Jean-Paul considered himself to be from a generation for whom churches now held little relevance. However he was far more open to how they may still play a part in peoples lives. It surprised him that even his friends who were religious went to church infrequently and said their faith wasn’t centred around church itself. Jean-Paul wasn’t religious but welcomed ideas and thinking from all schools of thought or belief. Unlike some of his friends he thought churches had the capacity to hold more than someones faith.
Historically churches were often at the centre of strong communities and attending church was as much about that community as it was about god. His parents still attend church regularly and their sense of belonging to a community, with all that it brings, was as important to them as their faith. Although he understood the role church plays in lives of many, he couldn’t help thinking diminishing congregation numbers seemed to mirror the fracturing of communities around him. Church had been central to religious communities for centuries but other communities also once thrived when certain industries were alive in those areas. Mining, steel, car manufacture, ship building and the railways had also once been central to strong communities. Now that those industries had all but disappeared he wondered what, if anything, now glued those communities together…? It saddened him that traditional communities religious or otherwise appeared to be in decline. Jean-Paul didn’t subscribe to social media but thought the future of community might be a virtual concept. This too saddened him.
Jean-Paul would often visit local churches but he also took in the opportunity to visit them while visiting other cities, even in other countries. He enjoyed the calm atmosphere and quiet away from the buzz of the city. He liked the stillness and the surroundings of being in church helped him reflect on his life and the lives of friends and loved ones. He hadn’t fathomed out quite why walking into a church bought about these almost instant moments of reflection but he liked that a building could somehow affect him in that way. When his private thoughts were given to a wish or somebody he cared about he would dedicate them by lighting a candle.
Admittedly Jean-Paul had never attended church as part of a congregation and he had no leanings to do so. If ever he stood in the pulpit or at a lectern he imagined what sermon he would deliver and how he might convince people what he had to say was worth listening to! If inspiration took hold he would take a seat and write in his notebook. He gathered these church inspired moments into into themes for a book he hoped to publish. It had a working title of ‘The Gospel According to JP’. He wouldn’t actually publish it with that title because while he might be the author, it was the words which mattered most. Jean-Paul didn’t have much on an ego and he didn’t write to promote himself. It was the writing and his ideas he wanted people to pay attention to. If they helped start a conversation then he would rather it be about the content than him. Being in the centre of things was something Jean-Paul shied away from. Not because he was shy but because he was more interested in what was going on around him and he took a keen interest in the lives of others.
Churches revealed their own history just as they did their reason for being there. Jean-Paul enjoyed walking into a church where he felt religion, history, architecture, craftsmanship and community were all on display. A time capsule bathed in coloured light from story-telling stained glass windows. He loved the awe inspiring architecture and artworks in the form of sculpture or furnishings. So much of what he found in church spoke to him of a different time. When the people who built and made these places of worship took great pride in their work. He enjoyed the attention to detail. In the woodwork he considered the tools which might have been used and the person whose hands held them. While not a religious person, church for Jean-Paul was most definitely a place of reflection, contemplation and inspiration.
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