praying in church
Travelling and at home, one of the differences between Roman Catholic and Anglican church buildings that has become a noticeable pattern to me is that if one goes into a Roman Catholic church building it would be very rare to find one where there isn’t someone praying; if one goes into an Anglican church building it would be very rare to find one where there is someone praying.

It is so predictable, if you were a betting person it could be something you could bet on prior to going into the building. “Let’s go into Our Lady, Star of the Sea – I bet we’ll find people praying in there.” “Let’s go into St Mary’s – I bet we won’t find anyone praying in there.”

OK – you are now going to debate with me, “what do you mean by prayer?” Fair point. If you want to score points, rather than think this through more deeply.

Go into an Anglican church building and you are likely to be presented with a brochure on the church building’s architecture, history, and its famous windows… Go into a Roman Catholic church building and there are brochures on prayer, confession, the sacraments…

OK – you are now going to point out that walking around, looking at the windows, while the organist practises the coming Sunday’s voluntary, can be a very prayerful experience. Fair point. If you want to continue scoring points.

I’m talking about people often spending half an hour or more say in front of the Blessed Sacrament, or praying their rosary, or other quiet, prayerful, contemplative disciplines. Not to mention weekday services – no prizes for guessing which denomination has the larger congregations.

OK – maybe Anglicans are more disciplined in their individual devotional life at home, you might point out? Committed to the Daily Office (a la Cranmer’s vision for a reformed church)… If our buildings are to be a house of prayer for only one hour in the 168 hours in a week – can we justify them?!…

Sure – I’ve visited exceptions – an empty Roman Catholic church building; an Anglican church building committed to being a house of prayer on weekdays, not just an hour a week, on Sundays. But they are precisely that: exceptions. Exceptions, that surprise me.

[Let’s not even get into, on this thread, church buildings only open one hour a week!]

I’m convinced that the future of the church lies with our life of prayer, our contemplative dimension, our relationship with God. Half a century ago the great theologian, Karl Rahner, said, “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.” That’s our future: a community of contemplatives – or no Christian community at all.

The point of this post is to get some reflection, some discussion going, about the place of prayer and contemplation, together and alone, and how we use our church buildings to encourage and facilitate that. What do you think?

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