Yesterday I attended a wedding at First United Methodist Church in Clayton, AL, where my family attended when I was a fourth grader. It was strange being there after many years away. I remembered the stained glass windows. I think they are more beautiful now, however, than I remembered them. And above the altar is a stained glass picture of Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In the spring of my fourth grade year we moved to Shellman, GA, and my parents joined First Baptist Church there. It, too, was very traditional in architecture, including stained glass windows. They give the interior a holy feel. The choir loft and baptistry make it clear what goes on there.
For many years in Montgomery, AL, my husband and I attended First United Methodist Church in Cloverdale Park, an historic and beautiful gothic styled church made of stone, with flying buttresses and ornately carved details throughout, as well as the stained glass windows that generally go with such architecture. Its slate floors and massive carved doors had a substantive feel to them.
The church I attend today is a much more modern facility. There are not even any windows in the sanctuary, as it has a hallway outside around three sides and backs up to storage and utility functions. It’s far less readily recognizable as a church and could, in fact, be a college lecture hall. There are a gold cross and candlesticks on an altar table and portable altar rails, but there’s nothing permanent, it seems, that defines the space as worship space. If the church’s membership were to suddenly collapse, the building could easily be repurposed as a private school or small college. The only evidence that it is a house of worship is signage, a painting of Jesus in the lobby, and a backlight glass picture in a small chapel of the resurrected Jesus.
There are moments that I miss the traditional look and feel of the churches in which I grew up and raised my family. Then there are moments when truly dynamic worship occurs, even in our more nondescript setting, and I am reminded that God doesn’t inhabit a building, but its people. And I am thankful that there is ample evidence of His presence among the people with whom I worship today.