Church Buildings are important
When my twin grandchildren were three years old, on a visit to St Sampson’s. They stopped and looked up at the tower and said, “there’s a superhero up there.” My answer. “Yes, there is, up there, in there and all around us. They had perceived something in a church building!
We often hear that church is the people not the building and that some people are put off by a church building. This can be true, but we must not underestimate the importance of faith and place. For many people faith is absolutely experienced in a place conducive to contemplation, beauty and prayer-soaked walls. Sometimes described as a thin place.
There is something awesome about treading where other Christians have previously trod. A sense of continuity. Having Christian roots and putting down roots is for many an integral part of Christian identity and spiritual wellbeing. In Cornwall we have many ancient churches with many faith inspired stories, St Sampson’s being no exception. Visitors remark on sensing God in this place, contractors working here have said they have experienced something special. Music and art is immensely powerful in drawing people in to experience God’s love, where better than in a church. Our buildings need to be used by the community and in a rural setting even more so, as there is often very little, or no other public space available. We cannot simply sit in our buildings and expect the community to come to us. We need to be in our communities at all levels, talking and building relationships, discovering where the need is and serving that need. Our buildings are a fantastic resource. In Christ we have a unique gift to offer and using our buildings to serve the community in which we live can be part of this. Buildings are there for mission and if they are locked and not used for the community we need to ask why? Used well and with the right facilities they are not a costly burden, but an asset to be offered with generosity.
Many things draw people to Christ. At St Sampson’s people are interested and ask about the bells, we talk about faith, people are interested in our bats and ask questions, another opportunity to talk about faith, People come looking for their ancestors in the stained-glass windows and gravestones, we talk about faith. Everything about the building is a wonderful opportunity to share the good news.
I used to be surprised by the number of visitors that use St Sampson’s, but not anymore. I understand why people seek out a sacred space be they pilgrims, sightseers, walkers or locals. All find a place of welcome and a resting in the presence of God.
Recently I was fortunate to be able to worship in Bath Abbey and the preacher told us to look up, to look around. He said to look, feel, listen and experience the presence of God. I think that sums it up, a church is somewhere you can experience God. It is not the only place, of course you can experience God anywhere. But churches are places set aside for this, with much to help you experience God. In the beauty of the building, in the singing, the music, in hearing scripture, in the silence, in the conversations and concern of people met.
We have always said St Sampson’s is not a restoration project, it is a mission project. Through its restoring it is bearing fruit. If you want to read more see Everyone should be involved in a church restoration project at some time in their life – Cornwall Historic Churches Trust (chct.info) and also scheduled to be published in the church Times today ( 18th February)