Second Sunday of Lent 2014

The impact of buildings upon was the theme of Sunday morning at All Saints’ on 16th March. In his sermon, Richard Giles described his experience of visiting the McManus Gallery in Dundee for the first time. The restored gallery proclaimed its presence by a beautifully-designed new entrance (contemporary style blending perfectly with the Gilbert Scott building), and once inside he found a helpful staff member who welcomed, explained, and directed the visitor.

We can compare this with the experience of visiting churches, which often fail to announce themselves or draw us in. All Saints is typical in this way. It is hidden down a side street, with nothing to suggest the glories within. A contemporary vision of a lych gate would address this lack. Inside, we find a beautiful womb-like interior, full of beautiful things, but many of them unexplained, like the font hidden behind a wrought-iron screen (almost a cage), covered by an ornate lid, and with no sign of water. What does it all mean? The congregation occupies chairs facing in one direction to a distant focus, suggestive of an audience rather than a participatory community. Who will interpret these things for us, and direct us into deeper appreciation? Is there anyone here during the week to welcome, explain and direct?

The theme of the gospel for the day was re-birth, in which Nicodemus asks Jesus at one point how a person can enter his mother’s womb a second time. How might we re-enter this ‘womb’ of All Saints and see it with fresh eyes? Giving birth is a painful process, and for us change is painful. Yet to secure the future of All Saints, change will be necessary, for as our vision of God develops and grows, so the building we call home will need to be altered and re-configured to reflect who we are, accommodate our changing needs, and tell more clearly the story of our journey.

At a session in the hall afterwards, Richard Giles showed on power point examples from different parts of the world of how the Church adapts and transforms its buildings to speak more clearly of the things of God, to play an enhanced role in the formation of the assembly of Christian discipleship, and in the proclamation of good news and Christian service to a needy society. The Church’s history is one of constant adaptation of its buildings to meet renewed understanding of God and how we worship. In the sweep of history, every movement for renewal wrought dramatic change in how the room for worship looked, and nothing was allowed to become sacrosanct or untouchable. In the secular sphere, this process is illustrated beautifully in the new look of the McManus Gallery. When we cease to change and modify and improve, we cease to honour our tradition. Like all church buildings, All Saints needs to remind us who we are every time we assemble to become church, and what is our sacred tradition and our holy calling to be agents of change in the world.

Richard Giles