These days I do a lot of wondering… and wandering. I suspect that’s what people do who are in new places, and as of this writing, who are also desperately trying to both pass and treasure the time before a new baby’s imminent arrival.
And as I continue to wander through the physical spaces of our incredible campus, a tiny question keeps lingering over me. It normally sneaks up on me when I have walked up to the side balcony of our English-Gothic Sanctuary to listen to a practice run on the organ, or when I’m sitting in the darkness of our Chapel, where the strongest light shines through our stunning Tiffany windows. It comes on slowly, and then sits on my shoulder, where I can’t seem to shake it off: Why don’t we build cathedrals anymore?
I know what you’re thinking. The Church is not a building! It’s a lot of money! We get caught up in propping up structures instead of sending people out! And you’re right, of course. We can easily turn our physical monuments that shape our worship into golden (or limestone) calves. And I know that such massive edifices can be a drain on our capacity to be engaged in mission and outreach. But I wonder if we’re missing the point.
I wonder if in part we don’t build cathedrals anymore because we live in an era and culture of immediacy and instant gratification. If we don’t have an answer for something, we can get it right away by asking Siri on our iPhone. If we want to read a new book, we can order it from Amazon Prime and get same-day delivery. If we need to contact someone, we can become irritable when they don’t respond to our texts within five minutes. We aren’t accustomed to living into the deeply methodical work of big and slow construction with no clear end date. Remember, cathedrals often took at least a century to build.
Even contractors will tell you people want their home renovations started tomorrow but finished by yesterday!
Thankfully I’m not alone in my thoughts. Presbyterian pastor and author Maryann McKibben Dana writes, “A good cathedral, in addition to being a gorgeous sacred space, is also a profound statement about time — what will endure, what will last.”
She goes on to ask, “If we trust that we’re really headed somewhere, that our God is infinite, isn’t it worthwhile to start a project, even if we won’t see it finished? Indeed, is there any other kind of Gospel pursuit?”
That’s really what stewardship is… a holy bet on God’s timing. We give of ourselves — time, talent and treasure — to an endeavor whose finality does not belong to us. We give not only to keep our beautiful spaces in working order, but so that these spaces will continue to teem with the life, energy, imagination, and love that it takes to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
We give as a testament, bearing witness to the eternal One who inspires and redeems us to heal, bind up, work for justice, and construct in God’s name. We give because we have a vision that we might not see come to completion, but to which we know we are being called.
That’s why I love our BMPC “cathedral.” That’s why I pledge. That’s why I give thanks for the deep generosity of those who came and built before us, and for those who will come after. That’s why I hope and pray you’ll consider giving as well.