A message from our Minister, The Rev Dr Neil Dougall: June 2019
A Tale of Two Church Buildings
Last month I was at a conference in Minneapolis in the USA. As part of the conference we visited one of the oldest Presbyterian churches in the heart of the city. On the Sunday before flying home Andy, whom I’d met at the conference, invited me to go with him to a service at his church. This was a non-denominational church in the suburbs.
The downtown Presbyterian Church had just undergone a massive renovation that had cost $70 million. Part of the cost involved buying land. That land had an office block on it which then had to be demolished. So a lot of money had to be spent before they started building. This church had also tithed. $7 million had been raised and then given away to others.
The resulting building was very impressive. Walking in felt like entering the lobby of an upmarket hotel, or the headquarters of a global company. It was a state of the art Christian presence in a strategic location. They had a vision for mission to their city and this was how they believed they should do it. For a visiting Scotsman, however, the price tag was a little hard to swallow.
The suburban Church where I worshipped two days later was in a 1950’s building. The present congregation had bought it from another ten years ago. They’d put their mark on it but hadn’t thrown money at it. It had everything needed but felt a bit cramped. It was neither flashy nor scruffy. You could imagine someone suggesting improvements that would make it more suitable for mission and more attractive to visitors. They’d chosen not to. It seemed to me they’d decided their building was good enough.
I’m telling you about these two churches to illustrate the dilemma that church buildings create. The church is people, not buildings. But churches need places to meet. They need spaces for worship and service, for mission and fellowship. Usually it makes sense for them to have their own building.
As soon as you have a building you are faced with maintenance. It’s on going. Unless you stay on top of it you end up paying more eventually. Churches need to budget to fix the roof, paint the walls and keep the heating working. Less often churches need to alter their buildings. The life of congregations evolves. Spaces that once worked well, no longer do. The time comes when the building needs to be changed. These alterations are expensive.
So, the question all churches wrestle with is, how much should we spend on our building? What is an appropriate amount of money to be spending on maintenance and alterations?
There is no one answer. It’s also a question that never has a final answer. It keeps cropping up.
In St Andrew Blackadder it was a huge issue in the 1990’s. After a lot of soul searching the congregation decided it was right to spend a huge sum of money on a major alteration. That happened in 2000. With hindsight it’s clear that was the right decision. The money invested in the building has really helped us play our part in God’s mission. It has also helped shape the life of the congregation. The altered building has played a large part in helping us be the kind of church we are today.
It’s nearly twenty years since the alterations. The building has been used a lot since. That means things have worn out. In 2017 we replaced the kitchen. New lifts have just been installed. Now we’re turning our attention to the carpets. In the next year we need to replace the sanctuary carpet. In some places it is wearing badly which will create a hazard.
On the one hand this is good news. The vision behind New Century Challenge was of a building that would be used every day by the community. That’s happened which is why things are wearing out. On the other hand, every year we spend significant sums of money on building maintenance even though we are convinced that the church is the people and not the building.
This highlights the questions we should always ask. How much money should we spend on this building? Are we spending this money just to make our building look good or because its needed for mission?
When it comes to carpets I’m in no doubt. Worn carpets are about safety. At the moment our carpets are still safe but action is needed soon to keep it like this. The carpets are also about welcome. We work hard in many different ways to create a hospitable space where visitors feel at ease. Keeping the building clean, fresh and tidy plays a part in that. Replacing worn carpet tiles does too.
One thing which helps us have the right attitude to our building is being aware of others’ needs. That’s why, every Gift Day, we don’t simply raise money for ourselves. We also support projects that help others who are less fortunate than we are
Please pray. Please pray that God will help us be wise stewards of our building and of the money he’s given us. Please pray too about what contribution God might like you to make to Gift Day.
To see other messages from Neil, click on the appropriate month in the table below.
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