A reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday Easter IV 21st April 2024

Good Shepherd Sunday 2024

125/135th Anniversaries of the Congregation 

“I was glad when I heard them say; 

“Let us go into the house of God.”     Psalm 122

I remember the first time I walked into the Church of the Good Shepherd. Immediately, I was aware that this was a holy place. That it was a building loved and cared for and more importantly one that was steeped in decades of prayer and worship. I have always believed that prayer oozes out of bricks and mortar and I still feel that today about this place. Those words from Psalm 122 are I believe very apt in relation to this church. This truly is the ‘House of God’.

It is often said that building do not make a church and that’s correct. The church is actually the gathering of the people in worship but I have long believe that buildings do have a strong role to play in making the church visible and attractive. The journalist Canon Angela Tilby writing in the Church Times of 16th February 2024 wrote:

“It has become a widely held view that church buildings are an obstacle to the mission of the Church … For years, (she goes on to say) I have felt assaulted by the oft repeated little chant; “The Church is the people, not the building.” It is true that the NewTestament says nothing about church buildings, but it has quite a lot to say about people as a building, a temple, built on Christ.”

She is right in what she says but a much loved building whose foundations are deeply rooted in prayer does have something very special to offer the the community in which it is placed. 

Tilby goes on to say:

“Churches are signs of the holiness of God manifested in particular places, histories, memories. … There are good reasons that church buildings should be loved and preserved. After all, it is the building that bears witness to those who have lived and died in a particular place, and also signals continuity to those who have not yet been born.”

Again, her word echo my own thoughts and feelings. After the Covid19 lockdown I was overwhelmed by the number of local residents who thanked me that we kept the church garden and porch chapel open in those difficult times. Their words were also reflected in the numerous prayer request and comments left on the prayer board on the door. Words such as refuge, sanctuary, place of hope and calm were commonly used. I realised then how much this wee church building means to so many in the local environment. They may not choose to worship here but they certainly feel an ownership of the place and value the stability it offers in a changing world. It is a point of reference for more people than we could ever imagine. 

There will be those people locally, who look out to see that we are open on Sundays and Wednesdays for worship. Neighbours who watch you come to worship and who feel that you are representing them as well and who may say something to you if they don’t see you leave for church. We all worship not just for ourselves but for unseen or even unknown others who appreciate the fact that we do so, even if they are unable to do the same. 

Tilby continues:

“ A church building is the Gospel in wood, glass and stone. It witnesses to the risk of the incarnation: that God chose to dwell with us in a real time and a real place.”

This church building designed by Robert Lorimer to be a ‘country church in the city’  is certainly that but it is also so much more. It is the place God’s people can gather not only to worship but to enjoy each others company, to love and support each other. It is a place to laugh and cry in, a place to be silent and a place to raise a glass of fizz in celebration and in a spirit of fellowship and partying. 

For me this building is my much loved spiritual home. The place where I have laughed and wept, the place where I have comforted and been comforted, the place where I have listened to others and been listened to myself. This building, this congregation is part of my DNA and I suspect from what I know of you, that many of you feel the same. There are those times when, to be frank, you may have no idea why you are here or what it all means but still you are drawn in; and there will be those times when you are bowled over by the presence of God that you simply cannot speak. This for me is what a church building is all about. It is the place where we can be with God in a determined and specific way. Yes, God is always round us, in the wonderful Creation which have been given and share in but a building such as ours which is held together by prayer and love really is a holy place of God. 

Tilby concludes her article:

“People and place matter. Christianity is not just a religion of the Spirit. … a church is the memory of Christian presence. This does not mean that there are not times when there is no alternative, when it comes to mission, however, church buildings, far from being seen as an obstacle, should be celebrated for what they are: the threshold of faith.”

Those entering a church building for the first time will be aware of how much the place is, as I said before, prayed in and loved and it might just attract them to return and get to know it better and to explore what faith is all about as well. 

Those who dreamed of having a church in this bit of the city dreamed big and their dream became a reality. It is an unfinished dream both spiritually and physically. The dream of faith will never cease and we always have more to discover about God and our place in God’s love. This building was never completed, the money ran out and the tower and north aisle never appeared (and I say ‘Thanks be to God’ that, that was the case) but the gathering space that we have is perfect as it is, and I like the fact that it’s unfinished. For it speaks to me of the provisionality of life and faith There is always more to discover, create and do. 

Nothing should ever be set in stone or assumed to be the last word and a good building needs to grow and adapt organically if it is to survive as a place of worship and sanctuary in a community. Over the years the Good Shepherd has seen changes and not lest our recent decision to use the back of our church as our social gathering space and our plans for new cupboards to facilitate that gathering. Not only for our own use but for others from our local community who also love and value this place too.

The ‘church’ may not be the building but a good building can and does enhance everything a congregation may wish to do and as I believe, it can be an excellent tool for mission and witnessing to Christ in the bit of the kingdom it the congregation finds itself in. 

Let us be glad as we say; ‘this truly is the house of God’

Stone and brick,

mortar and wood,

glass and gathering space

symbols of:

prayer, commitment 

love and faith.

Vision and hope,

care and toil,

chat and comfort

all build 

the Kingdom of God

in this place.