Church architecture: From Rogers to Rome

My wife pointed to the religion section of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette this past weekend and its two stories dealing with church buildings. The more brief article talks about Peace Lutheran Church of Rogers. Peace built a new church recently which is literally “built on the Word of God.”

Yes, there is a Bible in the poured foundation of the church.

While I might find this more than just slightly cheesy, such an act seems to evidence intention not commonly found in American church design. Christie Storm’s article mentions other symbolism in the new church building: “The gentle concave curve calls to mind the welcoming arms of Christ . . . The symbolism continues inside, where yellow portions of the concrete floor form a cross.”

OK, so it’s probably not going to end up in the pages of Architectural Digest anytime soon. But in a day and age when most churches look like the offspring of a warehouse and an office building with a plastic steeple thrown on top it’s encouraging to know some congregations are putting a little thought into their multi-million dollar structures. I know that similar thought went into the church building I congregate in weekly, but the result sounds more like a philosophy than looking like anything intentional in the end product.

The second story my wife mentioned, somewhat ironically, laments how the great cathedrals of Rome stand empty with the exception of tourists. The Diocese of Rome is befuddled. Worshippers in the burgeoning suburbs choose, instead of driving in to Rome, to worship in garages and converted grocery stores.

My home church is a converted furniture warehouse. I like that our congregation purchased and renovated a vacant building that would likely still be vacant — and likely more of an eyesore — had the church not seen potential in the space. But at the same time, I lament the simple (read “cheap”) and commercial appearance of the building. I recently quoted architect Daniel Lee in my post Is there a Christian 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.

I want to worship in a space worthy of God.

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

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