Our church sanctuary is a fine example of what Iâ€™d call permanent art. Constructed in 1904-1905, ours is the most beautiful sanctuary in town, and, Iâ€™m told, one of the most beautiful in NE Texas. I know it looks mighty nice. I also know that it costs heaps of money to maintain and will continue to do so from here on out. Thatâ€™s the way old buildings are. Just before I arrived the church spent about $700k renovating the building. This past year we spend $49k on the stained glass windows and $34k on the roof. Weâ€™re just about done spending $185 rebuilding the pipe organ. The good news â€“ itâ€™s almost over. The bad? We still owe about $250k on the renovation loan and someday weâ€™ll have to figure out how to stabilize the foundation. In the meantime, the expenses of our beauty most likely crimp our ability to expand ministry and meet other obligations.
But beauty is better than ugliness, right? Beauty honors God the Creator, right? Iâ€™ve heard this kind of protest against some of the newer churches that worship in plain looking buildings â€“ or even in giant boxes. No beauty â€“ just functionality. And after 25-50 years they just look dingy and are ready for replacement.
But are permanent (relatively) beauty and ugliness the only alternatives? Iâ€™d like to propose what Iâ€™ll call â€œtemporary beauty.â€ We already do this to a certain extent. On the exterior, temporary beauty is called landscaping. It will include planting trees and flowers, arranging rocks and other inanimate objects in a way that is attractive. On the interior we occasionally make use of banners and wall hangings (not too many at our place â€“ theyâ€™re not needed).
I see two big advantages to temporary beauty. First, being temporary, maintenance costs are lower. Second, and more importantly, more people can be involved. If we rely on the architecture alone for our beauty, it was done 100 years ago. We donâ€™t need any more. But if â€“ in addition to the architecture â€“ we also have banners, wall coverings, paintings, sculptures and the like, these can be continually replenished by a vats number of people offering their gifts to the Lord.
Iâ€™m curious what others think. Leave me a comment and let me know.
I wrote a 3 piece commentary in this area earlier this year in response to the $8 million capital rennovation project our church has undertaken. I voted for it, but not without some reservations. It would be Ideal if we were not as tied to structures but, as humans, we are. I have thought that a steel building with a totally flexable interior would be a better way to serve the needs of the church. Configure it one way for services, then reconfigure the rest of the week as needed for service and mission. Still, when I see a beautiful sanctuary, I am still in awe. When I have toured the great cathedrals in Europe, often built over several generations. The work that often simple people put into them is, in effect, a prayer in stone and stained glass sent into the future, a testimony to their faith. It’s a tough decision.