What the Structure Says: Two Milwaukee churches’ contrasting ideas about architecture and the sacred

The Wall Street Journal has an article that touches on the function of architecture in creating churches (worship-spaces?) written by an architectural critic.

What makes a church sacred? Until the Reformation, the standard answer was its consecration as a house of God. Since Vatican II and the cultural ferment of the 1960s, Catholic and Protestant reformers alike have subscribed to the notion that churches are merely functional settings, whether for celebrating liturgical rites or hearing the Word.


3 thoughts on “What the Structure Says: Two Milwaukee churches’ contrasting ideas about architecture and the sacred

  1. Although technically, a Church can properly exist as a shanty in the woods somewhere, I’ve always been partial to more traditional, cathedral-like architecture in favor of this chummy “open lodge” feel that permeates the construction from the 70’s onward.

    The acoustics are also superior in the older churches as it allows for a greater resonance and gives the music a more stately, though slightly “colder”, feel.

    All this is purely subjective taste, however, and it’s important to remember as such.

  2. Beauty is one element of sacredness. Churches that intentionally go for the pedestrian look because they believe that ritual, structure, and formalism detract from the personableness of worship also succumb to the dumbing down of beauty — guitar or polka masses, follow the bouncing ball sing-alongs, wearing golf shirts and shorts at worship, tacky pictures that substitute sentimentality for meaning, etc.

    This is not to say you can’t worship in a barn. You can. My last parish was a start up that met in an empty office area. It was spartan, but it was still worship. It certainly was not the ideal however.

  3. I am fortunate enough to be a member of a Cathedral parish and we have a beautiful Holy Temple in which to worship. The beauty, the subject and the placement of the icons all contribute substantially to quality of worship as does the form of the building itself.

    Our Holy Temples are not just gathering places in which we praise God, they are a reflection of the Incarnation itself. The entire building is an icon of the salvific work of God. All of creation is involved in salvation, not just us. We are called to salvation through community, not just a personal relationship with Jesus. The building is the icon of the Ark (Noah’s and the Ark of the Covenant), the Cave of Christ’s Birth, and the Way Himself.

    Designed, built, and used properly, the building creates and encloses a sacred space illuminating the city in which it resides. Our priest at the time of the building of my parish (now His Grace Bishop Basil), blessed each step of the construction and St. George was finally consecrated by Met. Philip not long after completion.

    To ignore the physical part of the Church is in a real sense to deny, to a certain extent, the reality and the effect of the Incarnation. And yet, true worship is not limited to a particular type of building.

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