In mid-August I attended the grand opening of the new Al-Farooq Masjid in midtown Atlanta, a complex that includes gardens, fountains, a school and a 46,000-square-foot prayer hall with room for 1,800 worshipers. Along with other guests, I admired the hand-painted dome, the carved stonework, and the custom-made carpet with individual prayer spaces woven in, all pointing toward Mecca.
Dozens of children chattered with excitement in a space where the faithful of the former Heights United Presbyterian Church once raised their voices in worship. The pews were gone, and the sanctuary had become a youth-club basketball court in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Robert Brashear, a New York City pastor, rubs his fingers against the 117-year-old walls of his church, and a shower of red dust sprinkles the sidewalk. Above him, scaffolding protects pedestrians from falling 20-pound chunks of sandstone.
The soaring cost of keeping the sanctuary warm this winter has congregations fretting.
“People are very worried,” said consultant Andrew Rudin, who’s been advising houses of worship on energy conservation for 30 years. “We’ve never had so much business.” Rudin, of Philadelphia’s Interfaith Coalition on Energy, consults with congregations in Philadelphia and beyond on energy costs.
When Christians in one body instinctively mourn with the mourners in another, or rejoice with the rejoicers, we see the ecumenical spirit at work. We Protestants did not mourn the deaths of Popes Pius XI and XII, but we did spontaneously join in lamenting Pope John XXIII’s death. Today is another lamentation day.
Scripture assures us that “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” But pastors and lay leaders end up spending a lot of time fussing with the church structures—the “physical plant,” as we have learned to call it.