The Cathedral and the Movie Theater

They are spaces that teach us how to live.
The Cathedral and the Movie Theater
Image: Betsy Brown
St. John's Cathedral, New York City

When I was sixteen, my family attended a church that met in a movie theater. I sang worship songs, listened to sermons, and took communion in the same building where I had seen The Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Strangely, at the time I cared very little for movies, and even less for church. Then, after I graduated from high school, I began to fall in love with both the cinema and the cathedral.

It started as a love for the buildings themselves. I lived in New York City. Movie theaters of all shapes and sizes abound, and they intrigued me: the ten-story windows and mountainous elevators of the cinemas along Broadway, the velvety seats and old-fashioned curtain in the Paris Theatre near Central Park, the intimate poshness of the theaters at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Churches amazed me even more: the ornate stained glass of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the cozy, vine-entwined courtyard in front of 29th Street’s “Little Church Around the Corner,” the eccentric vastness of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

For the practicing Christian, church attendance is a vital part of life. Movie theater attendance may not be, for all of us. But I have recently been thinking about how our approach to movie-going can inform our approach to church-going, and vice versa, and for those of us who enter both buildings on a regular basis, I want to make a few connections.

The architecture of the church and the cinema may vary from place to place, but whether ornate or not, the structure of the buildings promise something lovely to come. We enter doors into a large, dimly-lit room. It is a hushed, open space. We sit side-by-side. We hear music. We hear carefully-chosen ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
Previous Watch This Way Columns:
June
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
close