Friday, July 29, 2011

My Favorite Church

I have visited and preached in many churches.  I don’t know why I thought about this now, but in my opinion the most beautiful, most gorgeous, most aesthetically pleasing church building with the best acoustics that I have seen is Second Presbyterian Church in Chicago, 1936 S. Michigan Avenue.  I never did get the 150 angels (in a Presbyterian church?), but the theme of the Arts and Crafts Movement design is LIFE.  The main feature in the chancel is the tree of life and every piece of wood in the building is carved with snakes and salamanders and fish and flowers and bugs and other assorted living things.  Like Noah’s ark.  No child brought here would ever be bored.  It makes you feel good.

It’s not as busy as it sounds or even as it appears in photos, although I would do away with the 2 giant candelabra, and I know that the Italianate baptismal font was added in the ‘80's.  (Pastor Gordon Irvine, RIP, learned that a glass bowl had to be inserted when he discovered that water soaks immediately into the stone!)  The exterior of the building gives no hint of the interior.

You can stand at the pulpit, project your voice just a bit, and be heard in every corner of the building. (They didn’t have any sound system when I preached there in the early ‘90's.  I hope they didn’t add one.)

Of course all this beauty was created in support of wealth and privilege.  This was the neighborhood of the rich and powerful at the turn of the 20th century.  Perhaps this explains the emphasis on life over the cross.  Of course life includes death, but most kinds of Christianity are death focused.  I’ve never seen this extreme emphasis on life in any other church.  It is refreshing.

The membership when I was there was about 150, with maybe 50 worshiping in the summer.  The crowds on the architectural tour waiting to see the Tiffany windows after worship was larger.  Now membership is 105.  I guess the music is still terrific.  (They did jazz, too!)  I think the neighborhood is less run down after 2 decades of development.  Hard to understand why so many pack gothic 4th church 3 miles north.  More detailed pictures of the church are found at:

There are such things as “sacred spaces,” but we project such qualities onto particular designs or places, some natural.  They are not “sacred” or “holy” in themselves, but we decide subjectively that they are so.  We make sacred space; it is not given.  Winston Churchill is credited by some as having said something very important: “Architectecture always wins.”  Our surroundings make us who we are and influence what we can become.

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