The door of a church is more than simply a way inside. It is a symbol of baptism, marriage, death, heaven. It is the symbol of entering into the eternal union with God, and it is, when one is outside it, symbolic of the loss of community.
Cathedral doors are incredible structures. The massive wood and metal doors themselves are surrounded by stone arches, sculpture, art work. They are high enough for giants. Thousands of people may enter through those doors for a single event. They are a symbol of God’s triumph, of Christ’s entering and leaving this earth, and taking us with Him to life everlasting.
I have been noticing church doors here in Iowa City. Some of the old doors are ornate and beautiful, works of art and engineering. Others have been modified to include a small airlock entry to keep drafts out in the winter, and keep air-conditioning in through the summer. Chipboard, plywood: seemingly temporary structures overshadowing the door behind it. They make me anxious, as if entry to the church now requires a test, a holding place, a narthex before the narthex. Practical ugliness replaces open beauty.
Side entrances and “new” doors are often steel, reinforced glass, locked with mechanisms. They don’t have obvious doorknobs or latches. I approach them and wonder if it is a pull or push situation. They are glum, industrial portals, with no character, a resigned modern patch on an historic structure.
One church we visited lately had actually closed off their main doors; the narthex had been turned into a tiny meditation space. If a visitor was not prepared, or came to the building from the other side, it would seem impossible to get in the building, as the obvious doors are no longer functional.
I really don’t like this trend. I have never liked locking churches, and having them vacant most of the week. My vision of the church is that of a place where people want to be, where they are comfortable meeting, working, talking and visiting as well as a place where they come for prayer and sacrament. Medieval churches were like this; markets were held in their precinct. People took shelter, courted, made plans, rested, and viewed the art they enclosed. Priests, clerks and monastics were available for prayer, discussion, instruction and advice. Schools were conducted, music made. the dedicated were there for prayer all day and night. The church was sanctuary, Pilgrims ate and slept there.
I doubt if we can return to that ordered use of churches and the Church until we are willing to give up our ownership of those buildings and institutions, and return them to God.
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