Lex orandi, lex credendi

cinemaA dear friend of mine got married a few weeks ago in a service at a traditional Episcopal sanctuary. She's not Episcopalian but she didn't want to get married at her own church. That's because her congregation meets for worship in a movie theater. Los Angeles Times reporter David Haldane writes a piece about such churches that meet in movie theaters:

We'd be lost without the screen," said [Pastor Wes] Beavis, the 43-year-old leader of Destiny People Christian Church, which holds services at the theaters each week. The screen, he said, plays a central spiritual role. "The great thing about it is that it's huge. We fill it with my messages, PowerPoint presentations, words to songs and great images of nature."

The 5-year-old, 150-member congregation is among a growing number nationwide offering salvation Sunday mornings where popcorn is the usual fare. The trend is especially pronounced in Southern California, experts say, combining, as it does, two popular activities: going to movies and attending church.

The piece is fine, in the sense that it's an interesting bit of reporting on a growing phenomenon. Haldane ticks off the cost-savings and convenience of a once-a-week rental of the local multiplex over the construction or rental of a sanctuary, for instance. However, I was struck by the complete lack of critical analysis. Churches aren't built the way they are as a matter of tradition, although that plays a part. The way one constructs a church -- location of the baptismal font; the size of the altar; the stained glass, icons and permanent art -- all indicate the theology of the congregation.

Haldane quotes the pastor of one of the movie theater churches saying the theater screen plays a central spiritual role, which is most certainly true. Unfortunately, he didn't explore what that spiritual role is and whether it has theological benefits and costs.

A reporter with knowledge of the various rites performed in sanctuaries would immediately have thought to ask what happens when a parishioner dies. Where and when is the funeral? How and where, exactly, are baptisms performed? What happens when a parishioner wants to get married on a Saturday afternoon during the matinee?

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