Where does one learn the unforgettable lesson of sharing one’s resources with others? In one’s house…no. My first lessons of sharing what I have with others were learnt from my church. The countless sermons from esteemed and learned priests, the worship, the bits and pieces of advice I got from elderly people. Having been exposed to what good the church can offer, I realised that this is only one part of the church. As I grew up I realised that the church is as exclusive as it is inclusive. Small wonder that every church has its own people from a preferred setting coming together every week. Anyone outside this setting is not usually welcome wholeheartedly, although we say that everyone is welcome.
Different denominations follow different norms of profiling society and setting into a pattern wherein rich, poor, dalit, syrian, nadar, women and men comprise of the body check that people are forced to undergo before entering the holy sphere of the church. More than the number of people inside the church, I would say the church should actually be concerned about the number of people outside the church!
In Kerala the trend is to showcase our money and power by building huge churches which cost crores of rupees and are built over centuries of unclaimed history and life of the poor of the land. On the one hand, I cannot possibly out rightly condemn this because the church is the collective expression of a group of people. But on the other hand, many of these huge churches are not used to their optimum level and therefore only become the collective expression of a few rather than all. My own denomination has also gone through the experience of having churches closed down because of the rift between two groups within the Orthodox line of thought in India. Both groups lay claim to the churches and therefore the court finally has no other option but to close down the churches completely.
The concept of sharing that I have developed in my mind takes a beating time and again because I see and experience the reverse of that happening in front of my eyes. Is it totally irrelevant to discuss the idea of sharing church spaces among all denominations? This gives significant importance to the church as a place of all and brings people together instead of separating them. Kerala faces a similar pattern with regard to houses. Everyone wants to build a separate house surrounded by a boundary wall to protect it. We build our own private spaces and this has an adverse impact on the environment as well, as waterways and low lying areas are filled with the mud from mountainous regions and sand is smuggled from rivers to contribute to the ever increasing scale of construction in the state.
In effect the church also contributes to the destruction of our state and after constructing beaming towers we will all get together to discuss the degradation of the environment and our state. I don’t know if I can inspire my congregation to understand what real sharing and openness is? It is a practice to take young groups of students to public monuments where all kind of people get together. There we don’t ask people about their religion, caste or other preferences. We have a sense of pride that the monument belongs to all and that all of us have to take care of it. Can’t churches become public monuments? A place for all to congregate, relax and reflect?