Sacred Space in Christianity
News reports this week announced the reopening of places of worship on 15 June, in line with non-essential shops. Christian leaders welcomed the news but Muslim, Jewish and other faith leaders were not happy with the restriction to private prayer only, explaining that for them worship is a communal, not a private, act and that places of worship are simply buildings.
Sacred space in the Christian faith has a fractured history. In the beginning, the followers of ‘The Way’, as the first Christians were known, gathered in the homes of those with enough room to hold a party. The simplicity and hospitality of early house churches has attracted growing young Christian communities around the world since the late 20thcentury. Purpose-built churches – ‘houses of the Lord’ do not appear until three centuries after the time of Jesus.
By the beginning of the next millennium there was a wave of cathedral-building and construction of smaller parish churches across Western Europe. Besides serving as places of worship, cathedrals and parish churches were gathering-places for the communities in which they were located, hosting guild meetings, banquets, mystery plays, and fairs. Church grounds and buildings were also used for the threshing and storage of grain.
For the past decade St Peter’s has regularly opened the church building as a place for private prayer, alongside community prayers and public worship. Many people, of all faiths and none, value the stillness, the resonance of prayer left by generations crying out and giving thanks, witnessing life in all its forms.
The Church of England has produced comprehensive guidelines for the re-opening of church buildings. Parishes are being advised to re-open for private prayer only when it is deemed safe to do so. The Parochial Church Council (PCC) is setting up a Covid-19 working group to co-ordinate the unlocking of St Peter’s over the coming weeks and months.
As we give thanks this week for our communion in community at St Peter’s, we remember our communion with hurting peoples in so many places around the world. In the wake of BLM demonstrations, this Sunday will be the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Churches across London have been asked to ring bells 72 times for the victims of the fire at 6pm; a two-minute silence will follow, ended by 3 rings, one for each year since the fire.
On 28 June, St Peter’s will celebrate its Petertide ‘patronal’ festival. The customary BBQ with bring-and-share lunch, a flower festival, concert and launch of a new art project Stations of Creation will not be taking place. Please send a postcard from quarantine (virtual/real) to share news of how you and your loved ones are surviving.
Rev’d Julia Porter-Pryce
St Peter De Beauvoir