Daylight arrives late in Sweden this time of year. Having started work in the dark last Thursday it felt good to see the sun glinting through the clouds a little later in the morning and highlighting a nearby church. The man I was working with proudly told me that the church was the tallest building in Jönköping. Sadly, that is all that the church has become for him, as it has for many other Swedes, most of whom have no concept of what the church should be or could be. Put simply, the church has no relevance to them or any place in their lives. But it looks good from the outside, and it is the tallest building in town.
The church I attend in Hereford is not the tallest building in town. There are other churches that are taller. Even Hereford Cathedral is not as tall as some of the other churches. But what relevance does my church, Hereford Cathedral, or any of the other churches in the city have to the daily lives of the citizens of the city? Several churches do stuff, run programmes, even have events in the middle of High Town. We do our best to connect with the community around us, but in all of our doing has any degree of relevance been achieved?
If the church has become nothing more than the tallest building in town, or that place where the homeless gather outside, or the joint where the music is louder than a nightclub, or whatever other description a church might acquire, then the message is that we are getting something badly wrong. The way I understand it, the church was never intended to be bricks and mortar. So why is the church taking shelter in buildings? Then there is the question of church growth. If the church was growing then wouldn’t the building be too small? If the building is too big then the church has a problem. Could the problem be that the church, i.e. the one made of people, is not growing because the people do not recognise the need for individual spiritual growth to continue ad infinitum? And if the people are not growing, then how is the church supposed to grow? Through programmes?