Ten years ago, the Spouse and I drove across Canada with our two small children. You might even say our too-small children. Blue was not yet two years old and Beangirl was only approaching her fourth birthday. These are not ideal conditions for a long road trip, but the Spouse had been offered a place in a university program overseas and we wanted to spend the summer with the British Columbian side of our family before that adventure began. So we packed the car and just after Easter, we left Ottawa, taking it slowly. Long drives in the car are taxing for little people, to say nothing of their patient parents, but even so, it took several days to settle into life of the road. We tried to establish good routines with games and stories in the car, regular stops for apple juice and coffee and nights spent camping with friends. We all got used to this new way of doing things and our days began to blur together.
Until we got to Winnipeg.
LOOKING FOR CHURCH
That Saturday night, we slept at the house of friend who is a minister, so in the morning we went to his church for worship. Except it wasn’t a church; it was a movie theatre. And a church. Our almost-four-year-old couldn’t stop laughing at the very idea.
But as soon as we stepped inside, both kids loved it. They loved the seats, the steps and the big open space at the front where the worship team gathered. They loved the different and familiar feel of the place. The Spouse and I loved the welcome, the message and the surprise of that vibrant, faithful community’s new take on sacred space. This was completely different from our home church with its neo-gothic columns and blue stained-glass windows, but it felt open and right.
Heading west, we kept our eyes open for other kinds of churches. Sometimes, they are easy to spot. From the highway, we could see spires and onion domes. Churches made of wood and brick, painted churches, peeling churches and bright shiny new churches, too. As we passed by, we imagined the people who met there. We wondered how they decided what to build and where to build it. And what these places made them remember and what they inspired.
When we reached the coast, we met up with a friend at the Vancouver School of Theology which is a real castle of a building, and he showed us the simple chapel inside and the brick labyrinth in the gardens. These felt like more churches for our collection, more surprising places set aside for prayer.
HOME AND AWAY
Our final church on that long road west was a small Presbyterian church in Nanaimo. This was where the Spouse had grown up and where his parents still worshipped. It’s a beautiful church and I love its sanctuary windows which look out on pine trees and its wide wooden rafters that curve up above your head like the timbers of a ship. For the rest of the summer, we worshipped there each Sunday, learning new hymns and new patterns of praise.
For the Spouse, that trip was a slice of home before a longer journey. For me, it was the start of the journey itself. Sitting in that church – in the nave of that sanctuary – it felt right to think about both refuge and navigation. Every church might have its own style, its own habits and symbols, but whatever shape our buildings take and wherever we have chosen to build them, they remind us that, as worshipping communities, we are called to return to the One who give us rest and to seek his company and direction for the journey ahead.
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