Our Next Campus Building & A Theology Of Buildings

As work continues on the former St. Vincent’s Church on Shelby & Oak, it’s hard to contain my excitement for this new facility, which will become our Midtown Campus gathering place later this year. This past week, the Sojourn Midtown staff and I walked through the building and inspected all the progress made so far. To your right, you’ll see a photo I took from my phone, looking out the third story window on our neighborhood.

In a class I took 12 years ago, Dr. Hershael York challenged his students to imagine our dream location. I imagined restoring a cathedral, and described walking into that place. Now when I walk into St. Vincent’s, it’s like I’m living out that dream. Hundreds and even thousands of families will worship there, grow deeper in their understanding and desire for Christ there, and become bonded together as God’s family there. The way we design this space is important, because it can’t help but have some effect on the people who will gather there.

As I think on these things, it deepens my understanding of space. The church is not a building, but the buildings we make impact how we do church.

Kevin DeYoung wrote a post on church architecture, lamenting the fact that “we don’t have a good book that can help churches think theologically about the building they have and the building they want to have.”.

Yet resources are out there, and the opportunity exists for each of us to think theologically about this topic. This year I hope to deepen my understanding of space. I hope you’d like to deepen your understanding, too. Over the next few weeks I’ll write one post a week on a theology of space, and I hope you’ll join in with your comments and questions.

For now, consider this quote from John D. Witvliet, Professor of Worship at Calvin College:

“Worship spaces quietly, but persistently, form us in certain habits of heart, mind, and body— the difference between houses in the city with front porches and houses in the suburbs with fenced in back yards.”

  • What do you think? Consider different church buildings you’ve visited or attended in your life.  Does space matter?
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14 Responses to “Our Next Campus Building & A Theology Of Buildings”

  1. Lydia Falconnier March 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    I definitely think that there is, as you say, theology of space. I have been trying to learn more about it this semester. I am an Interior Architecture student at U of L and have been a member of Sojourn for around 3 years.

    For my senior project, I chose to design the interior of St. Vincent’s. The theology of the space has been the major design issue that I have been trying to solve.You described it very well by saying, “The way we design this space is important, because it can’t help but have some effect on the people who will gather there.” I have pursued a design with respect for the difference in church design impacted by the former Catholic affiliation of the space, honoring the history and those who have gone before, but still designing for the new church, beliefs, and functions that this same building must represent. The direction of the design has been based on the different worship atmosphere of the 930 and St. Vincent’s and seeking to make the individual audience member welcomed into an intimate space of worship in the cathedral in the same way as the smaller 930 while not compromising the vision of the great vertical space and vaulted ceilings in the cathedral.

    It has been a fun project. I still have a lot more work to do, but it was interesting to me to read your post about exactly the same design issue that I had pinpointed as my focus. I feel like I am on the right track for my fake project now. :)

    • Daniel Montgomery March 15, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

      Thanks for replying Lydia. Whatever additional suggestions you have would be welcomed.

    • Michael Winters March 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

      Wow Lydia, that’s awesome. I’m in charge of some of the interior design decisions in later stages, so I’d love to see what you come up with. Maybe your ‘fake’ project can be partially realized! Please contact me when you’ve got it ready to show – mwinters@sojournchurch.com.

      • Lydia Falconnier March 16, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

        Sounds like a plan! I am excited. I will let you know. I appreciate your kindmess.

  2. Glenn Bosarge March 15, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Interesting that I just read this for History of the Baptists from Francis Wayland:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=u0nSAAAAMAAJ&lpg=PA101&ots=Ed6ewdSwfh&dq=Francis%20Wayland%20Christian%20Worship&pg=PA101#v=onepage&q=Francis%20Wayland%20Christian%20Worship&f=false

    What do you think of his critique of ornate worship spaces?

    • Glenn Bosarge March 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

      Sorry, I was reading an excerpted version. The part talking about architecture is on pages 124-135 of that link.

      • Daniel Montgomery March 17, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

        Good stuff to think through. I’ll deal with his arguments in future posts. Thanks for the resource.

  3. Andrew March 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm #

    My prayer, in particular, is that the Father would use this gift of a building, and what our senses are able to drink in from the space to create a deeper sense of AWE for Him among all of us. I want to walk in a greater awe of Him, a more lively sense of how Magnificent HE is and how utterly small I am – and I am hopeful and excited that He will communicate this to us regularly through this space!

  4. Tyler Wittman March 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    Bro, I’m gonna start writing a dissertation on the ontology of space in the fall. I’m obsessed with this topic, so I really look forward to what you have to say; Sojourn’s practices have helped shape my perspective on the primary issues at stake.

  5. Frank Gantz March 16, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    This is good stuff. Historically, space has communicated our theology. i.e. The pulpit or the mass in the center depending on whether the theology was Protestant (word centered) or Catholic (sacrament centered).

    Looking forward to what Sojourn does with this pretty cool space.

  6. Bryan Lilly April 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Like Tyler, I’ve been obsessed with the concept of space and place lately. I’ve been writing (very slowly) a series on a theology of embodiment, and hope to deal with place/space soon after getting through the creation-fall-redemption-restoration paradigm and what it teaches us about our bodies.

    Theological architecture is very important–as embodied people we necessary inhabit place, and that place is very liturgical. Think of stepping into a wal-mart–the emotions it conveys, what its space tells us about its function, etc. Then consider stepping into a mom-and-pop store. As James K. A. Smith points out in Desiring the Kingdom, a mall has a liturgy all of its own. One of the things I enjoy about catholic churches is that the see the teaching aspect of liturgical space–the baptismal at the entrance of the church because it’s a visual reminder that baptism is our entrance into the church. Even the protestants moved the pulpit to the front of the churches to emphasize the place that Scripture has in our services–front and center.

    I’m really excited about your future posts, Daniel!

    • Bryan Lilly April 18, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

      And I just saw that this is from March. Time to go back through my blog subscriptions, whoops.

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