Lamentation for our buildings

During the past several months of physical distancing due to the pandemic, I have been encouraged by the many ways the people of the Diocese of New Westminster have embraced our identity as the body of Christ, even when we cannot meet in person. Some folks have even emphatically proclaimed that church has nothing to do with the building; that it is all about the people. I hear what they are saying. At its roots, the church is indeed made up of the people of God. However I would like to also suggest that in very profound and important ways, it is also the building.

I think like all created beings, we are made to express love in unique ways; it’s part of who we are. For example, as an artist, I have a particular passion for beauty. The sensuous nature of our Anglican liturgy is one of the most fundamental ways I express my love for God. For others it may be making glorious music, offering generous hospitality, a lovingly prepared community meal, hugs, or conversation at coffee hour. For ALL of us who consider ourselves sacramental people, it is the tangible in-person sacraments vital to our faith, especially the Eucharist. The beautiful, beloved buildings that house all these practices and expressions; that soak up our love, prayers and heartfelt devotion into their very walls are – for the moment – lost to us in some of the most important ways, and for some of us, altogether, until it is safe to return. Our buildings are not just inanimate structures. They are alive and sacred, by very nature of having been set apart for holy things.

It is of course right and proper that we are being careful out of love for one another right now. Love demands this. What I am saying though, is that it is also okay to grieve. I think part of how we can authentically be community right now is to lament together the loss of those God-given expressions of creativity, love and devotion that are so dear to us and that (I imagine) are dear to God too.

It may seem like a moot point to post this now. After all, many of us have returned in some capacity to our buildings. However, not all of us have returned – and even those of us who have will still have to wait to fully express ourselves within them. Anticipating the lead-up to Advent makes us realize that we will have to watch another beloved liturgical season go by with heavy restrictions on our expressions of worship. As the theme of Advent itself reminds us, we are there but also not quite there yet. Tasting its nearness makes it harder in some ways.

In our Eucharistic celebration, we affirm as one that Christ died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. We can therefore, as people of faith, imagine a ‘coming again’ that has not yet happened. We WILL return to our full expressions of worship, I have faith in that. And in the meantime, I am so proud of how we have discovered new ways to be community and to care for and love one another. I hope we will retain many of these lessons and practices going forward.

But I still grieve. I missed the episcopal anointing at the Chrism mass and at my ordination. I miss Adoration, the taste of the Eucharistic wine, the joy of distributing the elements, the sound of the congregational voice, and the surrender of kneeling at the altar. I miss being together with the full body of Christ present; seeing whole faces not covered in masks, and bodies not hidden by Zoom screens. So, even if just for a moment, I invite you to lament with me the things you miss too so that we can be community together now, and then rejoice together as community again when we may (safely!) celebrate the return of the things we love that we will quite possibly never take for granted again.

by Rev’d Amanda Ruston

Photo by Rev’d Amanda Ruston