“Neil Oliver says we need sacred places and that if we want to find a sacred place, then Glastonbury is hard to beat.”
“Which bit of Glastonbury does he mean, up on the Tor where you can see the roofs of the industrial estates and Hinckley Point on the horizon or down amongst the wacko shops?”
“You know what I mean, there is something different about Glastonbury.”
“There is, and I love going there and enjoying the atmosphere, but I’m not sure that makes it sacred.”
Arriving early for a funeral and slipping into a pew near the back, there was an opportunity to ponder what might be meant by “sacred.” Were churches sacred places?
Looking up at peeling paint and cobwebs, there didn’t seem much sense of sacredness in the building. It would have cost nothing to have put a long-handled feather duster around the place, and not much more to have put some white paint on the worst parts of the walls. Perhaps the worshippers would regard the sense of the sacred as something within and would have been less concerned with its outward appearance, but if the place is to be sacred, then surely a modicum of care is in order? A bit of care would ensure that some of the accumulated clutter was removed, that out of date notices were removed, that furniture was not left lying around, that wilted flowers were thrown out, that tidiness was thought a virtue. It wouldn’t take much effort to make many places more presentable, if they are thought “sacred,” wouldn’t that be desirable?
Worse than medieval churches with peeling paint and cobwebs are medieval churches that have been reshaped according to the tastes of a vicar whose name will be “Steve, or Dave, or Spike” and who wears a pale blue shirt and chinos. Shiny floors have been laid over centuries old flag stones, wooden pews have been replaced by chairs in garish colours, electronic monitors have been installed so everyone can follow what the leader tells them. The empowerment of common prayer has been replaced by the power of the worship leader and the praise group, the liturgy of the people has been superseded by the cult of the pastor.
A sense of the sacred has become such a rarity in ecclesiastical settings that it is no surprise that a television presenter chooses Glastonbury as embodying his idea of sacredness. Churches might take note.