They are spaces that teach us how to live.
When I was sixteen, my family attended a church that met in a movie theater. I sang worship songs, listened to sermons, and took communion in the same building where I had seen The Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Strangely, at the time I cared very little for movies, and even less for church. Then, after I graduated from high school, I began to fall in love with both the cinema and the cathedral.
It started as a love for the buildings themselves. I lived in New York City. Movie theaters of all shapes and sizes abound, and they intrigued me: the ten-story windows and mountainous elevators of the cinemas along Broadway, the velvety seats and old-fashioned curtain in the Paris Theatre near Central Park, the intimate poshness of the theaters at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Churches amazed me even more: the ornate stained glass of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the cozy, vine-entwined courtyard in front of 29th Street’s “Little Church Around the Corner,” the eccentric vastness of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.
For the practicing Christian, church attendance is a vital part of life. Movie theater attendance may not be, for all of us. But I have recently been thinking about how our approach to movie-going can inform our approach to church-going, and vice versa, and for those of us who enter both buildings on a regular basis, I want to make a few connections.
The architecture of the church and the cinema may vary from place to place, but whether ornate or not, the structure of the buildings promise something lovely to come. We enter doors into a large, dimly-lit room. It is a hushed, open space. We sit side-by-side. We hear music. We hear carefully-chosen words. We see a place that has been set with care, a place meant to be beautiful.