Walk about Zion and go round about her: and number the towers thereofPsalm 48:12
I am endlessly fascinated by church buildings and am very fortunate to get to see so many interesting places. I have to admit that I’m something of a professional church visitor!
As I walk, whether it’s on long distance pilgrimages or exploring near where I live, I am often reminded of Psalm 48 and the exhortation in this psalm to walk around the city of God and to count and consider the towers, ramparts and palaces. Of course the encouragement is not just to look at the splendour and strength of the city itself; these things are portrayed as a symbol of what God has done, the God who is well known … as a sure refuge.
On my walks I am often impressed with the beautiful and often ancient buildings that I see. It may be a sturdy, fortified medieval church tower that catches my eye or perhaps a well-proportioned Victorian church built to respond to the needs of a growing population during the Industrial Revolution. I might also admire 900 year old Norman pillars or even be able to trace the course of the Anglo-Saxon enclosure that marked out a very early churchyard.
However Psalm 48 reminds us that our walking, marking, numbering and telling are for a purpose that ye may tell them that come after, that God is here. In visiting churches, we need to go beyond the physical and outward things that are rightly so impressive and see the towers of prayer, social concern, mission and service that our church buildings so often speak of.
Yes, church buildings are fascinating places and a wonderful resource open to us all. But in visiting them, we must always remember that in some special way we are both them that come after and also those who must tell that God is here.