When a sacred space screams “worship,” singers, whose hearts are captured by Christ who is reflected in the art of the room, are compelled to use their art as a means of response. Such was the case when a group of music ministers visited the beautiful St. Helena Cathedral in Helena, Montana.  The acoustics and story of salvation depicted in the stain glass windows inspired the singers to render two songs.  Experiencing God’s presence through the Biblical story rendered in the 59 windows, especially the 37 windows that depict the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve through the cross and resurrection of Christ and formation of the early church, all fostered a hunger to sing.  One most fitting piece was a communion song (Psalm 74:12), Salvation Is Created, written by Pavel Tchesnokov in 1912 – one of his last sacred works composed before the Communist Soviet Union officials forced him to turn his attention solely to secular works. His beautiful musical setting reminds us that salvation was born in the very heart of God.  Though intended for the Orthodox liturgy of the Eastern Church, the music translated powerfully in the Roman Catholic setting of the St. Helena Cathedral. (listen below)  The group also sang,  We Are Not Alone, their worship concert opener that declares the Lord’s presence now and always among His people.

Several of the singers indicated their response of awe and wonder in the beautiful architectural space that was built with intention to communicate to parishoners and guests alike the message of the Bible.  Several commented on the appeal to the artist within, and how they were stirred to sing.  While there is no guarantee that a sanctuary built in a similar Gothic style will elicit similar response from a group, there does seem to be a sense in which the space communicates to those who traipse through its chancel and nave.  There is little doubt that the response of worshipful singing came as result of the heart position and condition of those who traipsed through these hallowed walls on the Fall day of our Montana trip, but it would be neglectful not to also consider how the space itself participated in what took place that day, and one could surmise that there is some degree of communication with all who venture there.

Church gathering places are built from a wide variety of philosophical points of view, and usually reflect a theological position of the pastor and leaders who were in leadership roles at the time of their design and construction.  Some spaces would seem to intend intimate community; and others would appear to foster comfort among those whose lives are characterized by pursuit of the comfortable.  Many contemporary worship contexts lend themselves to mostly what might be said to be “platform-out” communication.  Certainly, this latter structure is most familiar to present day culture.  Even where these seem entertainment-friendly, symbols that once would have been carved or hung as part of the structure may appear either through scenic set designs, or by way of projected technologies.  Still other settings may be a blended convergence of any or all of these architectural characteristics, but in every case the room cannot help but set some sense of the tone for gathered worship, and participate in the worship itself, especially in music-making.

Acoustical environments either enhance or struggle against congregational participation, choral singing, band-driven worship music, or any other compliment of stylistic expression.  For worship music leaders who have opportunity to participate in worship space design, care must be taken to consider the long haul of worship expression.  As a friend of mine often says, “the room always wins.”  That is to say that the room will likely serve the kind of acoustical and artistic purpose for which it was designed.

It is encouraging in our day to see more pastors and worship art directors paying careful attention to worship space design.  I recently read an article by a pastor friend on the design of the pulpit in the newly redecorated sanctuary that included a new pulpit.  The simple inscription on the new pulpit in this Baptist environment?  “Preach the Word.”  Powerful punch in an environment that honors the preached Word as central to Christian worship.  Fostering the singing of praise and hearing of the Word would seem priorities in any worship space where such activities are understood to be the basis for the church’s worship.

While all of us may respond differently to various worship environments – the stone and stain glass of the cathedral hit some as “cold,” and the lighted platform and projection screen hits some as “just entertainment” – those who are called of God to lead congregations in worship must surely assist in thoughtful planning and use of worship space that will foster engagement with God in spirit and truth.


Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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