This past weekend my wife and I went over to New Harmony, Indiana, to spend the night. I had visited this historic community once before but was glad for the chance to go back. New Harmony was the site for two utopian experiments in the nineteenth century. Although those experiments failed today New Harmony is one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever visited. I would use the Celtic phrase “thin place” to describe it as the veil separating earth and heaven seems especially thin there.
One of the reasons I was looking forward to going back was the fact that I had learned a good bit more about New Harmony, and especially the Roofless Church, in John Philip Newell’s latest book, The Rebirthing of God. In an early chapter of that book Newell deals at length with the spiritual significance of the Roofless Church and also a particular sculpture found there by the sculptor Jacob Lipchitz called “The Virgin” or “The Descent of the Holy Spirit.” The Roofless Church, as the name implies, is a church without a roof. It was built by the Robert Lee Blaffer Trust and was dedicated in 1960. A brochure on the site says the building was created “for an interdenominational church with the concept of one roof, the sky, to embrace all worshipping humanity.” As far as I know no regular services are held in the Roofless Church but it certainly provides a worshipful experience for those who choose to visit it. It also offers a needed reminder that not all churches or places of worship can be found under a roof.
In many ways Creation itself serves as a “roofless church,” or at least it does for me. I often sense God’s presence when out in the open watching the clouds float by or gazing up into the starry heavens. Viewing Creation as The Roofless Church reminds us that God cannot be put in a box. It, better than any building, points to the transcendence of God.
Over the years I have been blessed to visit many of the most beautiful churches ever constructed. I’ve been to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, St. Peter’s in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, St. Stephen’s in Vienna and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. All are majestic and awe-inspiring structures but none compare to the majesty and beauty of Creation. No ecclesiastical building I have visited or worshiped in draws me into God’s presence the way nature does. I am certainly grateful for nice roofed churches to worship in but it is the “roofless church” of Creation that I find most conducive for worship.
I wish more people would begin to look at Creation as The Roofless Church. It might just lead them to worship more often. It might also motivate them to take better care of this “church.” In most churches I’ve served the members take great pride in their buildings and go to great length to keep them clean and operable. If we viewed the earth as The Roofless Church I’d like to think we would offer it more respect and do all we can to keep it clean and healthy.
If you’ve never visited the Roofless Church in New Harmony I hope you get the chance to do so someday. Even more so, I hope you will begin to view the world around you as The Roofless Church and take advantage of the opportunities it affords you to offer the Creator your worship and praise.
(I took the pictures used above at New Harmony last weekend.)