Worship in Beautiful Spaces
In a previous post, I explored the question of whether or not we, as humans created in the image of God, are created for beautiful spaces. Helpful dialogue ensued, particularly around how this relates to the God who is present among his creation. In this post, I intend to explore a possible application of the proposal that creativity is fundamental to our humanity and a beautiful space is fundamental to our flourishing. What does that mean for the worship space of the Church?
In Christianity, Art and Transformation, John de Gruchy spends his final chapter considering ‘art in the life of the church’, arguing that ‘no congregation should have to worship in a sanctuary that is unredeemed by beauty.’ (217) The worship space should ‘transcend function’ and be a place ‘that enables the worshipping community to experience a sense of the transcendent.’ (216) For de Gruchy, this is important for the worshipping congregation because the building ‘needs to express a theological understanding of what the church is and what it does when gathered for worship.’ However, it is also relevant to those outside the church because, as he argues, the ‘church architecture gives visibility to the values upheld by the church.’ (218) Throughout the chapter, de Gruchy is operating from the position that ‘the environment within which people are nourished normally affects their development and their perspective on life.’ (242)
de Gruchy’s chapter is worth reading and is rich in its exploration of the theological importance of beauty and its application for church space. Building on his chapter, there are two points I’d like to make followed by questions to start our discussion.
(1) Beauty does not necessarily equal expensive.
The perceived high financial cost of beauty is a common argument against investing in art for the church, fueled by the belief that money is better spent elsewhere (such as on the poor). Writing from post-apartheid South Africa gives De Gruchy a unique angle on this issue. For him, beauty is not in the expense but in the simplicity. He uses as an example of a simple candle in a shanty-town church that transforms the space. Beauty is much more than ‘any easy or artistic coziness’. Instead, the ‘holy beauty’ of God reveals His glory. (225) Cultivation to appreciate and discern this kind of beauty becomes part of our Christian formation. (242)
(2) The beauty of the space impacts our worship and our understanding of God, even if it is not conscious.
The field of interior design has known this for a long time. Walls, doors, decor and room layout are all intentionally crafted to shape human response. If the space we occupy plays a role in our response, then a beautiful worship space should be something that is fitting and appropriate for the worship of God. Therefore, it is something that requires our consideration and reflection and surely cannot be considered irrelevant to our worship.
So, what is a beautiful space for worship? Could we define it as a place where humans created in the image of God are able to create, input, transform, and participate as fully fledged members of the body of Christ? If so, what does this mean for our models of worship, our use of space, and our engagement of the person?