Culture At Large

Est ubi gloria nunc Babyloniae?

Andy Rau

Good architectural commentary and some very striking images at Slate's Anatomy of Megachurches. Some of those photos--vast worship spaces, thousands of individuals gathered and attentive--are nothing short of breathtaking, although they make me feel vaguely uncomfortable.

I've spent the last two weeks traveling in Germany, and it's hard not to wonder how these megachurch structures compare to the soaring cathedrals and churches (medieval megachurches, you might say) of Europe. The author of the Slate piece draws these same comparisons and contrasts--mostly contrasts--and it's hard to argue with his judgment:

...most contemporary megachurches are resolutely secular in design. The 4,550-seat sanctuary [of Willow Creek community church]... appears to have good sightlines, excellent audiovisual facilities, and comfortably wide aisles for moving around in. But inspiring it's not. It's the architectural equivalent of the three-piece business suit that most nondenominational pastors favor.

Wandering through the medieval cathedrals and churches of Germany made me uncomfortable as well: so much money and effort, invested by the Church not in the lives of hungry and hurting people but in structures of soulless wood and stone. But while part of me cringes at that thought, it is impossible to deny the beauty and worship embodied in those cathedrals: intricate, symbol-laden paintings, insanely detailed carvings, gravity-defying feats of architecture. Some of those churches and cathedrals feel like prayers frozen in paint and stone, still pointing to God hundreds of years after they were fashioned.

By contrast, our uber-churches are impressive because, well... they're really big, and functional. And that's it. I don't know if I really want the church today to build vast artistic monuments to stand the test of time. But looking at the modern-day cathedrals that we're building now... I just wish they didn't look so much like convention centers or sports arenas.

(The post title is a quote from a poem by Bernard of Cluny, as it appears in one of my favorite books.)

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Worship