"The Use and Abuse of Sacred Space" by John Bell

                     "The Use and Abuse of Sacred Space" by John Bell


On Sunday 6 November we were pleased to welcome John Bell to talk about "The Use and Abuse of Sacred Space". The event had been well publicised and there were a number of visitors as well as a good turnout from members of Craigsbank. This was one of a range of events planned for CB50, the anniversary of fifty years of the sanctuary.

John interspersed a very interesting and though-provoking talk with hymns. He is of course well known for his hymn writing and these were ones he had written for the Iona Community. The first


was "In Christ we live and in Christ we die and in Christ we rise up again" and the other was "The House of God is our delight: it's faith is strong, its future bright." Although these hymns were new to some people the tunes were catchy and easy to pick up. The words were very meaningful. 

In his talk John covered a lot of different aspects of churches and church life. Everybody will have taken something different back from the talk so what is written here is only a sample of what was said. 

He spoke about a 'self-fulfilling rumour' and explained what this was and how it could be detrimental to churches. For example if the word got round that no young people went to a certain church then even if that was not true it would become true because the rumour itself would put young people off coming. He used an illustration of a church where supposedly the congregation were not good at singing. So if you liked singing you presumably wouldn't go to that church. What he was in essence telling us was that it's important what we say about our own church as  it strongly influences how others see us to the extent it could put them off coming to the church.

John pointed out that the Church in general has always been resistant to any form  of change in the way things are run. He quoted a passage from Ezra about a new temple being built and how some people preferred the old temple and were distraught at having this new temple. He also gave an example from 1895 about resistance to the installation of an organ in a church in Kilmarnock and the devious method by which this resistance was overcome. 

He said that churches like any other buildings had to be fit for purpose. He gave examples of stations not fit for purpose (eg Penn Station NY) and said different churches had different purposes and the building sent out a clear message of what the particular church considered important. A Quaker meeting house would be much simpler than other types of church. However all churches should reflect the beauty of God.

He spoke about Craigsbank and what the building said to him. He said firstly it was very difficult to find the entrance. He had come on foot and when he approached the church he saw a notice saying 'Keep Left' so had actualy walked round the whole of the building to get to the entrance! It is not ideal to have a church with a hidden entrance. He secondly said that he thought the sanctuary was not an appropriate place for the triptych because the triptych was saying to people that the church lived in the past rather than looked to the future (or even lived in the present). I suppose we were in a way in danger of unwittingly creating a 'self-fulfilling rumour' and saying to people Craigsbank's best days were in the past. That would put people off wanting to come.

As you can see John was quite outspoken but it was good that he was so because it helps us look at things in a new way and that is important in church life.

After the talk there was a chance to socialise when tea and coffee were offered at the back of the sanctuary. It was good to have a chance to talk to new people. But one final thought (inspired by John Bell's talk) - the tea and coffee were all served by ladies and the washing-up done by ladies. This is 2016 and men and women now share these tasks. Is the church perhaps still living in the past?