A chair is still a chair
Even when there's no one sitting there
But a chair is not a house
And a house is not a home
When there's no one there to hold you tight
And no one there you can kiss good night
- from “A House is Not a Home” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
So if a chair is still a chair, how about a church? Just over ten years ago, a final mass was celebrated at St. Bridget’s Cathedral, which was dedicated in 1875. The parish moved a block away and the building lay dormant until the Rochester Christian Church Ministries acquired it, with plans to turn it into a performing arts center. They might want to look west for inspiration. A 19th century church on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo was saved from the wrecking ball and turned into a performance space, gallery and offices. As you might guess from the name of the place – Babeville - Ani Difranco was a driving force behind the project. Her record label, Righteous Babe, is now headquartered there.
Walking in must feel strange for people who remember it as a church. But at least it’s still there. I sometimes drive past my childhood home in Bristol. Another family lives there now. They moved in years ago, leaving another house behind for some other family, and so on. For all the emotion we attach to wood and brick, buildings are just containers.
Flesh and bone aren’t much different.
“We all think that everyone else lives in fortresses, in fastnesses: behind moats, behind sheer walls studded with spikes and broken glass. But in fact we inhabit much punier structures. We are, it turns out, all jerry-built. Or not even. You can just stick your head under the flap of the tent and crawl right in. If you get the ok.”
- from “Time’s Arrow” by Martin Amis
No ok yet from the folks at St. Bridget’s. The doors are padlocked.
Sometimes our puny structures need renovation. When the purpose we’re built for ebbs away, when we’ve laid empty long enough, we scrape our insides out and start over.
Maybe the past itself can be refurbished. Maybe we can take certain moments – ones that make us feel guilty or lonesome – and retrofit them, put them to a different use. Maybe they can somehow become, to borrow a phrase from the Babeville website, “no longer simply a static reminder of bygone glory, but a promise of things to come.”