A couple of days back I suggested here that the connection between spirituality and place is a significant one; that the values of beauty and transcendence are important to the spaces we set aside for worship. More than anything, I wanted to put my hand up for the unique role church buildings play in the landscape of the city. Every Sunday I lead worship in one of those churches, a beautiful sanctuary of historical importance: ‘Australia’s grandest church in the classical tradition,’ they say. It’s a magnificent space, one where people have gathered for close to 170 years to worship God. If a place can be classified sacred, then surely this one qualifies.
That said, the word sacred has always troubled me. Like its associated word holy, it carries a sense of demarcation. Here is sacred; there is not. This is holy; that is not. At worst, designating particular places sacred infer islands of spiritual meaning amidst oceans of … meaninglessness. Surely not.
As I sit this morning on the church’s ‘verandah’ looking out over the street below, it feels as though the sacredness of this place is in its connection, not its difference. Street and sanctuary are one in history, story, place … even future. In fact, the word sanctuary is meaningless without the neighbourhood around it. After all, this is Collins Street Baptist Church. Context is essential to its identity and existence. Perhaps, to draw on John Taylor’s imagery of The Go-Between God, sacredness is found in the in-between of church and street. Sacredness comes in the relationship.
I have mentioned before Charles Ringma’s understanding of worship as a ‘disclosure situation’ … or was it JG Davies? Whoever it was, the idea is when we gather with other Christians to worship, we are learning to discern and recognise holiness elsewhere; it heightens our sensitivity to the holy in all the other places of life. Rather than demarcating one place or activity from everything else, it challenges us to a spirituality of integration. Once we understand what makes this place sacred, we see every place with new eyes. Once we discern the holiness of God here, we’ll recognise that holiness all around us.
What that means to me is that a church building, as sacred as it might be, is never a hiding place. Its holiness is in its ability to launch us into the sacredness of life elsewhere, life in all its fulness and diversity. Collins Street included.