Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Barad-dur and the Multiplex

Life parodies art sometimes, and it's at it again. Over at RealClearChurch they're running through a list of "The Ugliest Churches in the World", and when they get to the former cathedral of the Diocese of Upper Michigan, perhaps I might be conceded a sense of relief at being able to say, "well, at least it isn't one of ours anymore." I don't know whether this cranky monument to bad 1960s modernism was the ugliest Episcopal building ever; surely there is some Brutalist blockhouse out there somewhere I've missed (though those were more likely to be Roman Catholic), but this is definitely in the category of "so determinedly peculiar they must either be churches or forgotten Yugoslavian war memorials".

OK, so the diocese of Northern Michigan, having failed to elected a Buddhist bishop, became one of several dioceses which had to close its cathedral. So they sold it off, and it was bought by an evangelical megachurch whose Average Sunday Attendance probably exceeds that of the entire Episcopal diocese. And part of the reason for this is that they built a whole new megachurch building right next to the ex-cathedral. It's in one of the currently fashionable "emergent" styles, which is to say it looks exactly like a ten screen cinema multiplex, hip to the point of having neither a cross nor even a name over the door. Instead, the church website's URL in shiny letters runs across the sleek aluminum sheathing of the entrance canopy.

I personally do not go to church for a "fun, relevant, genuine experience with God" (which is what you get in the multiplex sanctuary, apparently), but then what appears to be the difference between this and what happens in the "old" building is that the latter lacks "fun" and is "acoustic" (which does not apparently mean that the bigger space is an advance in sacred telepathy, but rather that the guitars are not amplified). Either way "relevance" appears to call for a large video display behind where the altar is/was. Where this leaves Anglicanism, I don't know. It was probably possible to have a decently Anglican service in the ex-cathedral in its former state, but everything about its new occupants screams to me that I will feel profoundly unwelcome and alienated there. On the other hand, I cannot honestly say that the multiplex church is ugly; it is merely a profoundly banal caricature of evangelical (as opposed to mainline) modernism. I think I would feel more prayerful in a corner of the parking lot, looking at whatever weed might have escaped the maw of the tractors it must take to mow the lawn there.

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