A sense of holiness hung thick in the air, my steps echoed as I walked forward. Flecks of every color caught my eye. They hung like colorful stars on the towering columns. My gaze drifted from the floor slowly upward, my neck craning. There before me was Jesus, shining in all His stained glass glory.
What happened to the vibrant windows? When did we trade some of the most beautiful architecture for something so … plain?
I’m no church expert. But I took an art history class, which flipped my view on the church building.
Every column, window and corner of ancient church buildings pointed to God. Upon entering, cathedrals often had friezes that depicted the final judgment. The stoney image would have angels carrying away the souls of saints, meanwhile demons dragged away the damned. Back then the church didn’t hesitate to remind us of the unseen spiritual world. Even the very layout of the church with it’s nave and transepts were purposely designed to resemble a cross. The pointed gothic windows and ceilings drew members to look upward to heaven, remembering their Holy Father. Architects were even concerned about the acoustics of the building, hoping to achieve the ethereal feel of a choir singing.
Why did we decide on building concert halls rather than the great Gothic buildings of old? Do ambiance and buildings really matter to my worship experience?
I’ve always gone to a pretty modern church, just a row of chairs and the occasional fake flowers on the altar. But when I visit Catholic churches, cathedrals and other beautiful, ancient churches, I notice something profoundly different. The cathedrals’ rainbow of stained glass windows and tall ceilings give the feeling that this is a faith more old and sacred than I’m used to encountering on Sunday mornings in the auditorium. That where I’m treading is holy ground and I’m merely a visitor.
After visiting these stunning churches, I can’t help but sometimes feel like I’m missing out when I sit down in my chair on Sunday morning.
My church tossed out windows all together. Instead the walls are grey, with strange modern designs on the canvas walls. We have chairs like those in movie theaters, minus the cup holders. The lights are typical stage lights, during the service they spot light worship leaders. In fact, the entire focus is the stage rather than the upward feel of a cathedral. It seems sometimes that everything is revolving around the stage, instead of God.
Don’t get me wrong, today’s church architecture isn’t totally depraved. I do enjoy that I can where my flip-flops to church and not feel as if I need to tiptoe in order to avoid a great amount of ruckus.
Modern churches have one thing that cathedrals don’t, coffee and couches. Today’s churches help promote interaction with each other. We don’t feel overwhelmed with the intense quietness; instead laughter rings loudly in the lobby as people catch up with friends. We can sit down, coffee in hand, and fellowship with each other.
But I still can’t help but wish we’d learn a few lessons in ambience from the ancient churches. I can’t help but see too many similarities between a concert venue and our modern sanctuaries. I also wish maybe there could be a new breed of church architecture one that would blend the sacredness of cathedrals and the community feel of modern churches.
How has architecture influenced your faith? When has architecture had a direct impact on your worship experience? Do you prefer the ancient churches or the informal churches of today?
We’re publishing an article in the Summer 09 Neue Quarterly on the influence of architecture in the church. This article will feature photos and captions from YOU! We’re asking you to submit your original photographs of church architecture (interior or exterior of buildings) and a 100 word caption that tells us how the church architecture in your photo influenced your faith or your worship experience. We’ll select 18-20 of the best photos and captions to publish in the Quarterly and will include a credit line for all photos and captions.
If you’re interested in submitting, please follow the guidelines below:
Email your photo and caption to: email@example.com
Include a JPEG or TIFF photo
Include your 100 word caption in the email (not as a separate file)
All entries must be received by midnight ET, April 10, 2009.
If your photo and caption are selected. We’ll contact you and give you instructions for uploading a high-res version of the photo to our ftp site. We will need a high-res JPEG or TIFF that’s a minimum of 1,800 pixels wide. Please do not submit photos if you do not have a high-res version of the photo available.
We look forward to hearing from you!