Jesus builds his church of people, not brick and mortar. Yet, congregations almost always meet in a building for worship. While in some places, churches meet in fields or parks or under trees, most meet in or under a structure of some kind, be it a home, a hall, a pavilion, or a building dedicated to use as a church meeting place.
The edifice does not comprise the church, but the way in which the people arrange and care for its meeting place often says something about what is in the heart of the church. We can neglect and let it fall into disrepair and prove ineffective, or we can over-care for our properties such that they become priorities unto themselves.
The church is all about communion with God and his people. Thus, we should ask, does the place in which we meet help to facilitate people meeting God and his people? Does it help to remove barriers to fellowship with God and man and does it facilitate and nurture fellowship? As the church grows, what changes need to be made so that the facility in which it meets serves well?
I’m very thankful to serve with deacons and elders who ask these questions well and find creative ways to answer them for the good of God’s people. God blesses his church through wise and creative administration, and we should pray for those with such responsibility.
A Few Random Historical Observations
Looking to the history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, it is fascinating to me to see how building styles reflected the needs of the day. The earliest church meeting house structures that remain, at least are simple, Greek-revival style meeting houses. Later, as larger structures were needed, the Gothic-revival style structure became more prominent in the denomination. Later, Sunday school style buildings were built, and now a variety of more modern buildings dot the landscape of the denomination.
As far as I know, the oldest still-standing church buildings built by Reformed Presbyterians are as follows (corrections welcome), and all are the same design:
1831 - Barnet, Vermont
1838 - Coldenham, New York
1842 - Grafton, Nova Scotia
1844 - Lisbon, New York
1853 - Vernon, Wisconsin
1861 - Southfield, Michigan
1871 - Lochiel, Ontario
For history’s sake, what follows is a brief account of the construction of the Southfield, Michigan Reformed Presbyterian Church building (pictured above). It was written in 1915 by Miss Mary Thompson. The construction cost was $2100.00 when the building was completed in 1861. Pews were soon rented out for $8.00 each at auction. Adherents could be given discounted rates, and some pews were kept rent-free for visitors:
Joseph Torrens, son of Francis and Mary Torrens, was born in the township of Rahn, County Donegal, Ireland, April 4, 1828, and died in Southfield, Michigan, February 20, 1864. His parents were life-long members of the Covenanter church of Gortlee, Ireland. He came to America when he was about sixteen years of age with his older brother David and his sister’s family, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Keyes, later of Detroit.
As a young man, Joseph Torrens had strong religious and intellectual tendencies and began to prepare himself in the theological school to be a Covenanter minister. Some time later he realized that his health would not allow him to follow an indoor life, consequently, he gave up studying.
Next, he served seven years as an apprentice, learning carpentering and contracting in Detroit. He often attended church in Southfield and there met his future wife, Miss Elizabeth McKinney, daughter of Jas. McKinney, in 1861.
When the bids for the building of the second Covenanter church building were received in 1861, Joseph Torrens was found to be the lowest. So low that he himself said: “I know that I will not make anything, but I want to leave something for people to look at and think of me sometimes when I am gone.” No tithing here, but all. No hope of great reward kept Joseph Torrens at his work, yet how carefully he planned and put together each part as eternity drew near. The heavy work and anxiety hastened his disease. At last it was finished and he rested in his little cabin in the church yard. Soon his health gave way and he was unable to even sit up. James McKinney came, loaded the cabin, and with Mrs. Torrens walking behind driving the cow, Joseph Torrens took his last look at his great gift to his fellows and to his God. For a hero, one need look no farther. When you see the church, think of the builder buried beside it.
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