Church Buildings: Two Perspectives

From Catapult Magazine, in an article titled "Church as Third Place as Church"

"Any secular third place displays its values—how do we do the same without being churchy? [Clue: expressing values is not the same as expressing religion.] If people come and go, what do they take with them apart from a coffee? Visitors to emerging church events often leave with mementos in their pockets, reminders of spiritual experience that also allow it to be recreated in another time and place. How do we extend this idea for everyday customers?"

And a professor from Valparaiso University weighs in on spending money on a church building. The two articles create a nice tension and suggest, taken together, that suggest a way to do both-- beautify our churches and serve the community by our use of them.

"It seems to be an obvious fact: In a world where people are starving for want of food and souls are dying for want of the Gospel, original art (ie: expensive art) in the church seems like worse than an unnecessary extravagence. It seems downright sinful.
Is this so? Is it always improper for the church to spend it’s resources on art and design? Is it contrary to the Great Commission of Matthew 28 to seek out and provide things of beauty for the church?"

A tip of the hat to Karl for the links!


Joe said...

The Incarnation confuses the sacred and profane. It's just another way that Jesus messes everything up. Still, the human can recognize the difference. When walking into a beautiful cathedral, most people watch the content and volume of their conversation. They consider their dress and events - like rock concerts or espresso stands - seem vulgarly out of place.
Part of architecture is considering the culture a building can create - what affect it has on behavior and attentiveness. A "Starbucks" makes us more receptive to small, satisfying trinkets of neo-bohemian culture. A good cathedral prepares us for an encounter with the sacred, almost making us expect to receive from God (rather than offer something to Him).
Most churches I've worshiped in feel simply comfortable. There may not be anything wrong with that (most people I know prefer it), but when the church stops designing toward the sacred, there aren't any sacred places left.
We need encounters with the sacred - to have a sense that there's a vastness and other-ness to God (some might call it Holiness). I, for one, would love to see a return to sacredness in church design. I can always go to "Starbucks" if I want cool, "Target" if I want neo-hip and the multi-purpose room if I want to hang out. Where can I go if I want sacred space? We used to call that place the Sanctuary.

Isaac, The Rookie said...

I have to confess, movie-theatre churches really irritate me. Comfort and church aren't automatically connected, after all-- what we're looking for is a chance to meet God-- unpredictable, powerful, overwhelming God. And the sanctuary must speak to that need, absolutely. I love CSMSG's sanctuary; it's dark and lofty and covered with stained glass, and it feels holy no matter when during the day you walk in.

I like the first article's point best, about making the sacred space open for people to use and experience even when we're not offering a structured program. In Michigan, the church I worked in was known for being completely open to the community, and most of the rooms in the building were full on any given night. Since the Church is a mix of spiritual experience and hard work meeting essential needs, we need both practical, open spaces where that work can be done, and completely beautiful, overwhelming worship spaces. While I will fight against spending money on designer clothing, for example, when it is impractical and limits the work I can do, I think you're right that we need the image of a cathedral more firmly stuck in our minds when we build church buildings.