Monday, December 31, 2007

Space Matters

It's time to talk about space; more specifically sacred space. So on this December 31, 2007, I'm launching a blogsite devoted to ramblings and ruminations about things sacred and things spacious. 
It started out as a sabbatical leave challenge in 2000. The church I was serving granted me a 3 month leave. I had no clue what a sabbatical was except from observing my father's sabbatical leave during my junior year in high school. He went back to seminary to earn a ThM degree in church history. I did not want a degree, so I began working and a question that intrigued, perplexed and bothered me. What is it about some spaces that lend themselves to the sacred? I mean, when you enter them, you are aware of the holy?
That's it. That was the question that took me on my sabbatical leave. I had been pastoring for 20 years when I left. I pastored 3 churches in 3 different states and of 3 different sizes and personalities, though all within the same denomination (Evangelical Covenant). There were moments of spectacular, overwhelming holiness in worship and then there were duds, when the words never left the room and the music fell flat.
Worship was evolving and morphing in the 80's, 90's and 2000's. Space became maleable and optional. Furnishings moved around and the language describing the worship space secularized into stages and platforms, audiences and programs, applause and advertisements. The mega-churches arrived and thrived, offering seminars on how to reach the seekers by stripping away outmoded architecture, music, clothing and language. All was done with sincerity and a genuine desire to reach lost people for Jesus.
What I noticed in the process was how the sung and spoken word dominated the visual and non-verbal. Churches worshiped in warehouse boxes, loaded with light bars and walls of speakers painted black. Music was amped and pumped out till your chest vibrated and you could not hear yourself or anyone else sing. 
Gothic cathedrals inspired me with their size and scale: Notre Dame, Chartes, Poitiers, San Michelle. But, I'm married to an artist and an art history teacher who strongly suggested I did not want to study the gothic, but the romanesque. When I fought back, asking why romanesque over gothic, her answer was that the gothic reflects more of the situation of the wealthy royalty, inserting their imagery and heraldry into the architecture whereas the romanesque (pre 1,000 AD) was more biblical and standard. They reflected the monastic orders more than the royal families.
So we went to southern France and I began visiting romanesque churches and cathedrals throughout southern France. My home base church became St. Trophime in Arles (pictured above). 
What I would request from those of you who read this, is to send me a picture of your congregational worship space. Send any photos to
I hope, over the months (if not years) to narrate and navigate the realm of sacred use of space not so much as an architect or francophile, but more from a normal pastoral perspective.
Christmastide is about the Christ becoming flesh, being incarnate, taking on stuff. We all live in worlds cluttered with stuff. How do we allow the sacred to break through our space?


Dan said...

Thanks for launching this new blog. When I think of the sanctuaries of my life to date I wonder at what makes them sacred space for me. These sanctuaries for the most part are along the lines of the plain and simple... sort of. The dominating sanctuary is the one of my youth (read 0-19). Next time I visit my folks I'll run over and take a picture or two to send your way- at that time I'll try to express what makes that space sacred for me.

I'll also send along some pictures of the rooms that have served as this congregations worship spaces here in San Andreas (a community at the other end of the spectrum from Santa Barbara and the Montecito neighborhood).

I'll look forward to your ramblings and ruminations in the days ahead.

donnjohnson said...

Thanks Dan, that is exactly what I'm looking for and will help me in my quest!