Thursday, November 24, 2011

church architecture and power

Steve Collins

Architecture is always an embodiment of power relations, and church architecture, somehow, acutely so; perhaps because it deals directly with the relationship of a community to itself, its leaders, the world and God. Consider, for example:

• a schoolroom layout – for those who want to teach
• an auditorium with a stage and big screen – for those who want to spectate
• the in-the-round mass of a modern Roman Catholic church
• chair circles for small groups
• the post-Reformation preaching box, to teach you to sit up straight and not be idolatrous
• the plastic stacking chairs and demountable stage for fellowship in the local school hall

In the days of the Constantinian settlement, the newly established church took the Roman basilica as the model for its now-public buildings, rather than the house [one suspects, the dining room] that had been its previous abode. The basilica was a law court, and the Christians swapped the magistrate’s throne for an altar and sat the elders in the tribune behind it, thus imaging God as both judge and Emperor, surrounded by His government. We have been haunted by that decision ever since. We still build our churches with an important end, where the leaders are and God is implied to be, faced by everyone else. Our buildings tell us that the people at that end are more important than the people at the other, have a greater right to speak and be heard, are more representative of God. To make a church look like ‘a church’ is to impose a set of implied power relationships on our community that may not be desirable or in their best interests...
-Steve Collins,  Ghosts of Power Versus the Spirit of Community
continued here

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