Tag Archives: Architecture

Living with what used to be

It was a large square brick building painted grey, about six stories high. It used to be some sort of a manufacturing company, at least that is what I gathered from the remnants of the painted sign on the facade. The days for productivity for this building are over, at least that is what I gathered from the boards over all of the windows, or at least where the windows used to be.

I wondered what was inside this old building. Was it completely empty, or where there still remnants of its previous life? Was there still equipment that could tell stories about how materials were transformed into something useful?

Living in a hard-hit rust-belt city, I have learned a new vocabulary. The vocabulary of “used to be”. This used to be a factory. That used to be a warehouse. Those used to be railroad tracks. There used to be jobs. We used to have hope.

The language of “used to be” is the language of no longer. It is the language of the past, it is the language without much of a future.

People also use this language about themselves. I used to have a job. I used to have a home. I used to have a family. I used to have a future. It is language of despair. Of things gone wrong.

I wonder exactly what this building used to be, and who used to be there.

I continued walking by many other used-to-be’s. This looked like it used to be a beautiful house. That looks like is used to be a corner store.

I walked down the next block and I saw what I thought were used-to-be’s but as I came closer, I saw that they are the “are-nows” — things which used to be something useful and have been transformed into something else useful. I stopped and looked at the new-found sight. I saw was used to be a tannery complex, but is now refurbished space for offices, social service agencies, and commercial space. All of this just a few blocks down from a sea of used-to-be’s.

I think about myself, and I see a lot of used-to-be. It’s hard to identify as a used-to-be. It cuts deep into one’s soul as one reflects on what and who one used to be, but is no longer. It is a great sense of loss, it involves grief, and it can involve a bleak future. Many days I feel like I am running in a hamster wheel forced to watch a never ending film of all that I used to be.

I begin to wonder if perhaps the used-to-be’s are more than just this. Perhaps they are actually “could-be’s.” Those things which used to be something but are simply waiting to be transformed into something else useful.

This is why I identify as a Christian. When I read scripture, I hear one message over and over: God telling the used-to-be’s that they are actually the could-be’s and that one day they will be the are-nows.

Sitting In My Office

Every day when I come to church, I walk in the main door, and I walk in the back of the sanctuary.  From there I walk all the way to the front of the sanctuary to where my office is, and I sit down and start working.  At first it feels kind of strange to have an office right off the sanctuary.  This is particularly so in times like this when churches are becoming assimilated into the corporate organizational mindset and have office wings or annexes or even office buildings.

Not my church.  I pastor a small inner city church.  Our church building was a Presbyterian church and was built in the early 1930s, with all of the wonderful classic Reformed architecture.  The pastor’s office was probably placed right off the sanctuary so that the minister could go right from his (they were all his-es at that time) office to the front of the sanctuary, a pretty utilitarian purpose.  In fact, I still take advantage of this proximity, I don’t have to traipse all around the church in my robe before worship (Yes, I wear a robe, I’ll write about that another time).

But the placement of my office right off of the sanctuary is also meaningful to me because the sanctuary is the first thing that I see when I come in, and I walk through it multiple times per day.  It is hard for me to slip into this idea that I run a business or that I am a coporate executive.  I am a pastor, I lead a congregation.  Worship is the focal point of what a church is, and therefore it is the focal point of my life as a pastor.

Many days I like to spend some time and just sit in the sanctuary. It helps me to refocus my understanding of my role.  I am not the executive of a corporation, I am a Minister of Word and Sacrament, called to lead this community to love God, and to love others, which must all be centered in worship.  It’s fitting then, that I see the sanctuary and go through the sanctuary multiple times per day, it reminds me of the purpose of my calling.