A church building1] is a building specifically dedicated to the purpose of Christian worship and community. In common use, the term is usually shortened to "church". Specific variations of the term include chapel - generally smaller and often without a "full time" community, minster - a large church building, used as a local headquarters by one of the clerical denominations and cathedral (generally like a minster on a larger scale).
Architecture and design will vary depending on the culture which constructs it but a minimum standard generally requires an indoor assembly area large enough to accommodate all of the community which meets there, with or without seating. Many historical churches will have an associated cemetery, which in context will generally be called a graveyard (or lychyard for the truly archaic).
Traditional church buildings have a layout based on the basilica of Ancient Rome, a kind of hall used for public meetings and court cases; (and the term basilica has come to be used as a synonym for "cathedral"). The public is seated in a large rectangular area known as the nave. At one end is a raised, semi-circular area called the apse, which serves as the chancel, where the altar and the pulpit are located. In some larger churches a couple of mini-naves, called transepts, connect to the basilica at right angles at the point where the nave and the apse meet, giving the building a cross-shaped floor plan. The ceiling of the nave is high, and it's walls often have windows, called the clerestory. In addition, larger cathedrals had chapels, adjacent to the apse, for the private worship of important parishioners. Some churches also had crypts beneath the chancel to store relics and the remains of important people. Often the church was oriented so that the apse pointed East, so that the rising sun would symbolize the Ressurection.
In the modern era, however, many churches have opted to use different layouts, such as semi-circular seating with the altar in the middle.
As a core building for their community, a church building is likely to be a focus for all sorts of activities that extend beyond strict worship - this will include subsidiary religious ceremonies (coming of age, marriage, birth and burial and suchlike) and even semi-secular social ones (church picnics, schooling).
As might be expected, these are places with a traditional role as sacred space - places where temporal matters, and even temporal authority are to some degree excluded. This has, from time to time, been honoured more in the breach than the observance (some medieval church buildings were known to host markets), and there are differing ideas of where these boundaries lie (some communities will use the worship space in their church for secular meetings, community meals and other assemblies - others would be horrified by such behaviour). In medieval Europe, fugitives from justice had a customary right to claim sanctuary within the precincts of a church - protection from arrest and from most other forms of action against them. Customs governing sanctuary and its outcomes varied from culture to culture.
Where the supernatural is involved, it is probably obvious that these are places of significance2 - traditionally most "unholy" entities will find it painful, difficult or impossible to enter or even extend their influence across consecrated ground - which will normally include church buildings and their immediate demise (not to mention any associated graveyard). Historically, some church buildings were constructed on unholy places of power as a way of neutralising or warding them. Naturally this can make such places important targets for the enemies of God, seeking to destroy or profane them.
Game and Story Use
- In many contexts, PCs will belong to a community that has a church at its centre.
- This can make it a good background for all sorts of events.
- Even if they don't they may associate with members of such a community (consider, for example, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden, who whilst essentially irreligious, is something of a satellite to the Church of St Mary of the Angels for various reasons, not least his association with the Carpenter family).
- Where sanctuary customs apply, these may be an interesting wrinkle - the PCs quarry may seek sanctuary from them, or they may find themselves asked to assist a fugitive currently under sanctuary. They may even need to claim in their own right.
- The profaned or unconsecrated church building can be a nasty surprise for PCs - either because the place has been deliberately defiled by the forces of evil (possibly including the congregation) or because the community which created it and/or use it simply lack any genuine faith and have no place for God in their church.
- The demon paused at the threshold, looked it up and down speculatively and then stepped over. And then it smiled. ‘“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. Plus ca change.
- Desecrating a properly consecrated church building may be harder than is assumed … but like breaching a threshold, it may be far easier to do from the inside.
- Under most circumstances, the unsubverted, safe sanctuary is probably the safest option to apply.
- Battling to defend a church building under supernatural attack could make for an interesting game. Hopefully the sacred ground advantage should make like a lot harder for the attackers and allow PCs to face down entities that would normally crush them like bugs.
- An interesting exercise then with demons bouncing off the consecrated boundary and mortal mooks trying to break the doors down.
- And for the non-combat specialists, there's always the possibility of a smart demon using truly evil powers such as eminent domain or lawfare to have the building closed, demolished or transferred to a new owner under its control.
- Even against non-supernatural opponents, the church building may be the only one in the village made of stone - when the Vikings come, it is a natural place for people to take refuge.
- This can lead to a certain amount of conflict for PCs with religiously based pacifism disadvantages.
- In more modern settings, historical church towers have been known to house artillery spotters or snipers - some may have qualms about firing on a place of worship to remove them … others may be tempted to breaches of the laws and customs of warfare in retaliation for their opponents desecrating the place of worship by using it in that way.
- The "church built on top of something nasty" makes for a good Sealed Evil in a Can.