I am on vacation this week (I wrote this article in advance, in case you are curious) and during this time I’m not off on some off-roading adventure or visiting family, but instead am tackling the huge task of destroying the deck in my backyard and replacing it with a patio.
That rickety old deck has had a lot of traffic on it the last nine years: meals grilled on the barbecue and eaten around the table, late-night conversations around the fire pit, dogs lounging in the sun (or under it if it got too hot). But the last few months the wood finally began to get to be too rotten, boards loosened and broke, and Mandy and I realized it was time for it to go.
As I have been engaged in the destruction (and eventual restoration) of a vestibular space in my home, I have been thinking about what makes spaces like this special in our church. As we gather to worship, there are two spaces in particular that seem to fill a particular function: the traditional narthex (located in the back of the church near the baptismal font) and the atrium, which is by the side entrance. The narthex is more traditional and formal: a place to briefly welcome and be welcomed, and for some a place to piously “wash away” the dust of the world that we might be unintentionally carrying with us as we enter God’s house. I generally don’t consider it a place to gather long, or engage in lengthy (or worse, loud) conversation, because of its close proximity to those who are already collecting themselves to pray. It also provides a bit of a liminal space for those of us with young children who need to, for their benefit, step away enough to tend to their needs but also continue to participate in the service.
The atrium, on the other hand, is distinctly the crossroads of the church. With multiple egresses you can head for a restroom, the sacristy to adorn vestments, the library, the stairs or elevators to get to other levels, and the colonnade to get to the nursery and beyond. It is a place to tarry longer, to engage more, and to take a quick peek at racks of tracts or bulletin board announcements to learn more about the church. I have thought from time to time it is a place that deserves more attention, more thought, about how we use it as the primary gathering place for members and visitors as they attend or depart worship on Sunday.
I’m writing this reflection in hopes that you too will pause and consider this place and the many ways in which we use and benefit from it. Hopefully someday soon I’ll finish my own vestibular space and begin to enjoy it as much as I do the welcoming spaces in our parish.
Yours in Christ,