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Hallo again to all.

The commingled history of Christianity and of buildings as worship spaces has always fascinated us. This does not feel odd. Many people enjoy learning about and exploring the grand cathedrals of Europe, or even some of the more notable examples in North America or elsewhere, such as the to-be-restored Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand.

House Church in Dura-Europos (Heretiq, By Heretiq (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Our interests lean towards the earlier history of the church, when the Christian community had left the synagogue but was still yet trying to figure out how their worship and norms would look. That, of course, included the building. A particular favourite example that survives (enough for archaeologists to hazard some guesses) is a house church in the near eastern town of Dura-Europos. It is, in some ways, utterly unremarkable, as it is simply a house. For its time, it is a larger house, not terribly isolated from the rest of its neighbors. Certainly those neighbours would have been aware that gatherings were taking place. Some of its rooms were adapted to the particulars of worship—a baptistry and places to gather. But it was still very much a house. It was part of a community that included Jews, Mithraists, and adherents of traditional Roman religion. Not a bad example for the modern world, truth be told.

Constantine's acceptance of Christianity in the fourth century and his public embrace of the new faith brought with it a change and a new architectural appropriation—the basilica. This must have felt a bit odd to Christians and non-Christians in the empire alike, since basilicae were courthouses. Many who resided in Rome would have walked by the Basilica Julia as a civic space, a place of law. That juxtaposition of purpose sometimes calls to mind churches that meet in warehouses or other unconventional locations in the modern world. (We recall one evangelical gathering that met in the conference space of a Days Inn.) It is sometimes easy, when sitting in a parish whose stonework has existed for centuries, to be a bit sniffy about more recent or untraditional architectures, but the forms we think of as utterly standard were themselves appropriations of another form, made originally for another purpose.

Windows in Cardboard Cathedral (Christchurch, NZ, By Jocelyn Kinghorn (Flickr: Cardbroad, Wood and Glass) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

This is part of what has made the controversy around Christchurch Cathedral so engaging for us. The synod, we think rightly, was concerned about the stewardship of moneys going towards restoring a historic building when it could be put towards mission. The city had an understandable desire to mend the civic space in a way that preserved the aesthetics prior to the 2011 earthquake. The current resolution, which makes up the difference in funding from city funds, helps both parties find a solution that fits all of their goals. The elegant simplicity of the Cardboard Cathedral and the intervention of the civic authorities to preserve the civic space seems to have precedents in the early Church. It is not terribly different from Constantine offering a basilica to the early Christians (though we suspect with something less dubious of a bargain between state and church in the modern case).

The church is not the building, but the people, of course. Nevertheless, we are always pleased when genuine thought goes into the spaces where we worship as a community, because those spaces shape the habits of worship. In a tradition like our own Anglican worship, where lex orandi, lex credendi implies that our habits of worship shape our beliefs, that makes it important that our surroundings shape them well.

See you next week.

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17 September 2017

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