Repurposed Buildings and Bodies

Allina Hospital District One has received the go-ahead from the Faribault City Council to demolish Johnston Hall in Faribault, Minnesota. Many attempts had been made over the years to save the beautiful, historic building but in the end, no feasible arrangement could be worked out to keep the structure standing.

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The most recent attempt to save Johnston Hall was a plan to convert it into a 35-bed residential chemical treatment facility but that plan fell through.

Johnston Hall was built in 1888 at a cost of $50,000 to house the Seabury Divinity School. The divinity school was founded by one of Faribault’s most famous residents, Bishop Henry Whipple. But by 1933 the divinity school had been moved elsewhere. In 1975 Johnston Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places but it had stood empty since 2013.

Although it is not a new phenomena, whenever a place that at one time was dedicated to promoting spiritual health is repurposed to focus on physical health, it gets my attention. For years churches and other buildings that were built for religious purposes have been repurposed. I’ve seen or heard about churches converted into private residences, stores, apartments, even a museum. In my hometown of Owatonna, Minnesota, the campus of the former Pillsbury Baptist Bible College is in the process of being converted into a variety of different non-religious uses. So far none of its historic buildings have been torn down.

In the case of Johnston Hall, I’m sure whatever building that Allina constructs in its place will feature some of the truly amazing medical equipment that provides us with outstanding medical care. It would be nice if they also focused on making the outside of the building as aesthetically pleasing as Johnston Hall was.

The moment that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God “became flesh and dwelt among us,” (John 1:14), the Old Testament era of needing a specific, physical building in which to meet God ended: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” (I Timothy 3:16)

Over the centuries Christians have been known to worship just about anywhere as long as the Good News of Jesus coming into the world to save us is proclaimed. His death on the cross to pay for our sins and his triumphant resurrection from the dead have been preached in the most beautiful cathedrals of the world and in the most humble locations.

There is a framed photo at our church that shows a group of worshipers in heavy winter coats huddled around a small table in a snow-covered forest. My suggestion to the members of my congregation to reenact that photo during the winter in Owatonna so far has not gained much traction.

Being baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus causes our bodies to be completely repurposed: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20)

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

Knowing that our bodies have been repurposed for something holy and eternal provides a great boost to our physical well-being. We know we can live our lives in full assurance that God will never forsake us and that when our earthly lives end we will be welcomed into our eternal home.

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