Friday, March 27, 2015

Our buildings

Most people laud a wonderful looking building; similarly, most people are pleased to be in an elegant space. More so than in a disheveled space. It changes the atmosphere, it elicits a stronger and happier emotional response; it would be interesting to examine if there are also productive benefits from spaces that are enjoyable to be in as opposed to those that are not. When given a choice people tend to want to be in spaces that give them a good feeling and not those that do not.

Do I want to be in a church meeting (service) in a space that is mean, or that is impolite to its occupants (that is, someone has arranged it, or failed to arrange it with regard for the emotional meaning people will take from it). I’ve been in both!

At one stage I disparaged expenditure on church buildings as taking funds from ministry. But not so now; expenditure on church buildings, wisely done, is part of ministry. The creation is physical and living in the creation entails us arranging our physical environment. Let’s do it well, rather than poorly.

Church has always been a people priority for me, and for most people, I think, but that priority is honoured with a space that dignifies our purpose.

Consider the contrast  between, for example, the interior of St James at Queen’s Square in Sydney (to the left)
St James Sydney, interior

and the interior of a community centre, school assembly hall or similar used for a church (to the right)

It also works in the detail: at Capenwray the lectern in the main lecture room was a very finely crafted piece of cabinetry reminiscent of Shaker work in its understated order. In fact, the principal at that time, Allan Catchpoole, made the point that excellence in our artefacts (within resources) is a valid contribution to ministry. His feel for aesthetics extended to the literary qualities of the Pauline letters that we were studying, incidentally, which dramatically increased their impact, to my mind.
Any old hall, interior

I returned to Capernwray some years later when it was under a different principal: one of the staff then was quite tall, so the lectern had been given a height extension. It was done in a fabrication of unfinished particle board, roughly screwed together...ugly. Is that how we think of our faith?

Bringing these thoughts to my present church, I’ve suggested that when we do our big expansion, we re-consider the front wall of the main auditorium: an indifferent blank wall; not bad, but not good, but with instruments and odds and ends stored haphazardly to each side.

I wouldn’t want to aspire to the careful drama of an Aalto interior...but a better setting for our services would an encouragement, I think.

Alvar Aalto: Viikki church interior

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