Is This The Most Significant Local Church Building Project in a Generation?

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Today, April 23rd, marks the end of a period of celebration marking the completion of the new sanctuary and church building for the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.

How is the church marking this date? With the debut of a new oratorio commissioned to tell the stories of the figures in the 93-foot-wide and 35-foot-tall stained glass window, by some counts the world’s largest, (sorry, St. John’s) that serves as the defining feature of the space. Beginning with Adam and Eve and going up through contemporaries such as Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, the oratorio, like the window, which inspires it and uses modern techniques and design to tell the story of salvation from creation until the 21st century, represents the huge scale and conscious engagement with contemporary culture which this project embodies. A brief documentary about the window, and the pioneering technique used to make it, is available here.

Not since the Chrystal Cathedral has a local church completed such a project, with architectural design and huge assembly size both taking precedence. However, this project is in a league of its on in that it takes into account the massive leaps made in liturgical reform and ecumenical convergence with its emphases on sacramental architecture, renewed liturgical worship, and evangelism.

The $81.3 million project was commissioned by the 27-year-old, growing, 20,000-member church, which is the largest congregation in the UMC. The congregation approached Minneapolis-Based HGA Architects and Engineers to build a 141,438-square-foot building with a 44,958-square-foot sanctuary for 3,500 worshippers. Importantly, the design ensures that some 90% of the 3,500 congregants are within 90 feet of the presider. Roman Catholic liturgical consultant Rev. Richard Vosko was used for consultation on sacramental space, and from these meetings, the building committee and Pastor worked with Senior Project Designer Loren Ahles. SacredSpaces_InsideSanctuary-1080x675

As Pastor Adam Hamilton explains below, the project aimed from the beginning not to be an auditorium which housed the church, a model which many mega churches, including this one in their previous sanctuary had. Rather, as HGA states: Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection, asked [that the] new sanctuary conveyed a sense of “thin space” between heaven and earth, meaning architecture that implicitly connected individual worshippers with God—that “proclaims the gospel by its very design.

This sacramental concept of building defined the project. The exterior, made of local limestone and capped with seven 65-ft-tall stainless steel panels evokes not only creation but also the concept that the church is a community of living stones, built on Christ.

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As one enters through the 16 ft high doors, signs oneself int the “water features” that recall baptism, and enters into the interior of the sanctuary, one sees that is designed to evoke the theme of gardens. This theme was tied in with the Lenten sermon series on Gardens throughout the history of salvation, leading to the garden of the new creation found in Easter.

The sacramentality extends to the furnishings  and design, with the number twelve being a common theme, recalling the many biblical allusions. Notable for an evangelical space,  the altar table is designed to evoke the Eucharist as a stemming not only from the meal fellowship with Jesus in his ministry but also as a sacrifice.

Additionally, the font, immediately below the altar is based on the one the Wesleys were baptized in.

A week ahead of the initial opening date, a feat in of itself, the church celebrated the Rite of Dedication on the weekend of the Fourth Sunday of Lent at each of its services. This decision was made so as to involve the greatest possible amount of people in the dedication celebration. Roman Catholic readers may be interested to see the rite being done with the prayers led facing toward the altar table, rather than the congregation.

After this weekend and the “soft opening” for the church community, the Opening Weekend was the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

For more images, and they are all worth looking at, see  The Kansas City Star, the Kansas City BizJournal and SacredSpaces at Leawood, the online tour of the new facilities.

As impressive as this building project is, it is only one phase of a planned $97 million dollar building campaign, which is tied into a broader campaign aimed at increasing the church’s outreach to 10,000 inner-city youth and helping 10,000 local United Methodist Churches.

Congratulations to Pastor Hamilton, the entire UMC, The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, HGA Architects and Engineers, and all of those involved in this ground-breaking project which represents a new era of ecumenical, evangelical, sacramental architecture!

Thanks to Cathy Bien, Communications Director at COR,  Gretchen Reisetter, Director, Media/Client Services at Evans Larson on behalf of HGA, and Rev. Richard Vosko, for background. 

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35 comments

  1. My parish lost oodles of parishioners to this church. One member of our liturgy commission once famously said, “If we don’t have something to offer people, why do we think they will respond to our invitation?” A staff colleague objected to the $250 spent to take out a secular newsprint ad in advance of the Triduum. Didn’t we have enough people coming just twice a year?

    Sigh.

    On the architecture front, I hope the acoustics here are good. The predecessor building functioned well … as a cushy-seated movie theatre. When the KC Symphony performed the Messiah there, they needed to mic the whole show.

    1. @Jay Edward:
      I think it’s a bit uninteresting, actually – they have a different history than the Catholic Church.

      But please – let’s not drag irrelevant Catholic battles into this discussion.

      awr

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        Good point, Fritz. Yeah, I re-read the post and saw that line too.

        So I’m happy to note that it is relevant. Just so we don’t all have the old ad-orientem debate yet again. I know you’re not pushing for that.

        awr

      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        I threw it in because this is such an evangelical context, yet there it is. I could have also noted that the giant Bible on the missal stand on altar is used for the proclamation of the Word from the altar rather than an ambo, but that would have opened a can of worms.

      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Methodists do not have a history of considering their worship services a sacrifice like we Catholics, so an ad orientem posture at a Methodist service is noteworthy.

        And it’s noteworthy that practices that have been discouraged as “pre-Vatican II” are still retained among Protestants. Practices which we were told we had to discontinue in order to make our Mass less of a stumbling block for them.

      4. @Jay Edward:
        Sacrifice and ad orientem are separate issues and not necessarily connected. Many or most Protestants have had a little altar against the wall but haven’t spoken of sacrifice in a Tridentine way. (But then neither do Catholics if they’ve studied renewed theology in the last 50 years.)

        Your second paragraph is tendentious and inaccurate. The reasons for changing our Communion practice came from Catholic theology. In fact, I’m not aware of any Catholic liturgy reforms that took the form of “we don’t really wanna do this but let’s water things down just to broker a deal with Protestants,” or “let’s abolish this just because it’s pre-Vatican II, apart from its merits or problems.” There is much literature on the liturgical reforms that supports my assertion.

        awr

      5. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        How does you assertion square with what Annibale Bugnini wrote: “We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren—that is, for the Protestants.”

        Or Jean Guitton, French philosopher and confidant of Paul VI: “The intention of Paul VI with regard to what is commonly called the [Novus Ordo] Mass, was to reform the Catholic liturgy in such a way that it should almost coincide with the Protestant liturgy — but what is curious is that Paul VI did that to get as close as possible to the Protestant Lord’s Supper … there was with Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or least to correct, or at least to relax, what was too Catholic, in the traditional sense, in the Mass and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist Mass.”

      6. @Jay Edward:
        Well Jean Guitton had no role whatsoever in the reform, and his supposed statement from Paul VI doesn’t match anything Paul VI ever said, so I think is coming mostly from Guitton.

        Bugnini didn’t carry out the reform. He had a key role in organizing the work of a few hundred experts. Those experts surely were guided by what is appropriate for (evolving) Catholic theology, and it wouldn’t surprise me that lots of that would align with the best (evolving) Protestant theology.

        But even if: Removing stumbling blocks from Protestants is a good thing! You write as if Catholicism and Protestantism are two unchanging and mutually exclusive blocks. They’re not. You write as if ecumenism is a bad (or at least dangerous) thing. It’s not, according to Catholic teaching at Vatican II.

        And in point of fact, it was the Protestant churches that adapted their liturgies to be very similar to the Mass of Paul VI.

        And why oh why do you have to steer every conversation back to that same old axe-grinding agenda, that the reformed liturgy is suspect and we have to critique it? Surely that’s not what the original post was about at all.

        awr

  2. Most unusual thing about this church is on the PrayTell Home page:
    “A $81 United Methodist Church …” !!

  3. I find the price tag fascinating, in comparison with two Catholic projects:

    1 – Also in Leawood, KS for a large affluent parish, St. Michael the Archangel parish – which I believe came in at around 15 million for the building of a new church. From what I hear, it was a pretty easy capital campaign with that community. My former parish in Kansas City, less than half the size and not nearly the affluence of St. Michael, recently breezed through an 8 million dollar capital campaign in less than 6 months.

    2 – The diocese of Raleigh, NC, where an initial approximately 80 million dollar cathedral new-build had to be dialed back amid controversy to around 40 million.

    Then I see that a single congregation (albeit, a 20,000 member one) is able to do an almost 100 million dollar building campaign. As another point of comparison, my current Cathedral (built 1916-1919 on a large, limestone-block scale) is insured at over 300 million – the estimated cost to rebuild today.

    All of which leaves me completely bewildered as to both the cost of a church, and the feasibility of capital campaigns in this day and age. How big should we be dreaming when building a church today? All social justice controversy aside – I’m just referring to what it possible and practical. I would love to see some kind of accessible books on the topic. As an unrelated point of comparison, a former organ teacher did research on Silbermann organs and found that on average, a new Silbermann cost approx. 1/3 of the total price of a church building!

    I feel like we have no point of comparison in this day and age for what is possible, or desirable in these kind of projects. More research and writing on the topic would, I think, be very valuable to churches of all denominations.

  4. Karl Liam Saur : @Agman Austerhauser: Ugh. The acoustical nightmare for both natural voice and unamplified instruments…..

    Karl, it is a building technique; a blank canvas. An empty shell. it’s on YOU to make it better inside. For several million dollars less, you can spend what you want on baffling…. and fire insurance and air conditioning…

  5. Although the window in the Methodist church is absolutely beautiful, and I am impressed with the thought put toward symbolism in the design, I especially enjoyed looking at the pictures of the Boston church linked by Karl Liam Saur. The Boston church (perhaps because of its smaller size?) seems like it could be a real “spiritual home” where one would not only find the Lord but a community of people who could actually know each other and worship together week after week. The large church design seems more impersonal and anonymous. (Although of course it is actually the people attending themselves, not the architecture, who dictate this.) I also love the nautical details described in the article about the Boston church and how they bring the history of the external community into the church itself–tying the past together with the present and the corresponding symbolism in faith. I hope that some of those people walking by will enter and be inspired to come closer to the Lord.

    1. @Jennifer Dworak:
      I can report from a friend who sang in the choir (directed by Richard J. Clark of St Cecilia’s in Boston) at the dedication of Our Lady of Good Voyage that the acoustics are fine and balanced. As one would hope from a design by the firm of Cram & Ferguson. The aural dimension of a church is no less important than the visual.

  6. I think it’s odd to herald this as “the most significant local building project of a generation” while dismissing that the building was designed for ad orientem worship. Apparently local parishes have “lost oodles of parishioners to this church,” even though the different history of the Catholic Church would indicate that all those people would feel excluded by the practice and unable to participate regardless of the context. I’m not saying ad orientem attracted those Catholics, but it certainly didn’t scare them away either – as we are constantly told it will.

    Perhaps PrayTell could do a series of articles as to why Latin Rite Catholics are so unique among Christians that ad orientem is to be discouraged only for us while virtually everyone else – from Protestant to Orthodox – can celebrate in that manner without it being a hindrance to communal worship. This is a serious request, btw.

    1. @Jack Wayne:
      First off, it’s not true that everyone else worships ad orientem. As PTB has posted, some Orthodox parishes in Greece and elsewhere are experimenting with priest facing the people.

      I’m not absolutely opposed to ad orientem, by no means. But I sure wonder what’s behind all the Catholic traditionalist energy around it. I smell a rat. There are all sorts of fears at work, and all sorts of agendas of varying degrees of skepticism around Vatican II and the papally-approved implementation of Vatican II. As long as that stuff is in the atmosphere, it’s very difficult to have the conversation we need regarding ad orientem.

      awr

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:

        A key aspect of Vatican II was moving beyond a rejection of things based on associations. The Counter-Reformation rejected vernacular liturgy, not because it was wrong in itself (Trent made clear it wasn’t so), but because it was associated with the reformation. Vatican II corrected that instinct, favouring vernacular liturgy on its own merits, despite any dark associations which may have been imputed to it.

        Falling into the temptation to oppose things based on association is therefore doing Vatican II in a very counter-reformation way. And as such it is not really faithful to the vision Vatican II calls the Church to follow.

      2. @Mariko Ralph:
        “Falling into the temptation to oppose things based on association is therefore doing Vatican II in a very counter-reformation way.”

        Indeed.

      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        There’s a difference between saying everyone else *can* worship ad orientem and saying everyone else *does* worship ad orientem. Therefore, what I said is indeed true, as I did not say any other group worships that way exclusively. I’m actually a lot more knowledgeable, well read, and informed as you seem to think I am.

        I sure wonder what is behind all the energy to always brand ad orientem as “turning back the clock,” “retrograde,” etc. It is a two sided coin. Refusing to talk about ad orientem on its own merits, or rejecting it because of traditionalist associations (associations that were largely created by non-traditionalists) is no different than someone I met once who refuses to say “Holy Spirit” because it is too “Vatican II.”

        I attended the Triduum celebrated ad oritentem – all vernacular OF save a couple choir pieces and not overly traditional (female servers and lectors). If I had experienced more of that I likely never even would have sought out the EF.

  7. Jay Edward : @Anthony Ruff, OSB: How does you assertion square with what Annibale Bugnini wrote: “We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren—that is, for the Protestants.” Or Jean Guitton, French philosopher and confidant of Paul VI: “The intention of Paul VI with regard to what is commonly called the [Novus Ordo] Mass, was to reform the Catholic liturgy in such a way that it should almost coincide with the Protestant liturgy — but what is curious is that Paul VI did that to get as close as possible to the Protestant Lord’s Supper … there was with Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or least to correct, or at least to relax, what was too Catholic, in the traditional sense, in the Mass and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist Mass.”

    I try to understand the Roman Catholic use of the word “Protestant” as if we are the monolithic “other” in the Western Catholic Church. There is, for better or worse, no such thing as a “Protestant Lord’s Supper”. Our Lutheran Eucharist is the closest to the Roman, as discussed clearly in the Lutheran/Roman Catholic Dialogues on both the international and US levels. From there, well the Anglican Eucharist looks similar but the doctrine of the Real Presence is often absent, save the Anglo-Catholics in some places. I long for clarity in how we speak and write of each other, but in our either ignorance or indifference, we often resort to Protestant vs Catholic. Sigh….

    1. @Padre Dave the Lutheran:

      I would posit the Orthodox Eucharist is closest to the Catholic Eucharist (considering we both use of the Divine Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil.) Not even touching on whether Lutherans and Anglicans retained valid orders.

      All that is meant by Protestant is the communities that arose from the Reformation. I don’t think any offense is intended.

  8. In a generation? An article in the Boston Globe mentioned that the Diocese of Boston has just dedicated it first new church in more than 60 years! It replaces a church which closed in 2015 after a portion of its roof caved in.

    As the diocesan spokesman put it, replacing the ceiling would have cost $3 million. The Mass collections the weekend it fell totaled $73.

    https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/04/20/upon-this-street-church-built/ax7tqykrnlDQk5OSpDDX9N/story.html

    1. @Sean Keeler:

      Re: this brand new Boston church. People are still designing “theatre-style” churches where the people sit in serried rows of pews in a “Gothic tunnel”, looking at the backs of each others’ heads, and at the sanctuary in the distance, instead of gathering as a celebrating community around the table of the Lord? Unbelievable!

      1. @Paul Inwood:
        Thank God they still do. Somehow, even such a design, I manage to see much more of people than just their back of their heads; maybe my eyes and neck are specially blest. (And, in round designs, there are still plenty of people I only see the backs of their heads.) The exasperated tone of enlightenment and critique are, in a word, facile. They are no longer the silver bullets they were a generation ago; that temporary world is gone.

        Even so, Our Lady of Good Voyage is hardly Ely Cathedral (which is, of course, still a magnificent space for worship though not one I would mimic for the reformed Catholic liturgy, though there are many details that remain worthy of inspiration and emulation). It’s relatively intimate and proportionate.

  9. And this new Methodist church is most certainly a theater church–more so than the new one in Boston. There is a mega-church near me, First Cathedral (that was originally First Baptist Church of Hartford). It moved from the inner city to the suburbs and built a huge building that is substantially the same as this Methodist church, albeit no permanent communion table and an immersion pool over the top of the choir seating under the stained glass window instead of a font. Other than that, it tries to have the same church-like/sacred space feel. And the pastor styles himself as arch-bishop (even though there is already an arch-bishop of Hartford) and has been seen in the choir dress of a RC arch-bishop. I fail to see how this building is the most significant project in a generation when they are years behind this Baptist congregation. http://www.thefirstcathedral.org/

  10. It seems we need to define some terms. When I speak of a “theatre-style” layout, I mean rows of “worshippers” who are arranged as passive spectators in a theatre, watching all the action taking place in a separate area which resembles a “stage”. The “Gothic tunnel” is just one example of that. Characteristics of this layout are straight pews arranged in parallel rows on the same axis, one behind the other, plus the desirability of using binoculars if you are seated in the rearmost rows.

    Layouts that I favour are those where the assembly perceives itself to be gathered around the Lord’s table in order to be actively engaged in the celebration. These typically involve angled or even curved seating so that people are in different axes, and can see many more and much more of each other not only from the rear but also from the side and even the front. Ideally these layouts also have the characteristic of “drawing in” the people, rather than holding them at arm’s length. Typically the rearmost rows are much less distant from the sanctuary than in the theatre-style layout, and ideally there are no pillars to obstruct sightlines. Ministers of music are seen as just one discrete part of the worshipping assembly and not as a performance group.

    The difference in underlying theology between these two is that in the first one the liturgical ministers are seen as the principal “actors” or “agents” in the celebration. In the second one, the entire assembly is more clearly the primary symbol, a worshipping body within which the liturgical ministers exercise their gifts and talents but not to the exclusion of the rest of the congregation.

    1. @Paul Inwood:
      I must admit, having worshiped in both types of church, I haven’t noticed a real difference in congregational engagement in myself or in others with either layout – unless it is an excessively large church where curved/cruciform seating allows more people to be close to the altar (so long as it’s not a hideously remodeled older church). For me, ad orientem and good acoustics are bigger factors in terms of how drawn in the congregation seems and how included I feel.

      I will say I prefer smaller, more intimate churches to very large ones. I grew up attending a wide variety of churches since we moved frequently, and most all were small. Two of my childhood churches were built in a semi-circle – one was recently demolished and replaced with a very traditionally styled romanesque-like church with pews on three sides of the altar. I hear it is now one of the largest churches in Ohio. Others were of the “theater style” you mention, but were small and intimate spaces.

    2. @Paul Inwood:
      But, like, with both groups, they’re all still just watching, right? I mean, nobody’s actually doing anything in your preferred setting that the people in the other don’t get to do. So basically what you’re positing is that they “feel” different things, no? Just seems like wishful thinking on your part.

      1. @Abe Rosenzweig:
        I tend to agree with this. I believe some in the liturgical design community have, in inversion to the shibboleths of traditionalists, developed a list of design shibboleths that involve assumptions and not-really-conclusions that beg for much more critical analysis. Mind you, I am firmly in the camp championing conciliar reform of the liturgy. That said, I don’t automatically salute all things ostensibly done to further the reforms, because over the decades, it’s become clear It Ain’t Necessarily So, as it were. Too many weak If X Then Y non-arguments that act more like a form of virtue-signalling. Where’s the *real* evidence, and what would *real* evidence look like? I wish liturgical progressives were more consistent in adopting a position of greater epistemic humility that we’ve effectively wished traditionalists would adopt. We should eat our own medicine before we eagerly administer it to others.

      2. @Karl Liam Saur:
        As I have been told many times at this very blog, we are never to question the decisions made after Vatican II regarding the liturgy, as they were made by hundreds of experts with compelling reasons that are well documented. If you don’t find those reasons compelling, then you must either be ignorant, not accepting of Vatican II, or you have an “agenda.”

        And that attitude is why no one will ever bother to see what really is successful or not using anything close to objective means.

      3. @Jack Wayne:
        Well, I am not a fan of a ham-fisted approach except if it’s a form of mirroring – even so, I tend to reserve that for situations and contexts where it’s likely to be fruitful. On the other hand, there are many blogging traditionalists who appear almost to be proud of ignorance concerning information about *why* many postconciliar decisions were made as they were done, or why traditionalist explanations for things are not necessarily as persuasive as their proponents imagine. And I can understand why some would be frustrated with that. (I am not talking personally about you here. I’ve just seen that dynamic in play many times.)

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