Every mosque, church, synagogue, temple or other house of worship speaks theologically through its architecture and through the various signs and symbols each contains.
Often it takes time to become aware of all this and sometimes it requires help from trained eyes.
Until one day last week I had not had a chance to be inside the new $81-million, 3,500-seat sanctuary of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in suburban Leawood, Kan. But when I went to interview the founding pastor, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, for a Flatland column that will appear online at the end of April, Adam gave me a quick tour of the new space, especially noting the ways in which the sanctuary is designed to reflect essential Christian theology.
I'll share a few highlights, as you look my photo of the massive (93-by-37-feet) stained-glass window that dominates the new space. (The photo at left is not from COR but from the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City. It, too, is sacred space full of symbolism, and it's simply gorgeous. You can take an online tour of the cathedral here.)
First, the seats in the new COR sanctuary are divided into various sections of 75 or 80 seats to create a sense of a smaller community, and each section will have, in effect, welcoming hosts.
The whole building is designed, Adam said, "to convey the idea of a garden. . .so people can step into the story." Indeed, the garden theme is carried in the stained-glass, with three gardens pictured -- from left to right, the Garden of Eden, the garden where Christ was crucified and the garden of paradise restored.
The window, in other words, illustrates the basic Christian narrative of paradise lost, paradise redeemed and paradise restored.
"Every week," Adam said, "this is our story."
In addition, "the architecture of the outside of the building is designed to convey the idea of a garden, too," he said. There are seven stainless steel projections representing the seven days of creation, "so you're stepping into the Garden of Eden," in a sense. They also represent the seven days of Holy Week, which for Christians culminates in Easter.
There are other garden symbols inside the sanctuary, too, including vines "to remind us that God is the vine grower, Christ is the vine and we are the branches. We gather here to be pruned by him every week and to be connected to Christ the vine and to be sent back out into the world," he said.
There is much, much more to the COR sanctuary's symbolism, and the church is training some 200 docents to be able to give tours to people.
COR, of course, is not unique in creating a space full of theological symbols that tell a story. In some ways, all sacred space does that. Next time you enter such space, be mindful. Notice. Ask -- especially if it's your regular house of worship but you've mostly been blind to the symbolism all these years.
(By the way, here is a Kansas City Star story about the COR stained-glass with a video about it.)
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THE VOICE OF FAITH SOMETIMES MUMBLES
How have people of faith around the world been responding to the latest outrages in Syria? As this Economist piece notes, with widely varying and confused voices: "the response of organised Christianity to events in Syria has been every bit as confused and ideologically driven as the response of most other observers." Sigh.