Church for it’s various followers is both a sacred space and a community space. Transcendence and community are two sides of the same religious coin.
Growing up Catholic in London, England during the 50’s and 60’s I was very aware of the church as a sacred space. The antiquity of the churches exuded an atmosphere of age and stillness that enhanced the meditative spirit. The repetitive intoning of the liturgy at mass, in Latin and then English, induced a prayerful state of consciousness and belief in a creator.After decades of attending daily and weekly Catholic liturgies I had only to step into the church space to automatically transform my mind into meditative reflection.
At one point in time I used to attend daily mass. Daily mass at St. John of the Cross Church was held in a side altar, as only about thirty people attended. I remember on one occasion a woman attending daily mass with her very young baby. The baby cried and cried and I found myself unable to pray. So I approached the woman and asked if I could take the baby outside in the hallway. The woman gratefully handed me the baby and I walked up and down the corridor, outside the main church, clutching the baby to my chest with a slight rocking motion. The baby was soon fast asleep and I was able to return to praying. She entered the hallway after mass, accepted the baby while offering a heart felt thank you and proceeded on her way.
Sometime in the eighties the sense of the Catholic Church as a sacred space began to change. People sitting in church before mass would start to talk and exchange pleasantries on their week. The atmosphere was changed from one of prayerful reflection to a community hall setting. I used to spend some evenings in church before the tabernacle meditating on the life of Jesus for an hour. But I discontinued this practice as groups of people would come into the church, presumably from the church meeting rooms, and continue to chat, presumably still discussing their meeting. Call me old fashioned, but I think that the communal rooms of the church should be separated from the sacred space and its members act accordingly.
I left the Catholic Church because of the lack of credibility of the institutional hierarchy in regard to child abuse. My daughter left the Catholic Church because she was looking for community and could not find it in the Catholic Church. She now attends Grace Community Church which has a smaller congregation and lots of clubs and communal interaction. She finds the Sunday services very motivating.
My fourteen year old grandson attended some of the services of Grace Community Church but found it boring. He said it was just some guy dressed in jeans doing a lot of talking on stage. He asked if I would take him to Sunday Mass at the Catholic Church as he found this more inspiring. I had not attended Mass regularly for about ten years. So for the last six weeks we have been discovering together a new sense of the liturgy of the Catholic Church.
Different people have a different sense of church. Some like church to be a sacred space, infused with a sense of awe and wonder, to transcend our everyday experience and bring us closer to the divine. Others see church as a community with a shared sense of values and find the divine in supporting and motivating each other. Of course the Church is both Transcendent and Communal.