Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Edifice Complex

At what point does real estate and a building become more of a hindrance than a help to the life of the church?

Our buildings and their architecture say much about who we are and what we value in our worship life - where the people sit, where the pulpit and altar are located and how big they are, stained glass windows or clear, etc.

So, when we realize that our identity is shifting in some way - the times and culture have changed and call for a new response or a new modality; the neighborhood has changed and we need to reach out to a new deomographic; the liturgy doesn't carry enough meaning anymore because it has become rote so we need to make a change of emphasis - one of the best ways to accomplish that shift is by shifting the cues in our environment. This can be very hard to do, though, when those cues are locked in to the architecture of the building.

There is an old adage in the church liturgy circles which says that when you are trying to design liturgy and look for new forms, new expressions of worship you usually end up fighting against the architecture which was designed to reinforce a previous theology. And so the saying goes, "the building always wins."

I just wonder, though, how the church would be different if we took a more mobile/adaptable view of our buildings and architecture - much like families do when they decide, "This house just isn't working for us anymore" and so they either remodel or sell and move. Some churches do remodel - but not without great pain and grief usually. Rarely do churches actually move.

If we were more adaptable with our architecture, would we also be more adaptable in general? Or would the church still be as slow to change and to respond to the shifts in culture and in the lives of people who mostly today find the church to be irrelevant to their lives?

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