For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘building

First Christian Church, Columbus, IN. Designed by Eliel Saarinen. Photo by revjmk.

The First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana is an imposing edifice of concrete block, one of the first churches in the country designed with contemporary architecture. Like most churches, the front is adorned with an enormous cross, the dominant symbol of Christianity and the central fixture of many Christian churches. What is unique about the cross on the front of First Christian Church of Columbus is that it is off-center.

At first, I did not notice. My eyes and brain gazed at yet another enormous cross, and assimilated the cross to its rightful place at the center of the building. Even when someone pointed it out to me, I still had to look at it for a moment before I could take it in.

What does it mean to decenter the cross?

The cross is not neutralized or hidden on the face of the church. Indeed, it dominates the front face of the building. Neither does the cross, though enormous and prominent, overwhelm the other facets of the church. The off-center cross invites attention to the space around it.

The decentered cross has the effect of making room for something more. The cross is monumental, but it is not a fixed point upon which all else focuses. Situated slightly to the side, the cross seems to make way for the resurrection. It beckons you to notice the empty space around it, and the church life it announces. The decentered cross is not the end or the goal or the center—it is the beginning of new life, an opportunity for God’s resurrection and a call to sacrifice in order to build the Kingdom of God on earth.

The decentered cross reminds me that the true power of the cross of Christ is that it decenters us. It displaces us from our self-centeredness and challenges us to look toward the needs of others. It replaces strength with weakness and violence with peace. It overcomes the power of fear and death.

The cross of Christ is always decentered, and decentering. It always points beyond itself to the resurrection, and it always upsets the balance of power. Whenever I contemplate the cross, I feel God’s pull dislodging me from selfishness and returning me to wholeness. Decentered and decentering, always.

Holy Places: Making Sacred Space with Mission and Message, by Nancy DeMott, Tim Shapiro and Brent Bill, The Alban Institute, 2007, 257 pp.

My congregation is in the beginning phases of a building project, including a major renovation of our basement and upgrades of HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems. I am excited about this project, because I believe it will grow our faith, our mission, our ministry and equip us for the future. But I have never been a part of a church during a building project, and I have no idea how the process works.

Enter Holy Places. This book is a step-by-step guide to best practices for church building projects. The authors have studied a wide array of congregational building projects to gather best practices, key information and stories from real congregations about what went wrong and what went right. Holy Places provided me with an overview of the big picture of a building project, an introduction to key terms and elements of the process, and a perspective on my role as pastoral leader during this time.

One of the best parts of the book was the authors’ attention to the faith dynamics at work in a building project. They emphasize repeatedly that building projects are spiritual endeavors, fraught with all the risk and possibility of a spiritual pilgrimage. Construction and fundraising can seem like a distraction from the “real” ministry of the church, but if it is handled right, it is a time of deepening faith and spiritual growth.

No matter the size of the project or the congregation, Holy Places is a great introduction for any lay or clergy leader considering a building project. Unlike some books of best practices, it did not leave me overwhelmed with our church’s shortcomings or by the prospect of following such a rigorous plan. The steps they suggest are adaptable to each individual setting, and the stories even make the book enjoyable to read. After finishing the book, I feel like I can join my excitement over our building project with some basic knowledge about what to expect along this journey and how to shepherd my congregation through it, with the help of God.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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