tonight is why I pray for churches, this is why I make a simple request, this is why I beg the custodians of congregations, and the cleaners of buildings: unlock the church doors in your city. and leave the doors unlocked. Just like in the movies, for those in distress, for those on the sidewalks, those watching for snow, wondering where to sleep. For those without a home.
And, for those who want to pray.
tonight, I am a business owner, a father of a profoundly happy family, with keys to a house with several rooms and soundly built on an ample piece of land. The state of the business compels me to the office on a Saturday night. I’ve been under the weather, I lost a day of work, I’m behind at work because of the holidays, bills are always due, invoices are going out, proposals are expected that will keep the operations possibly afloat, and I worry about steady debt and invisible progress. While I sit at the desk, my phone rings, because my mother has brain cancer and her condition is changing and she is being transported and my family and their associates are reviewing the details, and we are praying for each other.
there is so much prayer, but there is no quiet.
in my own mind is most of the noise. I watch Netflix, I use audio books, I listen to the air conditioning to keep the activity still, I push my phone a little bit farther away so that the technical ring tones will be less concussary.
i want to pray, and I want to call out and I want to sit still and listen, but these really aren’t options. I’m not getting much work done.
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i stepped outside, I made a long walk around the block to try church doors. Our office is downtown, it’s pedestrian friendly, sidewalks are comfortable and well known, the traffic adheres to the street signals. Walking is easy.
episcopals have a light on, but the door is locked, expected. No use trying the Presbyterians. I honestly thought the Catholics would be open. In my imagination, all the churches on screen are Catholic, and they’re always open – isn’t there a Saturday evening mass? Even the Catholic church was locked. I walked by our own church, in the warehouse district, it doesn’t look like a church, of course it’s locked for security reasons, no windows anyway, but I checked just in case.
i passed several bars, pubs, all drawing the early crowd, plenty of room, plenty of light. No one knows my name. Too casual. Passed my regular coffee shop where everyone does know my name, but I just brewed a pot at the office and I’d have to put on a happy face. Two gay bars are open, lights on, discreet entrances, not my scene and not a house of prayer, but possibly the only places someone could feel welcome on a circuit like this on a night like tonight.
to be at the office is to be at work, or to procrastinate toward such, and to work is to pray though off topic from my heart. To be at home would be with my family who would have every ounce of me while we’re awake and I would not pray until I closed my eyes to sleep, and then only through half of the Lord’s prayer until fatigue and peace won the end of the day.
but the church is called the house of prayer. Or a closet with a door might do the trick, if one could be found that doesn’t have cell service or Wi-Fi. Today is when we need the church. I don’t know if I need a pastor, some days I do and some I don’t. I don’t know if I need community, it seems to flee from me as soon as I embrace it. I love the communion table, and yet I am tempted by superstition. Sunday School education seems to be out of style in the modern times. I want for a chapel, but that is a part of a whole. I need a church. I need a place to pray.
when Jesus went to the house of prayer, He turned the tables over. When He went to the garden, He was taken away by soldiers. Yes, we look to Him when we weep and when we try to keep awake for one more hour. Yes, we know He hears us through groans. We’re not afraid of impropriety or of ineffective communication. But we are forgetful, and I am anxious, and I am always distracted.
This is an excerpt from a manuscript in development, Build this Church, by Andy Osterlund.
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Andrew Osterlund is President and Lead Architect at AOArch. He has lived and worked in Architecture in Raleigh since 1998, building and drawing from a broad base of project experience, including city-scale mixed-use development, retail, religious and institutional projects. @aoarch