Sedona Arizona has one of the most interesting tourist stops I’ve seen in a while. Nestled against the high red rocks of central Arizona is the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It is a catholic church administered by the local Roman Catholic diocese—of Phoenix, I think. The signage out front indicated the hours it was available for tours and noted that a prayer service was held on Monday evenings at 5pm. That I could see, it said nothing about Sunday services.
The draw of the chapel is its unique architecture and geography. Let’s begin with the geography. Sedona looks like the very place where Wile E. Coyote is foiled by the Roadrunner. The beautiful mountains and hills show off the lovely red hue of the rocks like artwork in a display case. The day we were there a storm was blowing over the Arizona sky and it made the whole endeavor that much more mystical.
The church building itself is built against a cliff. As you enter the building there is a font; but the font is not in the middle of the entryway. It is off to the side. A gigantic rock cross forms the central chancel piece behind the altar table. The roof is high and vaulted. There are candles burning and that bring the temperature up significantly the closer you get to the altar area. There are wooden benches without padding, an open Bible on a stand. The church building is not very large. I dare say it is much taller than it is wide.
I paid my dollar to light a candle and sat on the pew bench to say prayers. It was hard, though, with all those tourists around. Two or three other pilgrims around me were trying to focus on Christ too; but it was difficult to center—too many non-centered people milling around. Being the kind of person I am, I read all the plaques and all the signs looking for words about Jesus. I found none. All the writings and plaques were about the architect and designer of the church building and how it came to be. The only homage to Christ was in the artwork—a lovely sculpture of Christ’s face on the altar and a few pictures. The only place I could find anything about the living Christ was downstairs, the gift shop. There were lots of Jesus items to buy down there. There just wasn’t much to focus worship upstairs.
Touring something like that, especially with my wonderful wife and daughters in the midst of a long travel day, made me think hard about it. Driving down the high way I had much time to ponder the Chapel of the Holy Cross—its purpose, function, and place. It doesn’t seem to serve as much of a house of worship. I perceive it was designed to be a place of worship; but that is not what it has become. It is not a place of discipleship. People do not learn how to follow Christ better there. It might function in some kind of tourist evangelism way, I suppose but I don’t think that would have much lasting effect.
In my final evaluation there really is only one purpose the building serves. It is devotional. Surrounded in the natural cathedral of Arizona’s red rock the Church of the Holy Cross serves as a place for people who are already seeking Christ or who follow him to have a liturgically oriented encounter with the Lord in nature. The odd thing is, for me; as a pilgrim and sojourner through life as well as on the highway this devotional moment came for me not in the chapel itself but outside the building looking at God’s handiwork. It was the church that made my mind pregnant with the thought of Christ, but it was the landscape which gave it birth into a moment of consecration.