Sunday, March 15, 2009

More Than a Building

It took this line in today's newspaper (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH) to get me to start my own blog. I've read it a million of times before when a church closes ... it goes like this ... "This building is a beautiful building. A magnificent building. But the bottom line is, it isn't the church. We are." The article quotes the well-intentioned Rev. John Weigand pastor at the eventually closing century-old St. James Church on Cleveland's west side suburb of Lakewood, OH. 

I have to admit, I am a more devout church architecture student (catholic churches to be exact) than I am a church goer.

As a kid growing up in Ashtabula, OH (think small town Ohio), I attended both a Catholic grade school (Mother of Sorrows) and high school. So, needless to say, I was in Church --- a lot. Add to that, I was an altar boy -- a very devout one. In fact, the pastor of my parish told me he would be the altar boy at my first mass. I didn't become a priest, but my experience as a altar boy was amazing. Why, because I got to spend a lot of time in this stunning structure -- a building -- a church. (See vintage postcard of the interior of Mother of Sorrows from the early 1900s above.)

Oftentimes, I would sneak into the church on a Saturday, or after school, with my cheap camera and snap away at the windows, arches, statues, etc. For me, the building was creative inspiration. For me, looking at and studying the building was as much of a prayer to god as would be if I had knelt in a pew to pray. It was a connection without words.

So, I will end my first post with that. Sure, buildings are buildings. But churches -- especially OLD churches -- are more than that ... just ask any 8 year old.

Mother of Sorrows Church | 1464 W. 6th Street | Ashtabula, OH 44004


  1. Chip, thank you for sharing this blog with me.
    I , too, am in awe of the architectural beauty of these buildings. They are one of the greatest forms of art that we have to enjoy. Like music and paintings...all that are created in the name of God ... seem to be, somehow, more amazing and inspiring .
    I believe that the way the church goes, so goes the neighborhood. I , also, believe that we have a moral obligation to preserve these monuments to God. They are the vision, blood sweat and tears of many.They are a visual reminder of our past and comforting memories of our families and their journey from the "old countries"
    We are the only country that destroys buidlings. People travel all over Europe seeking out buildings such as these so they can feel a part of history... feel like they are a part of something bigger.. and here we are tearing them down. Or worse yet, leaving them to crumble and be a reminder that , yet another , neighborhood has deteriorated.
    Again.. thanks for starting this.. what a great idea.

  2. "The building isn't the church. The people are the church ..."

    Sure, try using that timeworn old line on the people FROM these majestic old sacred places that will be just shuttered and LEFT-TO-ROT, while they're herded off elsewhere like sheep. Baaaaahhhhh.

    Take a clue from Buffalo NY, where the historic churches have been sacked and looted en masse over the last 15 years, and especially over the last few:

    There's your future, Cleveland.

    The bottom line is ... well, the bottom line. The diocese can't afford to maintain these churches anymore (or perhaps, afford them while continuing to live the lifestyle to which they've become accustomed - the bishop in Buffalo lives in a million-dollar mansion.
    What about in Cleveland?) So, as the writer in the St. Ann's article said, "Dear patrons thank you for your patronage you can find your heritage in the trash as you leave."

    IT'S NOT just a building. It's a heritage, an identity, indeed a history both familial and very personal, a morass of memories and lives lived out, families and cultures that are sacred and special to so many people, and a sense of reverent loyalty among the parishioners who never quite expected that loyalty to be thrown back into their faces because certain churches don't collect enough in the plate anymore, or the neighborhood has gone through too many "undesirable" changes. But they'll be treated like commodities once again - something to shuffle about when the bottom line calls for it. Sort of like being laid off - a permanent layoff from your spiritual home sweet home.

    Take your heritage into your own hands, Cleveland, or blogs like this one might be all you have left of it.

    Preservation organizations have been formed in cities such as Buffalo and Detroit, and even in one small town that I know of, which have been able to take control of some of these closed churches and save them as continuing places of worship, as well as museums of both ethnic heritage and sacred art. No, they can't save every single closed church, if only they could -- but even if they save some of them and keep their historical character and cultural identity intact (as well as being one LESS source of blight), that's something ... and it sends a message. Start thinking about it now, Cleveland ... what will you do??

  3. I understand the catholic population is declining. But this Bisop Benedict Arnold has made wrong decisions on what churches are to close and why. He gives no sound rhyme or reason. Would it it not make more sense to to keep the larger churches open and have the smaller churches merge? You than have a full house. the way he is doing it is going to overcrowd the smaller churches. There are some exceptions to the rule. like st. pats in Westpark. For god's sake they have a cemetery there!!! If he closed the right church in Lakewood it would have been St. Clements. There tan would have been on church on each major street in Lakewood