Monday, September 11, 2017

Restoring thin places

Yesterday Teresa and I had the immense privilege of being present at the reopening of Holy Innocents church, Mt Peel, South Canterbury.

Also in the news this morning I see this item about the restoration of St Mary's Cathedral, New Plymouth, Taranaki.

In both cases these churches have iconic status, represent history (in the sense of connections to significant events, development of farming in NZ and the Land Wars, respectively) as well as heritage - its decades since I have visited St Mary's so won't comment on its heritage, but Holy Innocents has as an extraordinary collection of stained glass windows in a small church as you could find anywhere in NZ. (The photo below does not do justice to the beauty of the new window in the new east wall and only gives a hint of the amazing windows in the side walls.)

In the particular case of Holy Innocents, Bishop Victoria in her sermon talked about "thin places" - those places on earth in which heaven is juxtaposed with the flimsiest of walls between them. Holy Innocents, indeed, seems one of those places.

In conversation afterwards, I found myself reminded of the capacity and power of such thin places (including, our cathedral). Self-described irregular churchgoers connect with thin places! Regular church goers do too.

It is hard to put a $ value on restoring our churches, let alone the ones we feel are thin places.

So I won't. But what I did note in the service yesterday was John Acland's remarkable stories of significant donations for the restoration of Holy Innocents turning up in completely unexpected ways.

So I give - we can give - thanks for the mysterious ways in which we are finding thin places are being restored.


Andrei said...

It is fantastic to be restoring churches and conceiving them to be the heart of the community

But this gives me some pause for thought

"Acland told the congregation the next service at the church would be on Holy Innocents Day, on December 28."

Why this church cannot be the center for regular Sunday worship nor the celebration of significant Christian festivals is not detailed in your link

Our Christian Faith begins as a personal faith and radiates out from there to family, community and Nation

And as it does this can cause some unease

During WW2 there was some disquiet over the English Church blessing the weapons of war, battleships, artillery pieces and so forth - on the other hand it pragmatically helped raise morale and unify those going into battle and perhaps the Nation at large in dark days

This is something I struggle with, which is why I raise it of course

When the Cathedral in Christchurch re-arises will this be a civic occasion or a religious one?

This isn't a new difficulty Christians face, the Faithful have been walking this tightrope since the time of Theodosius I

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
Great question!
The Geraldine parish has five centres for worship, including Holy Innocents.
Worship services are spread across those five centres on a rostered basis, with St Mary's Geraldine being the most frequent place of worship.

Mt Peel church is somewhat out of the way, on an edge of the parish. Closer to the centre of the parish, and with more actual residents at hand is St Stephen's Peel Forest village, so the regular (I think it is monthly) services in that geographical corner of the parish are at St Stephen's and thus Holy Innocents has just two Sunday services annually.

However weddings and funerals (now that the church is reopened) are likely to be more frequent - not only is the church aesthetically pleasing for weddings, it has a graveyard for burials, one of which occurred just this past Saturday.

Father Ron Smith said...

In answer to Andrei's query. The restoration of the Mount Peel Church of The Holy Innocents - because of its infrequent actual use - is so obviously more of a 'heritage building' than a place of regular worship. One of the more 'thin places' than a regularly used place of worship. Our Cathedral, at least, will be used on a daily basis to meet with Christ in the Eucharist.

This really highlights the value of heritage over worship.

Andrei said...

"not only is the church aesthetically pleasing for weddings..."

And that might be a concern, rather than seeking to stand before God in a Holy place to cement a marriage the motivation might lie in finding a picturesque backdrop for the Wedding photographs. Though I looked up this church and did see that any celebrant presiding over a wedding in it must be ordained, which is a good start.

Ideally of course anyone being married there should have some connection to the church

I see also you omitted that another important sacrament that forms a marker the life of a Christian - Baptism.

I guess if the church is used only twice a year for regular Sunday services the maintenance costs have to be covered somehow

It has never sat well with me that in some of the great English Cathedrals there is an entrance fee to enter therein - while genuine worshipers who come to use it for its intended purpose are admitted through a side door

I'm not a Cathedral person anyway - ideally would choose a local parish church where I could congregate with my family and neighbors, where kids would be baptized, weddings celebrated and funerals with regular Sunday services where the community would worship together every Sunday

But in this day and age we travel, sometimes for many miles to find a church that suits our tastes - our Christian community is fragmented and we live isolated lives.

The re evangelization of this nation requires small local churches in regular use standing at the heart of their community IMHO but this stands in stark contradiction to what we are observing.

25 years ago I was disheartened to see church advertisements interspersed with McDonalds and Texaco ads on American TV. And massive billboards

Andrei said...

"This really highlights the value of heritage over worship."

Perhaps Fr Ron but perhaps worship is part of out heritage that is being lost

I certainly feel that a Cathedral reborn in Christchurch will be an empty shell if its prime purpose is not worship - but if there are regular services on a daily basis and people can freely enter to quietly pray at any time without being interrupted by busloads of Japanese tourists then it will be a good thing

The thing that scares me is some who have made the most noise about rebuilding it seem to see the Japanese tourist thing as the point

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
Neglecting to mention baptism is an oversight on my part.
The family on the sheep and cattle station of which the church is a part have always taken good care of the church.

Jean said...

I can't wait to visit again...! I think Holy Innocents is unique. Although it is Parish operated it really has a long-standing association and significance to (of course) the farm and John Acland's family who of course originally built the Church. A female relative lost a baby and hence the name it was given. And this of course is also reflected by the families fundraising efforts towards its repair.

I can concur with Peter the sense of it being a special place of worship. The Acland's have long been supporters (like very long) of Christianity in the region in an active way; allowing youth groups to use their property - I had a fun time staying in the shearers quarters as a kid; and have taken on various roles with the Parish and outreach organisations of the Church (anglican care). One touching thing is a member of the family is always present in the Church to see in the new year - once when no one was on the farm a family member drove all the way from ChCh to do so. I also found it touching that a former Shepherd also donated to the restoration.

The church itself aside from what Peter mentions is also frequented often by locals from around the region. It is not uncommon historically or currently in rural areas for church services to be infrequent because of travel demands on ministers. And because of this to worship at different denominations on different Sundays.

Andrei said...

" John Acland's family who of course originally built the Church"

Love it! This is a wonderful example of the Faithful planting a Church - it is how our Faith has been spread across the globe through the ages

" It is not uncommon historically or currently in rural areas for church services to be infrequent because of travel demands on ministers."

Matthew 18:20

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

You don't need a minister or priest to hold a service in a church, all you need is enough of the Faithful to gather there to worship together and the discipline to do it. And if two do it every Sunday and on special days at a regular time them perhaps two becomes three and three becomes four...

In the Orthodox Church there are services for this very purpose "Obednitsa" or "Typika"

And when the Priest visits then the parish can have a full Liturgy (Communion service)

An example here

The scripture readings are taken from the Lectionary and other elements from the service books for that Sunday.

Often the Bishop provides the homily that can be read - (some Orthodox Priests are not licensed to preach and they too would read the Bishops homily)

This is how new parishes are developed and old ones maintained when a Priest dies or moves on and a replacement is not found yet.

And from the Faithful who congregate every Sunday perhaps one may emerge who can be ordained through the Deaconate and perhaps eventually become the Parish Priest.

Its worked this way in remote and missionary areas for centuries

Anonymous said...

Dear Peter
Thin places? "Do you see all these great buildings - not one stone here will be left on one another"
or Psalm 78:60
He abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt among mortals
Jeremiah 26:9
Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, “This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant”?’
What would a scriptural view of thin places be?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rhys
It is possible that there is no scriptural view of thin places! After all, the NT places no great value on buildings or on particular locations, other than perhaps Jerusalem.

I hear people talk about thin places, I think I know what they mean and they do seem to refer to places which Christians especially value.

If you want a Scripture, however (!!!): how about from yesterday's psalm, Psalm 132:5. (Somewhat poignant to read after our Synod ...).

Father Ron Smith said...

A very good argument, Reece!.

Another thought - re 'thin places' - places where the barriers are thinnest betwixt the believer and God-n-Christ - perhaps the nearest we can get to Christ on earth is at the Eucharist, at which Jesus promised to be eternally present. No building needed here - except 'The Body of Christ'.

Andrei said...

"Another thought - re 'thin places' - places where the barriers are thinnest betwixt the believer and God-n-Christ - perhaps the nearest we can get to Christ on earth is at the Eucharist, at which Jesus promised to be eternally present. No building needed here - except 'The Body of Christ'."

All true Fr Ron - however if you live within a Christian community it is desirable to set aside a special place for the Eucharist to be celebrated as well as those other significant events in the life of Christians, Baptism, Weddings and Funerals and so forth

And though the Eucharist can and is celebrated anywhere as needs dictate you most certainly would not want to celebrate it in a public toilet or brothel

You might see churches in poor communities that have existed for generations and marvel at the fine icons, chalices, chandeliers, gospel books and so forth that they contain and wonder if this is appropriate - but these will be gifts and behests acquired over many generations.

In any case in Orthodox and Catholic Churches (and Anglican?) the consecrated bread is kept so as to provide communion to the sick and in the cas of Orthodox Churches a Deacon can lead the "Obednitsa" or "Typika" of the "pre-Sanctified Gifts"so that those who wish to communicate can when a priest is not present to celebrate the liturgy

And you definitely need a sanctified space to keep the consecrated host

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Andrei, I agree with your comment here. In fact, at SMAA, Christchurch, we have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in our 'whakahuia', suspended above the sanctuary - both as a reminderof the perpetual prersence of Christ and for distribution at a para-Liturgy when a priest is not present, or by any authorised (licensed by the Bishop) person to the sick or housebound of the parish.

Jean said...

Andrei in regards to your comment, probably in the past this is what happened but with the advent of cars and the Peel Forrest community which lives perhaps a five minute drive away by car (and is itself small) down the road I can see the reason why the family and any Christian workers worship there on a regular Sunday. We are talking about an area here with a very small population overall, not just in Christian terms.

Rhys, funny I don't place any great 'need' on buildings, with my most formative Christian years (I am not talking childhood here) being spent in a congregation which operated out of a school hall. Yet I can also appreciate 'special places' of worship be they a church or a dedicated room ... I find especially small buildings carry an almost tangible sense of the worship of God which has happened in that place e.g. The Lady Chapel in Wellington Cathedral, the Maori Church in Wanganui... etc etc. To me this is what is meant by thin places. Even non-Christians gain a sense of the Holy. I don't think its necessarily about the building itself but about its dedicated purpose. The scriptures you quote I think are more a warning against the building or operating of places of worship where the focus is on how grand they are rather than the purpose for which they were created. Jesus taught in all sorts of places and this included Synogogues, and I think it might be fair to say he valued them as a place of scriptural learning and worship, if not the only place.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments. One of my underlying concerns is about how widely and confidently people talk about 'sacred space' as if it is a well supported and broadly agreed theological concept. I imagine its origins lie in other traditions than Christian theology. This becomes problematic if it operates as an authoritative theological concept.
Of course religious buildings and natural places can express and arouse profound emotional responses. Some people are highly susceptible to this - it is difficult to know what value to put on this feeling in any particular case.
Where sites have been prayed in for many years, perhaps a particular peace can be found there; again how can one be sure. However surely the reason for the peace is not the place but the people who have prayed there. It's often alleged we bless warships, fonts, car fleets and so on - but wouldn't the Anglican view be that we bless them in their use by people (not quite sure about pets here!). In the same way it is the human use that sanctifies of profanes a building.
How subjective and emotional is the concept of sacred space? I remember going to Notre Dame in Paris and being horrified by its projection of imperial power; and seeing St Peter's in Rome, a church masquerading as a secular palace, at least externally. No comment on the Christchurch Cathedral.

Jean said...

Hi Rhys, it is true I think that the word 'sacred' has become a slightly loaded term in our modern day world; so I get your concern. And some of my most profound faith memories come from house living rooms and places like a very cold room in an old church hall! Interesting you bring up the phrase profanes a building as when I was around a number of people hailing from different faiths or the new age who had become Christians there were a number of concrete manifestations and a need for our minister to bless a house (due to nightmares/demonic visions) alongside the removal of idols. I find this curious too because as like you I see places or even things as having no intrinsic spiritual power. So pass on explaining that one! Cheers