Friday, January 05, 2007


At the same time sometimes there are legitimate reasons for doing something we have just forgotten what they are. Have you ever wondered why radiators in some New York City apartments are seemingly much larger than would seem necessary? It is because at the turn of the 20th century heating engineers sized their heating systems for the coldest day of the year and then adding 40% so they could bring these brick and plaster buildings up to temperature by burning coal in huge boilers each morning. Why so big? Because they had to hear with the windows open of course. Every one knew that back then. Why did they heat with the windows open?

It is because at the turn of the 20th century, many American cities teemed with immigrants who lived in tenements where the conditions weren’t much better than the steamship steerage that brought them to the New World. People slept, stacked like cord wood, in tiny rooms as cooking stoves fouled the air with noxious fumes. Gaslights in the homes of the more fortunate, traded oxygen for yellow light. Tuberculosis seemed to be worst where there were lots of people, and children died everywhere at an alarming rate, although no one knew exactly why. The idea of sleeping with the windows open and the heating system turned off started with the wealthy and caught on. Soon, everyone was doing it. So the buildings were designed for this reality.

Why do we have evening services at many churches? It is because that is when people would bring their friends to church. Today people are more likely to visit a church on a Sunday morning. Before we write off the practices of the past I think it would be wise to examine why things were done that way. Understanding the why can help us to capture the wisdom behind the practice. Once we understand the principle then we can adapt our practices in the present to the same purpose. Put another way, we may do things for the same reason but because things have changed the way we do them also have to change.

No one would suggest building an apartment building with oversized radiators and huge coal fired boilers today. It would be impractical and a waste of resources. We have better ways of improving indoor air quality without sleeping with the windows open and the heat off. In the same way we need to examine why we do things in order to maximize our effectiveness. There may be a better ways of improving the quality of our church.

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