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Hallo again to all.

We read yesterday that parishioners of some American Episcopal churches destroyed by Hurricane Katrina planned to worship today on the foundation slabs of those ruined buildings.

That image of beleaguered bands of Anglicans, returning to the places that had been the physical expression of their faith, haunted us. Standing within invisible walls, in the centre of rude and senseless destruction, those small groups shout to us what a church is about. Not the walls nor the beautiful stained glass; not the embroidered vestments nor the sonorous organs: just those people, coming together as they had done so many times before the storm.

The Anglican Church, dispersed throughout the world in this cumbersome semi-structure we call the Anglican Communion, has both the blessing and curse of a magnificent architectural heritage. King's College Chapel, laced with light, and Durham Cathedral, looming thunderously above its city, are but two examples plucked from thousands. From Sydney, Australia to Seward, Alaska, we Anglicans are blessed with buildings that effectively focus our hearts and minds during worship. Our heritage is not one of vast anonymous auditoriums nor grim unadorned boxes. We have erected churches, all down the centuries, most of which are a 'glorious work of fine intelligence'.

But they are, at the end, just buildings. Wood, stone, concrete, steel: no matter. They are made holy by how we use them, through our prayers and presence, in the lives that come in and go out to spread the Gospel and do the Lord's work. 'The Church' is nothing other than a group of people, meeting in this or that building, in this or that place. That building can stand for a few years or a few centuries, but it will eventually fall, whether through disaster or disuse. But the Church will go on if we go on.

Those resilient Episcopalians in the southern United States who worshipped this morning on slabs that once were buildings seem to us to have preached most eloquently about the nature of the church. Those who survived the hurricane, those who were able, showed up to be the church in those places. They honoured the now-vanished walls and the altars by their presence. Surely they experienced — more than most of us ever will — the real meaning of the word 'nave': from navis, the Latin word for ship.

Divine Service after Divine Service, we offer our 'wonder, love, and praise' in those naves, a reminder that these church buildings of ours are boats bobbing on the fearsome sea of life. Our naves should remind us that here, on this sweet terrible earth, we have no continuing city, that we are strangers and pilgrims. In the very ordinariness of life for most of us in the developed world, caught between PCC meetings and jumble sales, it can be hard to remember. It shouldn't take the fury of a hurricane to remind us of who we are and Whose we are, but when such a thing happens, it reveals just that.

It might be a good thing for all of us who are blessed to be stewards and caretakers of an Anglican church building to walk away from those buildings once or twice a year and to worship in a more primitive place, be it a car park, an empty lot, or a nearby meadow. Without those customary and blessed walls surrounding us, we may remember that the church is nothing other than us. And nothing more than us.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 4 September 2005

A thin blue line
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