November 30, 2020

The Monk and the Abbot

I enjoyed worship at St. Peter’s Church in Lexington, and a lunch visit today with the abbot himself, my friend Alan Creech.


  1. What a gorgeous worship space.

  2. Beautiful building.

  3. If evangelicals are so much more theologically correct that the RC, why is evangelical worship so @#$%^&! ugly in comparison? Not stark, simple, or ascetic, but U-G-L-Y! Those photos just draw me in; I want to be there. I can just imagine walking the stations of the cross. It looks like a place which honors God’s presence. If those were photos of the local suburban megachurch/shopping mall, my response would have been, “wow, parking must be hell”. I guess the megachurch could display photos like these on their jumbo-tron; that would make all the difference, right?

    I know, I know: looks can be deceiving. I know there is a place for puritans meeting in a barn and preaching from a water trough. I know God is equally, really present there, too. And I know the RC had their own period of ugly architecture during the 60’s and 70’s, but newer Catholic churches seem to be reversing that trend.

    One would think that modern technology would help recapture the use of visuals to preach, but the opposite seems to be true. I think I know why: Powerpoint is typically used to display images that I can relate to; gothic (or byzantine, for the OE folks) confronts the eyes with the incomprehensible, transcendent; confrontational in an enrapturing way. The result? Powerpoint church has the same impact as a business meeting or a college lecture; gospel message is made to sound like an infomercial. The other smacks one with the reality that this gospel of Jesus Christ is so much more than my petty problems or fetishes.

    This is not the fault of the technology but the way in which it is used, misused. I think of the comment in “Mr. Blue” about using motion pictures as a peaching medium (written circa 1920). I don’t think the typical Christian movie is what the author had in mind, but perhaps more like something directed by Terry Gilliam.

  4. I share a lot of your sentiment, but let’s be fair. The worship spaces that are designed by my tradition can positively reflect the solas and the Protestant sense of worship. There will be differences, and the idolatry of the technical is a major issue, one that needs to be addressed more bluntly. (I’m about to go out on a big limb on this one here where I work.)

    But if you can get an photos of the inside of the chapel at Beeson Divinity School, you will see that there are lots of Protestant possibilities- and it includes much that is catholic.

    But I agree. It is a compelling worship space. But you will notice two altars. The larger one is there because this church has the Latin Mass several times a week. In the mass I attended, the altar at the front- the smaller one- was used.



  5. Yup. Noticed the high altar hidden behind the Vatican II altar. It’s a good thing I’m not Catholic; I would probably end up a latin-rite schismatic type. Once one gets on that treadmill to religious perfection, there’s no getting off. Sounds like…wretched urgency?

  6. Good to see a human face to identify with the “internet monk”, and a smiling one at that. I’ve been reading this blog pretty steadily since like 2001 or 2002, can’t remember now exactly. I still have a download on my computer of something you wrote called, “Those magnificent young men in their pastoring machines.” (I’ve now read nearly all of Peterson’s books too.) I printed up a story you wrote about a deacon you saw coming out of a liquor store, and gave it to my wife to read. We were dealing with the very same issue at that time.


  7. MS, you are exactly right, there are loads of Protestant possibilities in worship architecture. Do you or anyone else know anyone who is exploring them and perhaps tapping in to a new move of the Spirit in this regard?

  8. Well – Lordy. You never know what’ll turn into a discussion I suppose.

    While we’re at it – I love these old-school Catholic worship spaces. I always have. I love the smell of them, the old, creaky, wooden pews. I love all the symbolism woven into the walls, windows, pillars, etc. BUT, not everyone is drawn in by such things. For some, they are distractions from worship. I think that’s a shame, but I know it’s true.

    Of course there is the fact that building beautiful spaces like this is expensive. It can be very expensive and a lot of people, Protestant and Catholic, have issues with that. There’s a balance in there for sure, somewhere. Hey, it wasn’t cheap, I’m sure, but I also love the space at Gethsemani Abbey, which is very stark in comparison.

    Anyway, it was good hangin’ out yesterday man. I’m glad we got to spend time together. Peace to you and Denise.

  9. I meant to give you some anti-Catholic Chick tracts. Can’t believe I forgot them.

  10. Crap! Listen, I’ve been straight up Keith Greened back in the college days – that plus some li’ll cartoon Chick-ness – mmm, mmm good, er sumpm like ‘at.

  11. Beauty doesn’t have to be expensive – at least not compared to the $10k+ (at least!) most churches shell out for a sound system that can handle the kickin’ worship band (that may just cover the sound board). What I mean by beauty isn’t just quality but meaning and symbolism. There is a need for religious symbols which proclaim the mysteries of the faith to this generation and connect us to our Christian heritage. That probably won’t be accomplished through gothic architecture. I agree with Mike; protestants can do this.

    Alan makes a good point; I heard that the Church of England shells out millions of dollars each year on repairs to the old gothic cathedrals that are now mostly empty museums. I would agree that this is no time for unnecessary ornateness. The best Christian symbolism that people might need to see in the not so distant future might be best displayed by churches sending everyone home with a bag of groceries (no, I’m not optimistic about the bail-out).

    I have heard many people compare current events to 9/11. The church may have another rare opportunity to reach people who are disarmed of materialism and self-centeredness and who want something real, that life means more than retirement accounts and nice houses. I think they will be looking for something more than worshiptainment and blinking-teeth theology. This could be post-evangelicalism’s finest hour.

  12. No one said worship spaces have to be ornate to be conducive to worship. However, for me, it’s gotta be something different than an “auditorium” or “worship center” in the multipurpose big box. And, as far as expense, I’d much rather see us spend money on a truly excellent sanctuary with architectural integrity than pour it into theatre lighting, sound and video equipment, and so on, ad absurdum. Worship is worth expense. Entertainment is not.

  13. I agree that is one beautiful Church, I am suprised the High Altar still there and not in the basement.

    Vatican II is not what killed our Churches it was the people that implemented Vatican II that did that. Thankfuly the reform of the reform is currently being implemented by B16 so we can recapture that which was lost.

  14. This church could use some railings.

  15. That is a gorgeous church. I long for such an inspiring space. Yes, I know God can meet me anywhere. That doesn’t mean He didn’t create me to appreciate beauty and to note when things look appropriate for their stated purpose.