Posted in education
on May 23, 2014 3:26 pm EDT
Here We Are Now, Entertain Us?
A look at architecture as catechism in modern youth spaces.
"Architecture is a form of Catechism. It communicates what we believe. Why shouldn't we include spiritual clues in an environment where we go for spiritual development?"
—Joe Graham Director of Discipleship for Children & Youth at First Church of Zeeland, Michigan
Several years ago, our architectural design team was just finishing up an after-school programming session for a youth center at a large, contemporary, non-denominational evangelical church in Lansing, Michigan. Surrounding us was an excited group of middle and high school students, a few 40-something parents, and youth ministry staff. The input had been great; the facility would wrap around an existing gymnasium and feature a café, game area, multi-purpose auditorium, administration area, breakout classrooms and a loft. The kids had communicated the nature of these spaces in detail and also considered features that they felt would grab the imaginations of their friends.
The session ended about 10 minutes early, and the kids who couldn’t drive were waiting to be picked up. With the extra time and out of curiosity, my design partner informally asked, “OK, we’ve heard everything about what you want in a youth facility. What would be the worst thing we could do? What would make you gag?” complete with the finger-in-the-throat gesture.
After a moment, one of the parents replied with a chuckle, “Stained glass windows.”
Immediately, there was a small chorus of boos.
We sat up. “Wait a minute, are you agreeing or disagreeing with that statement?”
“Stained glass windows make me feel like praying...”
“Yeah, something that feels supernatural, connected to God…”
“What about a place where we can pray for each other and for the world?”
“Yeah, and see previous prayer requests so we know when God has answered them…”
“But, yeah, stained glass windows are cool…”
The parent was dumbfounded, and even the youth leader was mildly surprised. In a flurry of activity, we scribbled out a small prayer chapel with a wall-mounted butcher paper “scroll” of updating prayer requests, an ornamental pivoting wood door to announce that the space was special, and yes, vertical strips of purple dichroic glass washing a wall featuring a relief sculpture of a cross. This event was the first of now several youth ministry programming exercises we’ve had where the youth themselves are inquring about the need for more spirituality in their ministry spaces. Yes, they still want the fun, the relationship-building small group spaces, the food, the activities, and the “wow” factor, but they also seem to recognize environmental needs for worship, discipleship, and prayer.