, building and furnishings. Holiness, to the extent it exists in this paradigm, is typically relegated to morality and is individualistic, rather than communal.

    Many churches fall between this polarity.

  7. Duane Arnold says:

    Jean

    Agreed… I think of the archeological evidence of early churches (most “house churches”) where we find evidence of Christian symbolism and a “customizing” of the space specifically for Christian worship. Yet it is more than that. Its basic questions regarding Christian community, the nature of worship, the experience of corporate prayer. I sometimes wonder if many believers are even asking the questions these days or if we’ve given ourselves over to pragmatism and utilitarianism…

  8. Jean says:

    Duane,

    “I sometimes wonder if many believers are even asking the questions these days”

    Speaking for myself, “no.” I think growing up in secularism and rationalism extinguished any innate sense of holiness that I might have been born with. There are indigenous religions in Africa, Asia and South America which probably house more of the sense of holiness than many American Protestants. Most of my religious upbringing never focused on holiness, aside from morality.

    If we agree (and this appears to be the growing consensus of scholars) that Hebrews is actually a written sermon (not a letter), then imagine the pastor preaching this to his congregation:

    “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”

    That’s where they were during that service! And as said just earlier: “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” But, that last item in the list is the climax: You have come to the blood….

    This presents a vivid picture of what took place in an early Divine Service. I’m grateful to have learned this even at my late age, and for the opportunity to pass this vision on to my children and friends. I hope the church at large can recover this vision as well.

    With this understanding, one can understand early church architecture.

    As an aside, the Professor who I have been learning from regarding holiness in worship said that in his opinion the Kings College Chapel in Cambridge is the most magnificent existing church building in all of Christendom.

  9. Xenia says:

    I don’t know the people at the church Duane described so I won’t speculate about the condition of their souls. They are probably all better Christians than I am. But I will say that this type of “facility,” as we were encourage to call my old CC building, is not my cup of tea. (But the people may have warm hearts, let’s not forget that.)

    Just for contrast, and not trying to be triumphalistic (although it will sound like that to many, I am sure) I’ll describe my church experience yesterday at my little neighborhood Orthodox parish. It might be longish and not of interest to most folks so don’t feel obligated to read it all. I won’t be offended. 🙂

    I get up a little early to fix a dish (pork fried rice) to take for the potluck. I get dressed in my go-to-meeting outfit: long skirt and scarf. My husband is the parish warden so we have to go a little early.

    I take my rice to the church hall and set up the coffee pot. The deacon’s wife comes in. We embrace with hugs and kisses. She is going to Europe for a few weeks and I am going to miss her.

    Entering the Church proper, I smile at my husband who is behind the candle stand, selling candles. I visit the icons, crossing myself and giving each one a little kiss. When I get to the Theotokos’ icon I ask her to pray for the salvation of certain family members.

    The nave is small, lit by candles. The iconostasis is glowing with large icons of the Savior, his Mother, St. Seraphim, St. Nicholas and the four Gospel writers. The smell of incense is drifting from the altar area behind the iconostasis; it is dreamy. A reader is chanting the hours (prayers) before the liturgy starts. I love this young man. We’re going to his birthday party next week. I can hear Father and the deacon praying and getting ready for the service. Father comes out and hears a few confessions (out of sight of the congregation). The choir members (mostly out of sight, too) are starting to assemble.

    “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” intones the deacon in his bass voice. The Liturgy has begun.

    The service proceeds, as it has pretty much unchanged for centuries, for the next hour and a half. This is a Church Slavonic Sunday; next Sunday will be English. (The majority of church members are not native English speakers.) People start to drift in, lighting candles and greeting people. Most of us are standing with a few taking advantage of the chairs along the sides. About 50 people will come in all. I personally am hugged and greeted by many of them. I love them all so much. Toddlers are running around, old people are toddling, too. Because of back problems I have, sadly, joined the company of the chair-sitters. Generally, women stand on the left hand side of the church and the men on the right hand side.

    People move around a lot in Orthodox churches. We cross ourselves at every mention of the Holy Trinity and we sing “Lord have mercy” (Gospodi Pomiloi). People sing along with the choir if they know the words. I know some but I am too old to learn Church Slavonic very well.) On English days, the other half of the congregation sings. But we all know “Gospodi pomiloi.”

    Time for Communion. Everyone who has been to confession either last night at Vigil or this morning and hasn’t eaten anything since midnight may receive. We line up, cross our arms over our chests, and move up to the front, one at a time. The children go first as even babies receive Communion in Orthodoxy. We are all greeted by name: “Servant of God Xenia receive the Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ for the healing of soul and body.” I receive a small morsel of bread and wine, served into my mouth on a spoon. Pretty much everyone goes to Communion. Father knows us all by name. He’s baptized the babies, officiated their weddings and will preside over their funerals. He is our dear friend and spiritual guide but he is by no means idolized.

    Time for the homily. Yesterday was the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, which marks the beginning of the Triodion, a 3-week period of preparation for Lent. The homily was about the Gospel reading about the Publican and the Pharisee. His sermons are never long, maybe 10 minutes tops. We usually fast (vegan food) on Wednesdays and Fridays but not this week, as we are reminding ourselves how the Pharisee bragged that he fasted twice a week. In Orthodoxy, there’s always something physical to remind you of the spiritual.

    I follow a troop of children over to the church hall and have a conversation with Father’s wife about the upcoming blini (pancake) dinner we are having in a few weeks. I love this lady to pieces. For me, she is an example of what a Christian woman can be. She manages to combine assertiveness with humility. Plus, she laughs at my jokes.

    My fried rice seems to be well-received and there’s a nice chocolate cake for the deacon’s name-day. We eat and chatter. Little kids are running around, including one 4-year old who is my god son. Most of the kids are Father’s own grandchildren.

    We notice that people are already washing dishes so our dish-washing talents are not required of us today. We say goodbye to everyone and drive the short distance to home. I settle down with some reading for school (Spenser’s Faerie Queene) and immediately fall asleep with the dog and the cat.

    I love Sundays. 🙂

  10. Michael says:

    Xenia,

    That was simply beautiful.
    Thank you.

  11. Xenia says:

    Our parish isn’t perfect. My husband and I have a few pet peeves. I suspect I myself may be the pet peeve for some folks.

    The reason I wrote this was to show that not all churches in America are cold auditoriums with rock bands and slick pastors. There are warm, godly churches everywhere in all denominations but they are often overlooked in favor of the huge campus of the mega church. How many small churches with a theology similar to yours can you find in your own town? Struggling parishes that could use your help? If all you ever do is go to the same kind of church that has disappointed you in the past be prepared to be disappointed in the future.

    I am not a fan of so-called “church planters.” Rather than looking around for the struggling little church that could use their help, full of old people, probably, they want to start up their own popsicle stand, stealing people away from other churches in the process. I think “church supplanters” is a better name.

  12. Xenia says:

    Some will say that struggling churches should be let to die, that they are struggling for a reason.

    What I have seen is a deliberate effort by the “cool” churches to steal away the children of the uncool churches with worldly youth groups that few modern kids can resist. The uncool church, in a desperate attempt to keep their youth, might try to become cool with embarrassing results that only succeed in making the cool church look even cooler. And in our time, coolness is everything.

    People need to stop and think why they a part of a church. Seriously.

  13. Michael says:

    Xenia’s last two posts should be written in granite…

  14. Duane Arnold says:

    Xenia

    Thank you for weighing in… Yesterday I went to an ACNA church of which I am not overly fond, although I like some of the people and they have some adherence to the Book of Common Prayer. I went for one reason. One of the pastors lost his mother this last week. I went for him; just to have five minutes to give him a hug and the pray with him and for him and his family. Perhaps not the best reason, but, on the other hand, I don’t think it was the worse reason…

  15. Xenia says:

    How many people have told me over the years that they regretfully left their little uncool church in order for the sake of family unity because their teenagers insist on attending the cool church in town.

    So the old church loses not only the youth but their parents as well.

    What’s odd is that many of these little evangelical churches of the Baptist/ Pentecostal persuasion believe in the Blessed Assurance/ Once Saved, Always Saved/ Eternal Security doctrine, initiated by the Sinner’s Prayer or something similar. Yet the parents are so scared their kids, who are presumably Always Saved, will fall from the faith if they aren’t entertained by the cool church’s youth ministries. Anything to keep these kids in church, a sentiment I understand but it seems at odds with the theology.

  16. Xenia says:

    Oh, so many typos! I yam sorry. 🙁

  17. London says:

    I think that I agree about the touch of snobbery in this post.
    Instead of simply saying that type of church set up isn’t your cup of tea, you decided, based on your own discomfort with it, that it couldn’t possibly be “home” or “alive”. But maybe it is for the others in attendance.

    I appreciate the way Xenia explains her experiences and the way she contrasts her preferences without coming out across as being “better than” people who choose to worship in a different style.

  18. pstrmike says:

    This is a rich thread. The type of setting that Duane described is similar to one of my doctoral cohort member’s church, and he laments that lack of physical ascetics that lead us to the spiritual.

    I am mixed on this. I like good music, or at least what I consider to be good, and I enjoy listening to a good band such as Bethel Music. I do find that the music is written toward a sensationalistic experience, as they often have a full octave jump during most of the songs. Its as if the expression of worship is more intense at a higher register. In spite of the good quality of music, I look for a move of the Spirit that transcends the music. Sometimes it happens, some time it does not.

    I don’t spend much time at a more traditional liturgical expressions, but I also like the of a
    “sacredness of space and time…” that in an of itself, is a means that the Spirit uses to speak to me. Worship is expressed through much more than music, and I appreciate the artwork, figures that beckon me to reflect upon God, which in turn leads me to the specifics in my own heart at that time. I still think I could become an Anglican or Eastern Orthodox, in part because of the considerable work both of these camps have contributed in their theological and pastoral writings. They have a depth of comprehension that far exceeds much of what I have read in most evangelical writings.

    Xenia said, “Father knows us all by name. He’s baptized the babies, officiated their weddings and will preside over their funerals. He is our dear friend and spiritual guide but he is by no means idolized.”

    This type of relationship is something that I see in evangelicals with their leaders, but often it really is not a true relationship, but is constructed from afar in the minds of the attenders. The larger the church, the more difficult it is for a pastor to have close engagement with their church members.

    I wonder how much of this is the difference between what is considered important in the spiritual life of the believer. Duane described a church that appears to be firmly entrenched in modernism, which among other things, encourages an individualistic spirit and values things like progress, objectivity, and as Duane said “pragmatism and utilitarianism.” On the other hand, Xenia’s church experience ( and yes, I think experience is very important) is more of a pre-modern context, which encourages, at least in my opinion, a deeper spiritual life that opens our eyes to see God in some many different places and things.

    My next quest is whether these values within a modernistic worldview actually deter our spirituality, or do they simply refocus in another area. Most pragmatic church leaders than I am friends with do not value things like mystery and transcendence. I often wonder if there is a little voice in the back of their head saying, “these things will not help our church grow.”

  19. Duane Arnold says:

    London

    No church is perfect… mine, yours or any one else. Yet, there are indications of what church might be and how it might be experienced. By the way, I don’t believe I passed judgement on whether or not it was “alive”, but the lack of participation and engagement was palpable…

  20. Duane Arnold says:

    pstrmike

    A great reflection… many thanks. “My next quest is whether these values within a modernistic worldview actually deter our spirituality..” That is one of the questions of the age…

  21. Em says:

    Kind of sounds like some congregations gather in the garage… no on knew how to build a house?

  22. Duane Arnold says:

    Em

    I think we all know… building a “home” is much more difficult that building a “house”…

  23. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Duane – so aside from the furnishings how was the service. Did you hear God’s word through multiple readings? Was your confession heard and the absolution given, for you? Did you hear the very word of God expounded with authority from the pulpit? We’re you given the opportunity to pray and praise God? Was his body & blood poured down your throat?
    If so, I would count that as a pretty good visit.

  24. Xenia says:

    A lot of modern churches show the same philosophy of design as McMansions. The building is designed with only the interior spaces in mind with very little interest in how the church/house looks on the outside and often on the outside they are crazy assemblages of miss-matched shapes. There’s no regard has to how the building might enhance or detract from the neighborhood. I have to say, my old CC church building, which was only 10 years old or so when I departed, is quite lovely. They did a good job.

  25. Duane Arnold says:

    Multiple readings… No
    Confession… No
    Absolution… No
    Sermonic “advice”… Yes
    Prayer and Praise… Sort of
    Holy Eucharist… No
    Then, of course, I went with no expectations…

  26. Duane Arnold says:

    Xenia

    For houses I prefer either “human scale” or genuinely “grand and glorious”. I probably feel the same about churches. Then again, I have friends with McMansions that by their love, warmth and hospitality have turned their “house” into a “home”…

  27. Xenia says:

    I have friends with McMansions that by their love, warmth and hospitality have turned their “house” into a “home”…<<<

    Absolutely. A lot of housing developments here in CA feature these McMansions. Sometimes it's all that's available. It's by no means a reflection of the people who live in them. Happily, the trend here is away from that style. The newer houses are kind of retro and very lovely, IMO.

  28. Xenia says:

    I probably didn’t need to bring up McMansions. Sorry about that.

  29. Jean says:

    The original church architecture was the tent of meeting. It was designed after Mt. Sinai as a type of mobile Mt. Sinai.

    The top of the mountain was the most holy place, God’s private dwelling. The middle of the mountain was the holy place, God’s office. The bottom of the mountain was the courtyard, where God met with his people at the altar of burnt offering.

    Pre-modern church architecture typically retains this basic 3-section design, and the liturgy is similarly rooted in the morning and evening services.

  30. Duane Arnold says:

    Xenia

    Nothing to be sorry about… good point, well taken.

  31. Martin Luther's Disciple says:

    Duane, are you sure you didn’t wander into an Elks meeting in error?
    Couldn’t be, they would have slapped you on the back and handed you a beer upon entry. 🙂

  32. pstrmike says:

    mld . . . lol!!!

  33. ( |o )====::: says:

    Sunday mornings, a place owned by a women’s club is empty, until a friend of mine unlocks that door. We are, together, gathered in Jesus’ Name, so The Church is present. I set up audio, others arrive to assist my friend in setting up chairs, our friends who bring the coffee setup arrive, and Jesus’ Bride is present and visible in her beautiful diversity and service. In a little over an hour our gathering has gently meditated with Him as our focus, and we have listened as one of our own brings insights about The Gospels. The whole time the focus has remained on Jesus and blessing each other. When done, chairs are stored, kitchen shut down, audio gear is stowed back in my car, and I see some go to share lunch, some off to other things. I’m usually with my friend who unlocked the building, last to leave. We hug, part company in the presence of Jesus and depart warmly to be the change in the world Jesus bids us to be.

    The indwelling presence of Jesus in each individual, and together as a group has made the time, place, and experience sacred, holy, and life enriching.

    Simple.

  34. ( |o )====::: says:

    Home is where the heart is

  35. ( |o )====::: says:

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  36. Duane Arnold says:

    G-Man

    Sounds much like the early church… except for you bringing in your Marshall stack 😁…

  37. Em says:

    Dr. Duane @ 1:21…. Guess i should have said “home.”.
    I remember a home my late husband built out of an overturned canoe and a tarp… We were up in Canada enjoying their lakes, but a Grizzly sow and her two cubs had taken over the campground, so we slept on a narrow beach at the foot of a high cliff under the canoe – no room for the tent It was raining but we and all our gear stayed dry… Yes, a home isn’t always brick and mortar, but it should be a safe place, eh?

  38. Em says:

    Except for their contempt for other U.S. churches (not always deserved IMV), the Local Church Fellowships are much like G-man’s … Perhaps the times ARE a changin’

  39. Eric says:

    On Sunday I went to two church gatherings. The first had liturgy, altar, singing, scripture read & expounded, projector screens, friendly people, a baby baptised. Hopefully would have been to Duane’s taste.

    The other had food, scripture read & expounded, friendly people, prayer for the sick, kids making too much noise, adults not always paying attention either. We did all of this in the park (it’s summer here), no electricity, not even a tap. Just a table some benches and what we brought.

    This rag-tag bunch usually meets in a small rented hall, but even that was deemed too ‘churchy’ for someone they wanted to invite, so they moved to the park. That person is now a believer and hopefully will be happy to meet in a building before winter comes around.

    Most of my church experience has been in between these two.

  40. ( |o )====::: says:

    Duane,

    https://www.roland.com/us/products/ac-60/
    I’m at the back of the gathering, the amp’s output is pointed away from the group, to provide a purely ambient meditation sound bed.
    =)

  41. Duane Arnold says:

    G-Man

    “I’m at the back of the gathering, the amp’s output is pointed away from the group, to provide a purely ambient meditation sound bed.”

    Is that a quote from James Marshall Hendrix? 😁

  42. pstrmike says:

    Does that Roland have stereo outs to send to a soundboard? I couldn’t see the back well on the link you posted. I use a Line-6 floor pod with the amps turned off and the effect and delay on. It has stereo outs.

    Our gathering is rather simple. People come early to socialize and don’t often stay long afterwards. Some of them go to lunch together. We have a time of musical worship, a time of open prayer, do communion at least twice a month, and then I teach for 30-35 minutes. There is no pulpit, no altar, but we have art on the side walls and the inside looks like a NW lodge of some type. All in all, I think what we do is rather simple, and it seems to work for those who are a part of our community.

  43. Reuben says:

    G, How is it compared to a Strawberry Blonde or Fishman Loudbox or an older Roland, or a Rivera? Is there any bass at 30 watts? What does the stereo do to the guitar if it does not have split coils?

  44. ( |o )====::: says:

    Duane,
    LOL!

  45. ( |o )====::: says:

    pstrmike,
    https://www.roland.com/us/support/by_product/ac-60/brochures/75cabc83-c33e-4099-9b23-54a8e60f4b39/

    This brochure download will give you the full details, but, yes, it has stereo outs to send to a console.

  46. ( |o )====::: says:

    Reuben,
    About the guitar & split coils, that’s well beyond me! O_o

    I’ve not comped the AC-60 to those other amps, but when I want to get serious about the sound I use my QSC K10. It’s seriously full spectrum and more than enough bass to give me a faithful acoustic guitar reproduction.

  47. ( |o )====::: says:

    Our people were polled and, overwhelmingly, nobody wants to sing, they just want to have something as a backdrop to drown out the occasional street noise.

    I create original multitrack soundscapes for our meditation during the week in Logic X, then when we begin meditation I ride faders for a dynamic live mix making adjustments to the separate synth tracks.

    I know I served well if I remain part of the air in the room.

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