The Skyscraper and the Steeple

churchThis is my favorite landmark driving south on I-75 into Detroit. Due to a trick of perspective, the historic St. Josaphat church seems to rise over the concrete and glass of the city. It appears for a moment perfectly super-imposed on the image of the Renaissance Center (General Motors building) and seems to dwarf it. It is more than a view, it is an instant poetic narrative. You see that glass tower? Don’t forget what was here before.

I was saddened to read that the steeple was damaged in a recent windstorm and the congregation does not have the funds to repair it. It would be heartbreaking to see it come down.

I thought I would share a little excerpt here from the novel Angel. One of the issues in Rev. Paul Tobit’s congregation is whether or not to raise funds for expensive repairs to the crumbling steeple. Paul wants the congregation to make the repairs and he butts heads with a business-minded president of the church board over the issue. The tide tuns in the minister’s favor after he gives a sermon. Here is that text:

This afternoon we will be voting on whether or not to approve a budget to repair the old steeple. Fixing that old thing will cost a lot of money. And there are those who will say it is money that could be better spent on something more tangible and practical than beauty. It’s a reasonable argument.

How do you measure the value of beauty? What is it? What does it do? What is it worth? Maybe nothing.

Or maybe, just maybe, beauty pleases the senses because it reminds us of a divine order and holds a mirror to the face of God…

Fixing the steeple will not change the nature of our services, or my sermons, or our community outreach. We don’t even see it while we’re sitting here in the Sanctuary. And that is really the key. Our steeple is not really for us. It is a gift of beauty that we give to the larger community. It is not only for our members, or for the people who come through the doors, but for the people who never will.

A steeple points the way to heaven. It is a universal symbol that reminds everyone who passes that there is a spiritual dimension to life—that there is something greater than ourselves, and it ties us together across time and across generations.

To the people who are afraid, who have been alienated from God, who have somehow learned the lesson that Christians are a different kind of people and that Christianity is not for them— let our steeple be a beacon. Let it send them a message.

Our message is not “come to our church.” Our message is this: No one lives without a soul. Everyone deserves to feel God’s love. No matter who you are, no matter what you do, if you think you have made mistakes, if your wife kicked you out, if you’re sick, if you’re troubled, if you’re black or white; rich or poor… God loves you. You are valuable. Your life has meaning. God created you because he needs you.

That is our message. That is our gift, our steeple is a gift of beauty to the larger community.


  1. Thanks for this very timely article on the value of a church’s steeple, it’s “beacon” if you will, pointing heavenward. We are wrestling with an almost identical issue here in Maine and this is a very needed perspective. I concur with the sentiment and the position expressed wholeheartedly! Well done.

  2. Pingback: Poets’ Protest |

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