Principles

Recently I was asked by another minister if it was okay if they conducted a marriage within my parish boundaries, to which I responded “yes.” Coming from a larger Presbytery where I had had a couple of hotels and a potential wedding venue, I am not used t0 being asked for permission. In the big city boundaries tended to be to ensure that funerals were covered and it didn’t seem to matter who did the weddings. So it was good to be asked if I minded, and a reminder that within a smaller community there was a possibility that news of another minister in the area would have travelled my direction.

The wedding is to take place in a local hotel, and the minister mentioned that they had been a little surprised by this as the couple were forming connections with their church community. When they had invited the minister to be part of their day, the minister had assumed church. For some ministers this might have been considered a problem as there is a tendency to see the church as the place a marriage should take place.

In this new place, weddings will probably take over most of my summer (although I have help) and all of them at the moment are in church. However the being in church has never seemed particularly important to me, because, you know, we as a Christian community understand God to be everywhere and that whenever we gather in worship the Holy Spirit is active. The Divine doesn’t need a special building!

Historically the Church of Scotland had a practice of not marrying within the church building and prior to the late 1950s/early 1960s many marriages took place in manses and hotels. The movement to a church wedding was something that, if I remember my history correctly, happened post the Queen’s marriage being televised. Perhaps that move towards a church wedding has also encouraged people to spend more money, and make the day more of a big event. Many people now want to be a princess for the day, with the beautiful clothes, lots of guests and the celebration. And I count myself in that.

However perhaps in these financially less secure days we should be encouraging those who want something smaller in hotels, vestries and manses again.

In my first charge I can remember on two occasions having to ensure that the dining room was clean and tidy as we welcomed two couples who asked to be married in the manse. Both were small affairs of under 10 people, and it was very special to offer them an intimate place to be married. They still publicly declared their love, and headed off to celebrate with those who mattered more to them in local restaurants.

As ministers and as churches we need to be willing to offer the relationships God calls humanity to in their varying forms. And for some that may be in all the trappings of celebration, while for others it may be in the quiet, still moments shared with those to whom they are closest.

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Building with personality

A number of churches of varying denominations have been, currently are or will be involved in building projects. Behind these projects there are good sound reasons for getting involved in refurbishment, new building, and re-ordering.

For some the projects are relatively simple and involve decorating and new furniture, making the space more welcoming and inviting to those who wander in to encounter something of a congregation’s faith.

For others the projects are more complex. In times of rising utilities bills, those with two sets of buildings are looking at ways of reducing costs, but still offering the necessary spaces used by church organisations and community groups. Ancient buildings don’t always offer the welcome or space needed to accommodate the differing physical needs of those who use the building, let alone come to worship.

Whatever the reason for engaging in building and changing, those involved in such projects seem to try to keep the purpose of being a group of people gathered under one roof to the forefront of their minds. Their church buildings are places that they want to offer a space for encounter with God, not just for themselves but for those who wander in to be welcomed. Each of those buildings is shaped by the worship practices of the people who meet there and by the story they want to tell of God in their lives, but also include the dreams they have of what their sharing of faith might bring to the community in which it is placed.

Worship space and hall accommodation tell the story of the personalities that have inspired and inhabited them. In some way they also shape the present life of those who wander in them, and while occasionally there are breaks in patterns and new forms of worship and presence that happen, sometimes they find themselves constricted and restricted by the surrounding walls.

Thinking about personality within the shaping of future building has been part of much of my thought for over a year now. The type of worship and ministry of a group of people seems to me to be shaped by what surrounds them. I’ve been wondering about the impact of changing buildings, and the shape that brings to the way in which people share their faith; about how personalities within a congregation might impact on the design of something new; and how about how much the ministry’s understanding of worship, theology and faith should shape the thoughts of others in thinking about the relationship of a congregation to it’s building.

I don’t know I’m looking for answers, but engaging outwardly with my thought processes. I’m spending time with those who have inspired me and exploring their thoughts in how they feel their person has impacted on the places they have served and serve.

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