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St Johns Southgate

07 Aug 2019

A place with that certain something

One day, when I was a teenager, I snuck into an abandoned factory. It seemed like it would be a bit of a naughty adventure and, as it turned out, it was a bit of a thrill.

There was a really creepy vibe to the place. While it was totally deserted and deathly quiet, the low lighting, graffiti-collaged walls and broken-glass-covered concrete floor gave the building eyes and made it feel like someone was breathing down my neck. In the end though, it wasn’t a scene from a horror movie, so I got home in one piece.

But why did that old factory feel the way it did? Maybe it’s because, if the walls could talk, they’d have stories to tell. Perhaps it’s not about the aesthetic of the building at all, but rather the people and their stories that have seeped into the mortar.

While there are truly unnerving places, or places like historical battlefields or concentration camps that seem to have a residual exhalation of pain and suffering floating in the air, there are also places that harbour a positive presence. In the same way that the scary can hang around, the sacred can be felt in a place just as profoundly.

Sacred spaces, like the church I serve at, do have a feeling of presence. Not primarily because of sad, bad or difficult happenings, but because baptisms, weddings, funerals and everything in between have taken place there. It is the life-giving-meaning stories of individuals, couples and families that make the space what it is. But the real potency and holiness comes from what the faithful would call the presence of God. Interestingly, it’s the presence of God – the God who died on the cross as Jesus of Nazareth – that intermingles the air of the spooky with the atmosphere of the sacred. In other words, it’s the costliness that gives a place its colour.

Whether it’s the sweat of the factory worker that has stained the concrete, the lash of the prison guard that has marked the wall, or the joyful baptismal waters that have splashed the carpet, the ingredient that gives spice to the recipe is cost. It is the price of something that gives a place its profundity. It’s the sacrifice that makes something sacred. And the sacred space that is the church, is stained – not just in its glass – but by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. At St Johns Southgate, you can’t help but notice it. The huge river redgum cross – that ancient instrument of torture – demands your attention as soon as you walk in the door, making the cost of God’s presence among us abundantly clear. The sacrificial gift of Jesus mingles with every personal story that scribbles a paragraph at St Johns, and together they make the space sacred.

The next time you find yourself either awed by a place that has that certain intangible thing, or find yourself a little creeped out somewhere, take a moment to think of the lingering storied presence – be it human or divine – that gives it that quality.

Tom Hoffmann - Pastor

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