congregational aesthetics: a LIVING faith (2/3)

In this short blog series I’m exploring this question: What is the aesthetic profile of your congregation?

Every congregation has an aesthetic profile, a profile that emerges out of the architecture, memorials, artwork, and liturgical accoutrements that make up the worship space or community space of a particular church. This aesthetic profile says something about who we are and about the nature of our faith.

In the first blog post of this series (here) I reflected on the weight of history – the question of how we might respond to the aesthetic tradition that has been handed down to us in our particular congregations. In this post I want to move beyond the historical, to the contemporary.

memorialOne realization I have made is that in many congregations – including the one I serve – most of the aesthetic elements are at least two or three generations old. Memorials or paintings or photographs give expression to the lives, faith, culture, and aesthetics of earlier generations. Which is to say that, very often, there are no contemporary aesthetic expressions of faith within our buildings or worship spaces. Which is also to say that in many congregations there are very few (or none at all!) ways in which we express our living and contemporary faith in Jesus Christ through paint or woodworking or weaving – through our creative capacities as women and men and kids. Continue reading

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congregational aesthetics: the weight of history (1/3)

What is the aesthetic profile of your congregation?

When you think about the artwork or memorials or liturgical accoutrements of your congregation, what kind of profile emerges? More importantly, perhaps, what does this aesthetic profile say about the identity of your congregation. It’s an interesting and compelling question (and a multi-faceted one) when we stop to ask it.

For many congregations the question of aesthetics is one that hangs only vaguely in the background of church life. In such cases, a congregation receives its building with furnishings and artwork from a previous generation and accept that these have defined, and shall define (!), the aesthetic space within which worship and Christian friendship shall be expressed.

Of course there are some congregations that are profoundly aware of the aesthetic dimension of their congregational life. These aesthetically aware congregations could perhaps be subdivided into two categories: (i) those preoccupied with how nice things look, where niceness is defined by a sense of tidiness and welcome, and (ii) those pushing to think about how our faith is expressed or shaped by the aesthetic spaces we inhabit as congregations.

214The congregation I serve has had such questions thrust upon it. This is because we are in the process of subdividing our property/buildings, and selling our beautiful 700-seat sanctuary. Not only this, but for various reasons our large sanctuary had become home to a number of significant items of historical and ecclesial significance: including those from historic St. Gabriel Street Church, the first Presbyterian congregation in Montreal. Continue reading