Let us all go to the house of the Lord to worship

Published 9:30 am Friday, September 27, 2013

By the Rev. Cherie Daniel
Freeborn Congregational United Church of Christ, Alden United Methodist Church, Grace United Methodist Church in Kiester

While in seminary, I discovered an interest in church architecture. The instructor for the worship class inspired me, because he had a similar interest.

It began simply, a question about “Why are there two candles on the altar?” He had several hypotheses:

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1. Jesus Christ is both human and divine.

2. We are called to be in this world but also to prepare for the next.

3. Until a century ago, there was no electricity, so people needed candles to read the Bible – one for each page!

Dr. Griffith asked me to explore more about architecture. What does the arrangement of artifacts and furniture say about what we believe in God? Here are some of the questions he suggested that I ask of each church as I studied each environment:

Is communion served from a table in the center of the congregation so all share equally in its responsibilities and gifts, or is it set against a far wall and the server becomes the mediator between God’s gifts and the people of God?

Is the baptismal font (or pool) front and center — maybe even in the doorway so worshipers remember their baptism every time they enter — or is it tucked out of the way until it is needed?

Is the preacher’s podium high above the congregation’s eye level or does the seating slope from higher to lower to where the action occurs?

What about the windows? Are there any, or is the outside world shut out in the style of a movie theatre or an auditorium? Are the window spaces full of stained glass so that the stories are illuminated or at least the sun shines through brilliant colors? Are the windows clear, as they were in the colonial period, so that worshippers are aware of the needs of the community (and also aware of those who are milling about and not in worship)?

Where is the choir? The band? The organ? Are they settled on the stage or tucked away as part of the congregation?

Are there Bibles in the pews so that all have access to the written word?

What about the shape of the worship space — floor-to-ceiling? Is the ceiling low, suggesting horizontal faith, representing the nearness of God and our responsibility to the world? Is the ceiling high, representing vertical faith (many ceilings even have clouds painted on them) to represent the distance from God and our striving toward our eternal home “up there”?

There are so many other questions about colors and chairs/pews and shiny/soft and loud/reverent silence and paraments and robes and processions and standing/kneeling… Everything is designed to say something about who the worshippers are, and how they are involved in the experience, and what is believed about their relationship to God and to the world.

When I get the opportunity, I like to explore other worship spaces and ask these questions. Each combination of design details creates a unique experience for worship. What does your space reflect about you? Whatever it is, I pray you may celebrate with the psalmist who wrote,

“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”