Friday, February 7, 2014
The culture of church. . .
At some point this changed (at least for Lutherans and then particularly in America). Lutheran church buildings were externally and internally indistinguishable from Roman Catholic buildings for a very long time in America as they still are in much of Europe. That changed, however, and buildings which looked the same on the outside began to look different on the inside -- especially in the amount of ornamentation. For most of Lutheran history the crucifix remained and paraments but the walls became somewhat plain -- even stark. Where I grew up the Lutheran church building had a Thorvaldsen statue of Christ and a crucifix on the ornate wooden carved altar. In the center of the altar, just below where the superfrontal fell (parament for the uninitiated), the altar had an elaborately carved lamb on a book with seven seals. Look around the rest of the building, however, and the walls were completely blank and we also had no stained glass.
Growing up homes often mirrored this stark approach to ornamentation. Except for family photos, it was not common for me to see artwork in people's homes in the 1950s and 1960s. Now my daughter works at a home decor store which makes its living selling ornamentation to people no longer content with blank walls. For whatever reason, art and beauty in the church are still greeted with some suspicion even though we have long ago overcome our aversion to art and ornamentation at home.
The culture of the church is not only for the ear but for the eye (I would include smell here but I would lose half my readers by bringing up incense -- oops!). We do ourselves no favors by abandoning richly textured fabric, the flow of form, and visual images in the sanctuary. It is not better left to the imagination. As people we are as visual as ever yet our church buildings look like warehouses. This is not helping us out. Sadly, we have left ourselves so impoverished of original art, artists, and artisans that we resort to giant TV screens and temporary images instead. We have also decided to build on the cheap with art being the first thing to go when we begin running out of money for construction.
Check out images from Our Savior in Houston -- a congregation where 10% of the construction budget (or more) was used for art in service to the Word.