This image is over ten years old, but it is an image that regularly challenges my view of the Church.
The central tower of Laon Cathedral in France soars above the visitor, the height accentuated by the wonders of Gothic architecture, with fluted pillars taking the eye upwards to where the clerestory lights illumine what could be a very dark space. The light of God in Jesus Christ filling the darkness of our world is the clear message and, indeed, what it is all about. So what is that ornate set of iron railings doing?
In the cathedral it surrounds the altar, preventing tourists like me just wandering anywhere and particularly around this part of the church where in its daily liturgy the presence of Christ is focussed. It’s like a fence and reminds all too clearly of other church traditions where the Communion Table is ‘fenced’ – only open to those who are professed members of that Christian fellowship, or denomination.
In most traditions there is an uneasy dynamic that exists between teaching and understanding on one hand and a simple profession of faith on the other. Where it becomes the most awkward is when the Church becomes a barrier to people recognising Jesus Christ in their own lives. Is the Church a key vehicle for God’s light in the world and enable people’s sight to be drawn to it, as in the Gothic architecture, or is it the ‘guardian of the faith’, in which role the tendency is to restrict. But how can we restrict the God who is the creator of all that is and Jesus, the one who is the ‘saviour of all’?