House Party

Volume 46, Issue 1, By Michael Crosbie

“God’s House” and “The House of the Lord” are such commonplace terms for religious buildings that they barely register their implications of intimacy and domes- ticity. Many people raised in mainline religions–Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or even Islamic–have difficulty likening a place of worship to a home. Our religious buildings are formal, for the most part. One is expected to dress and act differently there than one would at home. God’s House can be more like visiting grandma’s house, if you’re of a certain generation: watch where you sit, keep your feet off the furniture, ask permission, no running!

But what if we took the term “House of the Lord” literally? God’s house would be our house. We would want to relax there, be totally ourselves. We would love it with all its idiosyncrasies and drawbacks: its drafts, its want of a paint job, its gaping screen door. We could forgive these shortcomings because we might appreciate them as part of the charm of a home: the place where we have lived for a long time that is sacred for its memories–of birthday parties, picnics, holiday get-togethers, and storms weathered. Home protects us and reflects us. In so many ways our home is just an outer layer of ourselves to the rest of the world, while its interior is a sanctuary where we come for respite and solace. Doesn’t that sound like a church, a temple, or a mosque? These places, too, are treasured for the memories, the celebrations, the family members who live within them (and with whom we may disagree or argue, even if we love them).

The role of our religious buildings as literal houses was impressed on me when I read an article by Anthony B. Robinson, “Building a Front Porch,” recently published on the Faith & Leadership website of the Duke Divinity School. Robinson talks about how a church needs to meet new members where they are, and to welcome them inside, perhaps enticing them with a glimpse of fellowship. Writing of congregations, Robinson encourages them to create “…an intermediate space between street and interior, a space for casual interaction that might grow.” Such a “front porch,” notes Robinson, would be a place where people could develop relationships before coming inside. Robinson uses the words “porch” and “space” metaphorically for such outreach opportunities as seeker services, community fairs, and congregational efforts such as building for Habitat for Humanity.

What if our religious buildings really did have porches, back and front? These spaces would extend the spiritual life of the congregation beyond the temple walls; Robinson suggests coffee shops or small cafés as part of God’s House. Back porches, accessible from surrounding streets or yards, might be settings for fellowship that could be shared with passersby. Conversation at most house parties happens in the kitchen. Such a place, where the community gathers for a shared meal, is already at the heart of many religious buildings. How might we make them more inviting for spiritual hospitality?

Finally, as suggested above, God’s House often needs some work. In this issue Faith &Form begins a new department, “The Sacred and the Mundane,” which offers insights and guidance on taking care of the premises. Each column, written by architect Walter Sedovic and others at Walter Sedovic Architects, will help keep the House of the Lord in good repair.

Michael J. Crosbie is the Editor-in-Chief of Faith & Form and can be reached by using our contact form.

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