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.
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.
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.
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.