In today’s Gospel, the professional fishermen who followed Jesus caught nothing all night, but at His word they lowered their nets again and they hauled in huge numbers of fish.
Every pastor wants to fill the nets and gather in the sheep, by hook or by crook, but the question is, how is that done?
When we look at the data, some surprising truths emerge.
Researchers recently decided to study why young people become Christians, and one particular statistic seemed strange, because it pointed to the effect of Church architecture on young people.
Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the figures.
The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith.
Jimmy Dale, the Church of England’s national youth evangelism officer, said his team had been “shocked” by the results. (More here.)
Some might say that visiting a Church as a tourist is not a very community-oriented reason for becoming Christian, but I disagree. Ecclesial art is very communal. It puts us in contact with other Christians who are our brothers and sisters, even though we may be separated from us from them by centuries of earthly life. They put their faith in stone, in a way that the Scriptures use as a symbol of the Church itself, with Jesus variously as the cornerstone or the capstone. “You too are living stones,” the great cathedrals seem to say. At least, this is the message young people are receiving.
Problematically, however, the great cathedrals often obscure this message with various kinds of “updating.” For example, some of the stunning early Gothic churches in Paris on the banks of the Seine have large cubes of stone standing in their sanctuaries as completely incongruous modern altars. Other churches have carelessly placed microphones and cords and digital pianos amid the pricelessly effective evangelical spaces of Europe. Worst of all is the practice of posting disposable flyers in the primary colors and cartoonish shapes of eurotrash art, advertising this or that expensive, ineffective, “pastoral” initiative.
There is room in the Church, of course, for new art. Some of those same early Gothic churches have layers and layers of paintings, either stenciling or figurative, and some better than others. It is not one generation that builds the great cathedrals. In the exceptional case of the Cologne Cathedral, the integrated work of the exquisite, unified building spanned six centuries.
There is always room for more great art.