Church Buildings – New and Old

Blue Tarp Church

Back in February, As we began thinking of rebuilding our destroyed church facilities, I attempted to open a discussion on Church architecture. See:

I had a glitch in my comments feature and lost all atempts to add feedback. Donna-Jean emailed me her reflections.

So good to read your thoughts on this topic – and I appreciated the Sweet article, too.

I see two (related) dangers in church architecture; rather, in the actual building itself. One is with existing buildings. It takes the current generation (and I’m speaking of those in the church now, spanning a range of ages, not just ‘young’) awhile to feel ownership of a building that’s existed for a long time. I recall telling others, “We’re the church. If this item doesn’t work for us, we get rid of it.” (I say that respectfully, believe it or not, knowing that the effective past generation did the same.)

Graven images (to me) have more to do with “Well, so and so donated that, so we have to keep it” or “We’ve always done it that way” than with actual images. For instance, having a good-sized room with three little tiny rooms off of it worked well when I was growing up – for the Primary Room’s opening exercises, and then the little sit-down classes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades. But our kids now learn better with more space, more centers of activity, more interaction. So some walls in our church building have come down to make a bigger classroom or nursery, one old classroom is now a kids’ library with books/DVDs/videos and a welcoming librarian each week, some tiny classrooms are storage closets for costumes and props for outreach dramas/musicals, and some are now offices (mine, included :-) .

The other is about building a new building. I just finished reading Steve Saint’s “End of the Spear.” (I hate that the very unfortunate Chad Allen controversy would keep anyone from the book or the movie – which I’ve not seen yet. The book is very powerful. I pray, above all, that Chad Allen sees his need for Christ through his involvement in the film. But that’s another topic.) In it, Saint talks of how the Waodani (“Auca”) people let a church building in their village fall apart and be unused. (It was built during his Aunt Rachel’s ministry there.) He asked why – and it was because a) it was built differently than their usual ‘architecture’ and so they felt inadequate for it (and it wasn’t that ‘workable’ for their open-air living), and b) it was built by well-meaning outsiders so they felt it wasn’t ‘theirs’ to use, or to fix, when it began to deteriorate.

New buildlings need the ownership of its users – and part of that comes from their involvement in its planning, creation, and realization. As you benefit from the goodwill and sweat of ‘outsiders’ (and we are always chomping at the bit to be a part of that, we are committed to helping as long as God allows :-) your own people must never feel displaced, or somehow unworthy (even in their own overwhelmed situation) to be decision-makers.

I love the versatility a good church building can provide. We still have wooden pews in our sanctuary, and stained glass windows imported from its former site (before we came). We love its look. But we’ve also reconstructed the platform, removed the organ (when there was no longer anyone to play it, despite tireless attempts to find an organist, even from the outside), and cut a picture window in the narthex wall so people could see into its beauty as they enter. We’ve also turned our large downstairs area into a Narnia-decorated coffeehouse, rollerblading area, ladies’ tea room, men’s sportsmen’s dinner, or kids’ game night.

And it is thrilling to see our people realize this place is theirs, it’s their place to worship, weep, rejoice, pray, marry, grieve lost loved ones, praise God, eat together (we do a lot of that :-) , discuss, learn, laugh, and sometimes just hang out together with our kids. (And it’s also their place to fix when things go wrong. Just as it’s encouraged so many to realize they can ‘chainsaw for God’ in Lakeshore, it’s important for those in our church to know that fixing the running toilet and adding landscaping and changing light bulbs is ministry, too. They ‘get that,’ and are now enjoying the blessing of comraderie/fellowship that such work entails.)

Perhaps it’s not the best analogy, but on the TV sitcom “Cheers,” the song for that bar was about “where everybody knows your name.” There is something to be said for church being Oasis, Refuge, Shelter, Learning and Creativity Center, Refueling Spot, Training Grounds, Home.

I can’t wait to get to church, to see these people, and to bring others into this place. As a pastor’s daughter and pastor’s wife, I’ve known Christians’ quirks – and even their barbs – individually. But corporately, church can be a taste of heaven. I pray that for you and your church family as you continue in the Lord, whether out in the open, under a tarp, under a tent, in a quonset hut, under steel – or whatever design is next. You’ve been an inspiration.

Lakeshore Baptist Church is never far from our thoughts and prayers at Chapel on the Hill.

Reformed Architecture

The other day I pulled several quotes from architect Daniel Lee. As Lakeshore Baptist Church looks forward to rebuilding our storm flattened buildings, I wanted to reflect on the theological implications of building a structure conducive to Christ exalting, God saturated, cross centered worship.

I showed my project coordinator, Greg London, some of the stuff I read and he took the liberty and initiative to contact Daniel Lee personally. I enjoyed my short conversation I had with him and he sounds interested in contributing to our project at some level. We have not worked out any details yet, but I am excited about the prospect.

Credenda Agenda interviewed architect Daniel Lee who, at the time, served as an Elder at the Alexandria Presbyterian Church, (PCA) in Alexandria VA. They asked him:

  • Why should Christians reflect more upon architecture?
  • How does an architect begin to think about creativity?
  • How do you answer the pietistic objection that spending time on architecture is laying up “treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt”?
  • Are there any distinctive aesthetic values of Protestantism, especially the Reformed tradition, which might shape an architectural style or vision?

In anser to that last question, Lee comments:

The Westminster Catechism declares boldly our Chief End. It is to glorify God! For me, to study God’s glory is to engage in the study of a true aesthetic. God’s glory is `the beauty of His manifold perfections’ and therein an artist or architect finds the full inspiration and direction for his work. Beauty, perfection, and excellence of form and design are the high values of any artist consecrating his work to God. We need, like Bezalel, son of Uri, to be filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and knowledge. But how does God impart to us such skill, ability, and knowledge of true beauty, excellence, and perfection? We must study His artistic work, the universum itself. Before us lie patterns, rules, and principles of design which spring directly from His manifold perfections. Dorothy Sayers observed “As the mind of the maker has been made manifest in a work, a way of communication is established between our mind and his.” The mind of our Maker is manifest in the creation. When we draw from the ordering principles of the architect of the cosmos, we establish a setting in which beauty can emerge.

Alas, these principles have been abandoned in our generation. But our buildings, whether in our cities or countryside must again quake with intimations of God’s great Glory through their magnificent beauty, embodiment of eternal principles in fine proportions, a sublime harmony of parts, and carefully crafted, appropriate materials. These are so deeply rooted in the stunning beauty of the created order, they will either serve God’s purposes for the redemption or condemnation of those who suppress the truth of His eternal nature and power.

Do we have a passion for God’s Glory like Nehemiah did, who upon hearing of the shameful condition of Jerusalem, sat down and wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed over its condition? With Nehemiah, let us rise up and repair our ruined cities, in the face of mockery and opposition if necessary. “He is the King of Glory, He is the King of Glory!” Bring in eternity with cultural artifacts of glory, even architecture.

Read the full interview

Masculine Church Architecture

Masculine Church Architecture

Before the storm, my weekly routine included listening to the White Horse Inn. Hosted by Michael Horton, Rod Rosenbladt, Kim Riddlebarger and Ken Jones, the show features a regular roundtable discussion of Christian theology and apologetics. The stimulating conversation highlights sound theology as practiced in our contemporary context and often critiques American pop-evangelicalism.

Michael Horton teaches Apologetics and Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, serves as editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine, and has authored several books including, “Putting Amazing Back into Grace.”

In January, I started trying to carve out enough time in my drastically altered schedule to listen into the White Horse Inn once again. A few weeks ago, Horton interviewed David Murrow, author of “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” In the discussion, Horton made a comment about church architecture that caught my ear. Listen to the 1 minute clip ~316k. Horton observes:

“You know, how about the architecture? When you walk into a church that has strong wooden beams, or it has stone, it has something that came out of the earth, you have that sense of strength, this is going to be around for a while. You walk in, you are quiet you feel sort of like your small. This is not the time to hold hands and cry and hug each other for the next hour and a half; exclusively. It is also a time to feel small.

“Now you walk into an evangelical mega church, the colors are definitely pastel or more gravitating to the soft, the friendly, warm the soothing, the light. The furniture is soft, pillowy. Carpet instead of stone. In fact there really isn’t any stone or brick or anything like that. ” (Kim Riddlebarger interjects, “or if it is, it is one eighth of an inch thick and glued to a wall”. laughter)

Right, a man can walk into a lot of churches and feel like he is walking into a ladies parlor.”

As Lakeshore Baptist Church rebuilds our storm flattened buildings, I want to take care not to build a structure that caters to an emasculated church culture.

Christian Architecture

This week as I began thinking about church architecture, I mentioned architect Daniel Lee. He observed, “What I sense and see in my own involvement in the religious community, and in my reading, is that most Christians cannot begin a conversation on architecture.” At the risk of sounding cynical he notices that,

“The architecture that churches are building today is as confused as the tastes, and faith, of building committee members. Building committees, or other deciding powers, want inexpensive construction that solves basic functional needs. As they select their architect, they are often most concerned with how many churches he has designed, or whether he is well known. It would be nice if he is a believer but they are looking, first, for a safe choice. They feel inadequate to assess philosophical or artistic aspects inherent in their task and simply hope for the best. The results we are seeing are disappointing, and the church is missing important opportunities to create significant new architecture.”

As Lakeshore Baptist Church plans to build all new buildings, I want to think about how the structure we erect can reflect our chief end, which is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Some may argue that the house exists as nothing more than a material necessary evil, but Lee explains,

“Church architecture serves to frame and enhance our worship, in a way that honors the One we worship. Churches are buildings shaped, crafted, and set aside for the very special purpose of our corporate communion with our covenant God. But as works of art, they also speak to the larger culture around them. This is because architecture symbolizes, within the fabric of a community, the social hierarchy and aspiration–or the actual position–of the institution housed within it. It reveals, through artistic means, the relationship between larger transcendent constants and the immanent issues we confront in daily life. And, it provides a meaningful setting for our daily social and spiritual interactions.”

When Katrina took our church buildings, we realized something we had always halfheartedly affirmed – “the church is not the building.” We also learned, on the other hand, that buildings do come in handy. :) Focusing on the preached word becomes difficult while sweltering in 100+ degree temperatures, standing in ankle deep mud, or swatting a cloud of biting gnats. We will rebuild. As we do so, I pray that our theological confessions will shape our progress. Let us reflect the glory of God through our relief efforts in the community, our proclamation of the gospel of grace, and even through our building plans.

Daniel Lee reminds us,

“To be made in the image of God means to be creative and artistic. Our places of worship should be beautiful works of architecture. It is possible to worship God in a gymnasium or lecture hall, because if people are truly seeking him, God will meet them there. But to worship in such architecture is to suggest that our purpose is either recreational or cerebral. We should build spaces crafted specially for a human-divine encounter with God. Our churches should help us focus our spirits on God in worship. Let our worship be a spiritual love feast, and may our banquet hall be appropriate to a King.”

Read the full interview: Is There A Christian Architecture?

21st Century Church Architecture

steeple of hope

Leonard Sweet gives Ten Commandments of Architecture for the Postmodern Church in his article, “Church Architecture for the 21st Century.” Overlooking my discomfort with his use of the “postmodern” label, I think he makes some interesting recommendations.

10. Thou shalt not make a graven image.
9. Thou shalt not create ugliness.
8. Thou shalt design for all senses.
7. Thou shalt have a sense of place.
6. Thou shalt get real.
5. Thou shalt build a living church.
4. Thou shalt get the church out of doors.
3. Thou shalt love thy setting.
2. Thou shalt build smart churches.
1. Thou shalt create new God-glorifying spaces.

Read the article: Church Architecture for the 21st Century

Thinking about church architecture

When hurricane Katrina slammed into the gulf coast, Lakeshore took the brunt of the winds and a massive storm surge. People have asked us, “was your church destroyed?” We have answered, “no – Katrina did not destroy our church. She did completely wash away our buildings. We only found bits and pieces of strewn rubble and the concrete blocks the buildings used to sit on. The hurricane did destroy our buildings, but the church still stands strong.”

The week after the storm we salvaged a few folding chairs, built a make shift pew, set them where the old building used to sit, pulled the pulpit out of the muddy woods and gathered to sing praise to our almighty sustaining sovereign God and gain stability from the preached word. We later erected a blue tarped shelter to provide shade from the blazing sun. We drug the fiberglass steeple from where it landed and set it up beside the road. A couple of months in, we moved into an air conditioned quonset hut. For thanksgiving we worshiped in a big white tent and moved into a metal building a couple of weeks before Christmas. We now look forward to building full facilities, complete with a spacious sanctuary, offices, educational space, nursery, fellowship hall, fully equip kitchen, indoor restrooms, and storage space. What will these buildings look like and what will drive the design process?

Architect Daniel Lee observed, “What I sense and see in my own involvement in the religious community, and in my reading, is that most Christians cannot begin a conversation on architecture.” This week I would like to open that conversation. What should a church consider as it rebuilds all new church buildings? We have learned that deep rich authentic worship can exist without structures, in awkward locations, and under the worst of circumstances. Does that mean that buildings should serve as nothing more than pragmatic tools of minimalistic shelter? Should we simply decide how much space we need and design accordingly, or should we consider other factors? I would love to get some feedback this week as Lakeshore Baptist Church grapples with these and other questions. Comments to my blog have become somewhat scarce in the last couple of months. For those still reading, let me hear what you think.