An Opportunity to Build Up the Body of Christ: Part 3 - The Liturgical Design Consultant's Role in Assisting Building Committees, Continued
July 07, 2008
Continuing from Part 2...
When the American Bishops approved the new document Built of Living Stones in November of 2000, they recommended the involvement of the liturgical design consultant. In particular, the role of the consultant in providing continuing education is mentioned in the document:
“The Liturgical Consultants: The construction of a church building cannot be undertaken without proper professionals in a variety of fields. When a parish begins to undertake the building or renovation of a liturgical space, the parish building committee should obtain the services of specialists in liturgical design. It is the responsibility of the liturgical consultant to assist the pastor, the staff, and the entire parish with continuing education about the importance, role, and value of worship, and the impact of the church building upon worship.” (para. 199)
There are many important factors to be considered in the design of space for liturgy and devotion. An understanding of the building process and its spirituality, the history of church architecture and liturgy, and the basic principles of liturgical spirituality are foundational. The greatest physical factor in the design of a place of worship is the arrangement of the assembly for worship. The seating for the people has a significant impact on the form of a new church, and takes up the greatest area of square footage. In a renovation project, changes in the seating arrangement must respect the architectural integrity of the existing building. The seating layout can also do the most to support or hinder the unity of the assembly and the “full, conscious, and active participation” of the faithful in the celebration of the liturgy of the Church.
In addition to the seating, the other focus areas include approach, arrival, outdoor gathering, indoor gathering, support spaces, the baptismal font, the reconciliation chapel, the area around the sanctuary, the sanctuary itself, the altar, ambo and chairs for the presiding ministers, the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, and shrines and sacred art. A process of education and information gathering around all of these components is vital to the success of the project.
By bringing knowledge and illustrations of various design examples, the liturgical design consultant can help the parish explore the options available. By creating an atmosphere where parishioners are comfortable to learn and share their ideas, the consultant can help the committee and the architect with the crucial task of developing the liturgical program. This work must take place before the detailed master planning and design process can begin or proceed successfully and efficiently.
Besides building community, ownership, and understanding, the process of liturgical education and programming will greatly support the work of the architect. Through this process, the committee and the parishioners develop a detailed articulation of their vision for their new or renovated facilities. As a result, it is not uncommon for them to respond favorably to the initial design ideas presented by the architect. This is especially important when the time frame for design is tight.
Once the vision for the place of worship has been articulated by the committee and parishioners, the next step is to translate that vision into a design response. The articulation of the parish vision to the architect, and the evaluation of the design as it unfolds, is one of the significant contributions of the liturgical design consultant. By speaking the language of both liturgy and architecture, the consultant can build a bridge between the design process and the parishioners. With a background in design, visual communication, and the architectural process, the consultant will continue to be a key member of the team.
Continuity of process, language, and vision throughout the project is another important aspect of the consultant’s service. A seamless process and experience for parishioners is critical in the ongoing effort of developing ownership, understanding, and support for the project. Beyond technical skills, the listening ear and the pastoral presence of the consultant can support the development of trust and enhance the overall positive feeling of the project for the parishioners.
When should the liturgical design consultant be hired?
The general consensus among liturgical design consultants is the earlier the better. Why? Because the work of the consultant is so foundational to the entire building or renovation process, it is essential that they be involved in the planning as soon as possible. Missteps early in the process only create confusion and delays, and undermine the effort to build ownership, understanding, trust and support.
Built of Living Stones also advocates for the early participation of the liturgical design consultant. In paragraph #99 included above, the bishops state: “When a parish begins to undertake the building or renovation of a liturgical space, the parish building committee should obtain the services of specialists in liturgical design.” This suggests that the liturgical design consultant and the architect are the primary partners in preparing for the project.
It is actually very reasonable to invite the liturgical design consultant to the parish for an initial planning session on a paid consultation basis. With minimum risk to the parish, the committee can have an in-depth discussion with the consultant regarding the details of process, schedule, scope of work, and fees.
A Closing Thought
In the Rite of Laying the Foundation Stone or Beginning Work on the Building of a Church we read: “When the building of a new church begins, it is desirable to celebrate a rite to ask God’s blessing for the success of the work and to remind the people that the structure built of stone will be a visible sign of the living Church, God’s building that is formed of the people themselves.”
The process of building or renovating sacred space is about both the church of brick & board and the church of flesh & bone. Every project is an opportunity to build up the Body of Christ.
Ken Griesemer is a liturgical design consultant based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.A.. He has been working as a liturgical architect and design consultant across the United States since 1985. His experience includes many projects of various scope in over 45 Catholic dioceses.
Photo provided by Ken Griesemer.
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