The early church did not identify with a "place" as much as with "a sense of place". Over the years, large gothic cathedrals became beacons of hope and light for generations of Christians. When the reformation began, we again went back to a simpler day and time with our churches, although for many, the magnificent cathedrals remain a beacon of light and hope.
Here in America, we created our own symbols of light and hope, and we find here today in Cleveland that many of those churches will be closing. When they were built, they were where the people rallied to act as one community to build something where they could gather to worship, to pray, to celebrate, and to mourn.
And, as in all things, the community changed; it grew, became prosperous, and many in the community moved to ever brighter places. Leaving the old to tend the buildings and for a newer generation a bit poorer to use the building for hope, shelter, and peace. But then, they knew that the place they once gathered would be there when it would be needed for the next celebration or sad occasion, not so much the place to worship, to reflect, to gather as a local community but more as the ceremonial place for "big" events.
But you see, while others were moving away others were staying in place or moving in who relied on that beacon of hope and light to provide the shelter, the solitude, the dignity that belonging to a community provides. These churches became not only a place for one community to gather but for others to partake of the mercies, the solace, and the hope that the very walls give off. Some of these buildings are reaching their 150th birthday and facing their impending death because others have seen fit to say that they have outlived their usefulness.
I am hear to ask you have they outlived their usefulness? Or, is it that their mission has changed? Could the smaller communities served find a way to keep these beacons in our midst? Have they been asked? Are the services they provide any less needed by the core city? How will the abandoned building affect the surrounding community? Where will the sense of hope for a better day come from, when and if the church building is no longer in our midst?
It has been said that the services rendered are more than bricks and mortar and that the services will remain, but where and how? When people who walk to church will now need transportation to get there, how will they get there? When women and children who use the services provided will have farther to go to attain those services will they be able to make it or will they do without? The closing of these doors means much more than the shuttering of a building and I would ask how and when will the questions I have asked and that other more thoughtful people than I have asked will be answered. If the bricks and mortar already in place is to be considered in these discussions they should take place sooner rather than later.
I rue the day that the skyline of Cleveland will no longer be peppered with the beautiful beacons of hope that have inspired generations of Clevelanders because I fear that we will have lost much more than "just a church spire". Rather we will lose a bit of our sense of place, our heritage, our history. We will have lost a bit of our essence, of who we are, and who we can be. Yes, services may still be provided but at what price?
Will we leave damaged communities that are facing daunting odds with more than they can handle? Will we leave behind another symbol of abandonment with boarded up windows and weedy lots? Just what will become of the empty shell of a building shuttered and lonely on the edge or smack dab in the middle of the community? Have we forgotten that a church is more than bricks and mortor?
Or was it convenient to look only at bricks and mortar and dollars and cents when making these extremely important decisions? If we take out the variable of people and communities and keep the pencil moving toward the bottom line the decision becomes easier to make but as we have seen that is not always the best way to make decisions.