Slideshow image


By Rev. Grayhame Bowcott

If all Anglicans truly believed that our buildings were tools for ministry, how might we consider using them differently? Or, perhaps a far more interesting question: how might God choose to use them differently?

When non-Christians (also including non-practicing Christians) are asked to describe the value of church buildings to themselves and the wider community, the responses that they often share are usually linked to a number of economic values.

Does a religious building have historical or architectural meaning for the community? What is the economic benefit of this meaning?

For some communities, there is significant emotional connection to certain local landmarks despite the fact that those holding this value might not have any direct connection to them, much less contribute towards their operations, upkeep or ministry.

Christ Church Cathedral in New Zealand is an interesting example of how religious architecture can be greatly valued by the wider (non-Church) community for its historic meaning. Non-church-goers have pressured the Anglican leadership in The Diocese of Christ Church to restore (replace with an identical reconstruction) that neogothic structure brick for brick after the February 2011 earthquake that devasted the building. To do so would come at an astronomical cost to the Diocese. One view expressed by some outside of church membership is that it is the responsibility of Anglican congregations to preserve and maintain their buildings for the benefit of the wider community in perpetuity, even if it is a great financial burden for them to do so.   

While it is true that some of the greatest examples of architecture found throughout the Canadian landscape are held within the stewardship of Christian denominations, it is also true that to force Christian institutions to preserve each as a historical monument (a museum per se) would be to financially ruin those institutions.  

Another value that non-Church-folk place on our buildings is their potential to act as centers for social services. The outreach of Anglican congregations over generations has instilled a certain economic value in the minds of various community partners and recipients of that outreach.

“Look for the red doors of the Anglican Church” if you are seeking a hot meal, or some used clothing and sometimes even some financial support. Our buildings have become symbols of hospitality in some communities. I have always thought this to be a good thing, that the Anglican reputation in the community might be one where those who are vulnerable can find support and relief. However, sometimes the perceived economic value to the wider community can take on a “what have they done for us lately” mentality, or a “churches are only as valuable as the number of people they can feed in the week”. When the funding evaporates, the value in the community can evaporate too.  

A third perception of church buildings held by non-members can also be that they are where “worship” and “important life events” happen. It is an interesting phenomenon when non-Christians express grief for the closing of a church even though they have had little to no engagement with what “worship” means or how it looks on any given Sunday. For some, it is simply comforting to know that churches exist, should they ever wish to be interested enough to explore them one day! Churches are still known as the places where life’s rituals have always happened. There is an economic value to the community knowing that some form of rites of passage can take place in a beautiful building with staff who are able to make those rites possible: marriages, funerals and sometimes even the ‘sentimentality’ or ‘family tradition’ of a baptism (please note a little sadness and sarcasm here).

Each of these three perceptions of the value of church buildings lacks a foundational component of our Christian faith and practice: the concept that these sacred spaces, these houses of worship, are supposed to belong to God and serve the ministry of God’s Church. I often wonder how many Anglicans view our church buildings as tools for ministry? Tools that belong to God yet have been entrusted to us for the furthering of God’s work on earth?

If all Anglicans truly believed that our buildings were tools for ministry, how might we consider using them differently? Or, perhaps a far more interesting question: how might God choose to use them differently?

This is a question that I raise within my own congregation when we consider how our buildings are utilized. Who would God want to use this space? At St. George’s, have recently welcomed our local AA and Girl Guide groups when they found themselves evicted from other venues because of the pandemic. Both of these organizations serve others and this, at least in our view, seems to fit with how God would want our buildings utilized.

I hold the view that our church buildings, although they are places of worship and considered sacred as such, are also tools for relationship. When we share them with outside groups we can enable community partnerships, we can enable new opportunities for non-members to come to know who we are and why we care.

Whenever I see a church that is open on Sundays but closed most of the rest of the week, I ask: is this how God would use this building to serve others in that community?

Each congregation will hold different views on this topic, but I would encourage others to see our buildings as part of our toolkit for ministry that God has blessed us with. As such, may our tools be never idle, but instead always be active in service to others as an expression of how God loves and serve us all.

Rev. Dr. Grayhame Bowcott is passionate about fostering congregational relationships and sharing our Anglican vocation with others. He serves as rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains.