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January 26, 2011

Beauty amidst the Brutalists in Bulgaria

by quaesitor

Apologies for the rather contrived alliteration but couldn’t resist. Have been in Sofia, Bulgaria since Monday and on my way now to Athens for another couple of days’ meetings. Pretty intense but lots of big encouragements. Here in Bulgaria and Greece to plan for the launch of Langham events in both countries this Autumn.

But I was very struck by this sight in a Sofia church’s meeting place, where we’ve been having our meetings and discussions. It’s amidst the brutalists, not because of the character of the neighbours or local inhabitants – far from it! – I’m using the term (albeit rather loosely) in the architectural sense. For this church has created a meeting space on the second floor of a pretty modern apartment block in a classic, anonymous suburb of Sofia. Like so many European cities, it is all grey concrete, girders and pure functionality with little or no attention to aesthetic values. Huge impersonal squares are surrounded by long residential blocks and the odd supermarket or small health-club. But on entering Holy Trinity church, you are confronted by this unexpected blaze of theological colour.

Of course, the predominant Christian tradition in Bulgaria is Orthodox – and this has clear echoes of Orthodox iconography – quite a surprise in a Protestant Evangelical church. But what I found particularly powerful was the sweeping shape of the wooden cross, which is clearly the focal point of the installation – both because it is a the only physical structure in the set up, but also because the wall-painting and the frosted glass window are designed to highlight it (note the crown of thorns traced on both).

Because of the lines and shape of the wood, this is a cross that opens its arms wide in a welcoming embrace and also, somehow, lifts one up in its embrace – which is a profoundly true theological statement. Wonderful. (Click on the photo for one or two other shots).

Of course, the real joy of being here was to get to know some brothers who will form the team for Langham Bulgaria. We had very encouraging discussions and have great hopes for how things could develop here.

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