Saturday, March 10, 2012

Church Architecture and Mission

I've got a friend who I'm sure will get a certain feeling of satisfaction in my posting this, but oh well...
A friend of mine is pastor of a congregation in northern Germany. The church building is two hundred years old, but there is really nothing unique or extraordinary about it. Yet one thing makes the church special in my eyes. There is a wide square in front of the church that was a marketplace in former times. The square is laid out with cobblestones, some darker and others lighter, which of itself is nothing extraordinary. But when you stand in the middle of the square, you notice something unexpected. The light brown cobblestones form a pattern on the background of the darker cobblestones. Starting at the church door, the lighter stones spread out into the square like sunrays. Walking from the middle of the square toward the entrance into the church, you feel as if you are being guided by the sunrays made from stone. Inside the church, the pattern continues, leading to the center of the church: the pulpit and the table of the Lord's Supper. After the service, when you walk out of the church, the same cobblestones that led you into the church now lead you out of the church into the market square. Those two-hundred-year-old, worn-out cobblestones that have gathered the congregation around Word and sacrament now send the people out into the world. -- Margit Ernst-Habib, "A Conversation with Twentieth-Century Confessions," Conversations with the Confessions: Dialogue in the Reformed Tradition (Joseph D. Small, ed.; Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2005), 69.
Would that churches today thought through their architecture in this sort of theological mode, rather than worrying about things like where to put the speakers and projection screen, hang the projector and lights, expand the parking (note well that this particular architectural move would be impossible in our own time and place because we have become thoroughly enslaved to the automobile, John Knox's grave has actually been paved over for parking!), put the vending machine or miniature coffee shop, etc. And that's even before we start in on the missionary orientation , not trying to replicate a distinctly Christian culture but feeding on word and sacrament and then going out into the larger world thus fortified to share the gospel.

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2 comments:

blair said...

I forwarded this to our new church building committee and our architect for consideration. Won't work exactly because of what you've articulated and also because of the way the sanctuary is situated to the outside but something similar would be possible.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Awesome. Let me know how it turns out!