Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, forever. (Heb 13:8).
Recently I have joined in several discussions about changes to church buildings. Anyone who has ever tried to implement such change will know how difficult that is. The walls really are, for the most part, stone; while for a multitude of heritage groups, just about every other aspect of our buildings appears immutably ‘set in stone’.
Church buildings tell stories: from baptism to burial; new life celebrated at the font, to Jesus’ sacrificial and life-giving death and resurrection celebrated at the altar and much more beside. This story is eternal, a fact reinforced for us by the obvious age of our buildings. Stone they may be but, like the people who use them, they are also living things. Look closely and you can see signs of dramatic, and in some cases traumatic, change. Traces of medieval wall art, defaced saints, headless angels all point to the traumas of the 15th to 17th centuries. The proliferation of Bibles, which we now take for granted, a testimony to the once heroic struggle to give everyone access to the Word of God, not just a privileged few. The physical structures, like a human body, showing times of wealth and poverty, of loving care and of careless neglect.
The words of St Paul with which I opened this reflection, are part of a warning not to be ever looking for the latest fad or fashion. However, although Christ is the same, yesterday, today, forever, God is a living being and living means changing. Some six centuries before Jesus, God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, said: Do not remember the former things … I am about to do something new’ (Is 43:9) and St Paul, writing to Corinthian Christians, said If anyone is in Christ, he (she) is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). Creation, as contemporary astronomy shows, is expanding, as is our knowledge of it.
Our parish churches speak of how our ancestors have steered a course through the ever-changing experiences of human life, aided by the constancy of God’s love. If they are to continue to serve the coming generations in this way then we must care for them; we must also help them to continue to evolve.
Rev’d Philip Payne
The Notice Sheet for 17th July 22 can be found here.