Some of the best concerts I’ve ever been to have been in churches. In Toronto, we have The Music Gallery at St. George the Martyr church near Queen West, where I saw a particularly great David Bazan show a few years back. And when it comes to classical music, churches are a natural choice for their great acoustics and quiet atmosphere… Tafelmusik and a host of other ensembles frequently play in churches around the city. I wouldn’t say that rock music is always best suited to churches – Arcade Fire (pictured above) and their apocalyptic organs being the exception – but it does sound like more congregations are opening their doors to ‘secular’ concerts, mainly as a way of getting people into the building. The venerable South by Southwest festival, for example, features Central Presbyterian Church as a venue this year (here’s a piece on the topic from the CNN Belief Blog.)
I think this is an accessible way for churches to get involved in the arts. Of course, it is not without its logistical problems. A few friends of mine were at that Starfield concert in Abbotsford when the floor collapsed; church buildings aren’t necessarily made for masses of people plus heavy sound and lighting equipment. And with any event open to the public, you run the risk of vandalism and much-increased wear-and-tear on the facility. But if done carefully and professionally – ie. without packing more people in than actually fit, having every0ne sit in the pews rather than cluster around the front, and hosting venue-appropriate bands/ensembles playing at a volume level that won’t shatter the stained glass (see the CNN article) – it’s an avenue worth exploring.
The other side of the issue is the sacred/secular space question (see my post about art galleries in churches). I’ve been studying the architecture of Orthodox churches, and how each element of the building (the nave, the iconostasis, altar) serve to lead the congregants on a sort of ascent to heaven. The physical space ‘opens up’ to the transcendent, through not just the icons and their placement but the arrangement of the building itself. This also occurs in Western churches, although perhaps less so in certain denominations, where the interplay of light, structure, imagery and so on are intended to lift the eyes of the beholder to things above; think of the soaring ceilings of Notre Dame or St. Paul’s. Is this kind of a sacred space an appropriate place for a rock concert? Good question. I can’t think of too many Catholic churches that would host a concert in their main sanctuary, but I stand to be corrected.
Evangelical Christians (Baptists, Alliance, nondenominational etc.) are probably more open to hosting concerts because of their fairly cavalier attitude towards church architecture – for many, it’s “just a building,” the sanctuary space equally suitable for worship or floor hockey. The problem for most Protestants is instead the incursion of “non-Christian” music into the church, which is of course a slippery concept at best. Are churches only for music For Christians By (Protestant) Christians? By Christians for whoever will listen? By artists who deal with ‘spiritual’ themes? Or should churches throw the doors open, willing to make the church a space for enjoying and engaging with whatever art forms are on offer?
Big questions, and worth thinking through especially with reference to churches being “missional” (rather than just “attractional”) and conscious of creating “third spaces” where the sacred and the secular can interact.