Shaping the Assembly – How our buildings form us in worship, edited by Thomas O’Loughlin, was published in June 2023. Copies may be purchased through our Publications page.
Thomas O’Loughlin writes:
Space is all around us – and we constantly refer to it. ‘He is taking my space!’ – said with annoyance. ‘This place is homely!’ or ‘This room is very impersonal!’ – said as appreciations of situations. ‘We need more room!’ or ‘We need to de-clutter!’ – said as aspirations for a better future. ‘I was lost in the vastness of the hall!’ or ‘I felt locked in and had to go outside!’ – said as our immediate reactions to new spaces. One does not have to be a student of Immanuel Kant to know, experientially, that space is a primary category without our lives.
We also know that how space is arranged affects us: we want ‘round table talks’ and we do not want to be put in the back row! Churchill captured the importance of built space in a couplet: We shape our buildings, then our buildings shape us. And in every society buildings have been used to project power and authority, to regulate society, and to project an image of how that group sees itself. Space ca also be conducive to relaxation, can help us focus, and give us a sense of welcome and security. To be indifferent to space, and to the spaces in which we live, is to be indifferent to part of our humanity.
Strangely, we out do not think about this aspect of space when it comes to liturgy – yet every religion (and every Christian denomination) has used buildings as part of their worship: from Newgrange and Stonehenge to classical temples to churches build of steel, concrete and glass. And it was this concern of the Second Vatican Council that led to the changes in the arrangements in Roman Catholic church buildings in the 1960s and 70s – and it set in motion a trend that is being followed in other liturgical churches. Equally, the auditorium style spaces of other churches may both reflect and contribute to their understanding of worship, if not also their ecclesiology. But this religious use of space is little appreciated or understood. Even work which addressed it directly, such as the important studies by Peter Hammond in the early 1960s, is often seen as relevant to only to architects rather than pastor and worship leaders.
This book brings together nineteen Christians – liturgists, pastors, architects, artists – from several churches and from around the world who all try to answer the question of how space affects us in worship.
The topics covered include the role of light in a religious building, the need for space to appreciate dance as part of worship, the varying needs of spaces for different liturgies, how space can be a primary vehicle of worship in dance, accounts of how communities have become creative with space, and questions about how the liturgical renewal should continue today taking a deeper interest in worship’s ‘built environment.’