In my Century lectionary column for this week, I wrote about Zephaniah 1 and 1 Thessalonians 5, with their shared theme of the “day of the Lord.” Zephaniah’s account is particularly fearsome, and it serves as important background for the medieval liturgical text “Dies Irae.”
I chose to focus on these passages because they are hard to hear. Initially they seem so alien, and yet on second reflection, their scenes of destruction are so terribly familiar.
From Britain to Denmark, Europe has hundreds of empty churches. The closing of a church is painful—especially in villages where the church for centuries served as a community anchor, even for unbelievers. Efforts are often made to adapt the buildings for a community service, such as a library. Because they are very expensive to maintain, empty churches are more frequently turned into some kind of commercial endeavor. The Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, still owned by the Catholic Church, has been turned into a skate park. The Netherlands has the largest number of idle church buildings. Roman Catholic leaders in Holland estimate that within a decade two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be closed, and 700 of the country’s Protestant churches will likely close over the next four years (Wall Street Journal, January 2).