Melrose, not far from St. John’s Abbey, is home to St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Tragically, a fire struck the church in March, 2016. Even more tragically, the parish is now divided over the decision not to restore the church, but to build an entirely new structure.
I will not even attempt to enter into the complexities of the dispute or take sides. I simply want to note how important the issue is to parishioners. In many ways, that is a good thing. The raw emotions in abundant supply here say much about how deeply people care about their home parish. If you wanted evidence for the power of symbols – which, as we say, are expressive and constitutive – here it is.
MPR did a good job, I think, presenting the story with sensitivity and accuracy. I was especially touched by the quotation which with they ended their story, from local doctor and parish council member Kurt Schwieters:
Schwieters said many people think it’s time to accept the decision and move forward to build a new church. He said a lot can be salvaged from the old building, including the stained glass windows, and used in a new church that’s more functional but still respects the past.
“In the end, it’s the function of what we are as Christians, as parishioners together that defines ourselves as Christians,” Schwieters said. “It is what we do. It is not what we have. Form is important, but function is more important. That is what defines us.”
Function over form – good theology, that.