Church is a community of people. I belong to the Church. I am part of a local church.
The community of people that is the church often gathers at a particular building. I go to Sunderland Minster. At previous times, in previous places, I have gone to St Peter’s, to St Andrew’s, to St Thomas.’ As my working role is currently based at Sunderland Minster, I go to the Minster most days.
One of the many things the community of people that is the church goes to – gathers at – their communal building for is to participate in services of worship. I attend, and participate in, services. As I belong to the local (in this case, local being city-wide) church that gathers at the Minster, this is where I most often attend and participate in services; but sometimes I attend and participate in services at Durham Cathedral, or at other buildings where the Church in her different localities and traditions gathers together.
The building is also a base for other activities, and a base from which the church, having gathered together, may be sent out. A base from which the city is prayed for, the hungry are fed, school uniforms are recycled, the highs and lows of life are celebrated and lamented, hearts and minds are inspired and challenged through visual and performing arts…
With a short interlude, when Vikings invaded Sunderland and turned the site into a place to gather to worship Thor, there has been a Christian community gathering to worship at what is now known as Sunderland Minster for over a thousand years. First in a wooden building, then in a stone one, built and rebuilt many times, significantly rebuilt in the 1930s and internally re-ordered at the start of the 1980s. The process continues.
For a long time, there were no seats in the building. In Elizabethan times, seating in church buildings was even considered a pernicious ornamentation of the corrupt Roman Church…Later, at a time when it was again considered right to make church buildings beautiful, the men of the church worked together to make pews, long seats on which the community sat together (rather than as individuals on individual chairs). Men working together to provide something for the community that increased a sense of ownership of the building. This tradition has continued: the member who made bespoke furniture; the members of the youth group who assembled IKEA sofas for one of the smaller meeting rooms (we made peace with the Vikings). The current pews are falling apart and will, at some point in the future, be replaced with chairs (a move that will both gain some positive things and lose some others).
What we do and how we do it has changed many times, but there is continuity as well as change, in lasting presence.
This morning when the church was gathered together at the Minster to participate in a service, I spoke thanking people for the many ways they invest in what Jesus is doing to build his church in this place – the different ways in which they participate in services and other activities of the church that go on in this building and beyond. If you are interested, you can read what I said, here.