Last Saturday we had an amazing experience - we used Solar House for the first time. We held a day conference for leaders within St Bs. All sorts of people gathered: leaders of ministries, leaders of teams, leaders of missional communities. The day was packed with a full agenda of teaching and training. But what we hadn't anticipated was the remarkable effect that being in this building had on us. There we were gathering in what will become our new home for the first time and starting to imagine the future for St Barnabas.
Most poignant of all was a time of worship. Someone commented to me afterwards that it felt completely different to worshipping at St Bs. In one respect we had far more room. About 110 of us were gathered in a room that would've comfortably seated two or three times that number. Yet counter-intuitively the worship felt more intimate, more connected both to God and to each other. The ceiling is much lower than at St Bs, but because of the large windows on all sides, it didn't feel the least bit oppressive. Quite the contrary, we could all see each other, move around, participate, with no dark corners to lurk in.
Architecture has subtle effects on us. It communicates values, ethos and even beliefs to us. The current St Barnabas is a beautiful building especially on the inside. However it communicates a theology that is contrary to the core beliefs and values of our church. Its neo-gothic architecture screams at us that God is awesome but distant, that he reveals himself in mystery, and that faith is a private affair. And to an extent all this is true. But we at St Bs have chosen to emphasise other aspects of our faith - that God is close and loving, that he can be known intimately, and that we undertake our journey of faith together in community. As such, ever since I've been at St Bs, I've found myself battling against the architecture, desperately wanting to tell a different story to the one echoing around those noble arches.
Whilst I love our current building and will sorely miss her ethereal splendour, there is no doubt that this type of architecture is sharply at odds with evangelical charismatic spirituality. Worshipping for the first time within Solar House, even though it is currently quite an unattractive and unmodified office block, felt like St Barnabas was finally coming home.