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MISSION CATALYST

a quarterly magazine produced by the Baptist Missionary Society

The theme of Issue 2, 2010 is the arts in mission, and includes the following article on Architecture

Mission Catalyst can be downloaded free from BMS
www.bmsworldmission.org/catalyst

 

 

CAN ARCHITECTURE BE MISSIONAL?

 

Early Baptist chapels were hidden behind other buildings to be discrete in a time of persecution, to allow Christians to worship and witness in peace.

Highly visible and with ornate interiors the Victorians built churches as symbols of hope in deprived areas.

Landowners like John Howard the prison reformer provided decent cottages for their tenants, and later the Cadburys and Rowntrees provided housing and community facilities not limited to their employees.

In the mid 19th century Christians demonstrated God’s love by providing affordable housing.

Again in the mid 20th century Christians were in the forefront establishing housing associations.

For missional architecture three components are required:-

1) A vision

2) A site

3) An architect - who shares the vision, and will adapt or design the building to serve the vision, not his own ego.

Contemporary examples abound so I have chosen two I know, but without identifying them.

The architects’ practice I work for helps congregations in their mission by designing new buildings, or more often today upgrading existing ones to meet access and health and safety regulations, and to make better use of existing space.

In one case we linked existing levels with ramps, provided a meeting room and ancillary accommodation alongside the church, and cleared a former courtyard to create another meeting space.

My local Baptist church converted the entrance area into a highly visible café with glazed doors, and one use is Tea and Toast for clubbers on Friday nights.

So the answer to can architecture be missional is yes it can; but how do buildings speak?

Psalm 19 shows God communicating in two ways, and just as God’s creation communicates so do beautiful well designed environments, whether or not designed by Christians. Secondly God speaks through his word, which traditionally meant in the context of buildings, through the artwork and texts they contain. Today we might include the performing arts and interactive displays.

This means everything from the ceiling of the Sistine chapel to paintings displayed by the Sunday school!

The finest 20th century example is the Holy Land pilgrimage churches by Antonio Barluzzi. Each church was designed to evoke the mood of the event in Jesus’ life which it commemorated. Each brings out the appropriate atmosphere from the joyful occasion of two expectant mothers meeting at Zechariah’s home to the gloom in the Garden of Gethsemane. This even without the murals, mosaics, sculptures and texts they contain.

 

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