As an architect my interest in design for religious purposes has often been impacted by the specificity of God’s commands regarding building the Tabernacle in Exodus Chapter 26. God’s statements are not instructions, they are demands, “Thou shalt make….” It is easy to discern God’s earliest specifications involve the importance of quality materials, excellent workmanship, and precise design. The purpose is intentional – to reflect the greater glory of God, not his people.
I have been honored to design several facilities in the Diocese of Southern Ohio including multiple projects for Christ Church Cathedral, The Church of the Redeemer, Hyde Park, St. Mark’s, Upper
Arlington, and The Procter Center. Each project represented the opportunity to examine and compare God’s prescriptive commands in Exodus 26 with criteria for the contemporary church where Christ is the centerpiece. Sacred space has long since ceased to be the holy tent of a nomadic people.
The design elements of Christ Chapel at The Procter Center emphasize nature as a major aesthetic component. The building is sited along the major axis of a basin of water defined by low stone walls and fed by seven springs. To add richness to the narrative the origin and purpose of the basin is unknown. To place the Chapel on high ground the building site was elevated seven feet using earth excavated to create a ten acre lake. The beauty of the lake transforms the rural setting, supports recreational activities, and provides a unique resource for baptism and sunrise services.
The interior combines traditional architectural order with transparency, natural light, and attention to the harmony of proportion and detail. The Chancel furniture, cross, and font are designed specifically for the Chapel. Light as a source and resource, water as a life-giving symbol of regeneration, and the emphasis on natural materials are the means to give glory to God.
In every project the question arises what does God intend for this place, at this time, for this people. How do you interpret the intent of God’s prescriptive mandates in light of criteria involving shared experience and the value of ritual patterns? The Tabernacle of Exodus was the result of God’s decree to build a setting suitable for nomadic worship. It is not a static concept. Today worship takes place in a setting entirely different. Nevertheless more permanent homes for ministry and worship do not mean we approach God differently. We build in the best manner possible to glorify God. To paraphrase Anglican Canon Richard Giles, author of Re-Pitching the Tent, now we build for the corporate nature of worship because we are beings-in-relationship called to participate and share.
Planning and design for contemporary religious purposes finds an additional parallel in Exodus 26 wherein no detail is too small to be of significance. Our buildings express our character and purpose, be it main entrance, sanctuary, or restroom. Today a church building needs to be an authentic image of its community of faith and a visible message of their ministry.