Floral Design for Liturgical Spaces: The Basics

February 03, 2009


Christmas FlowersIt was Christmas Eve and the scent of fresh evergreens filled the air. Just walking into our worship space was an uplifting experience. The fragrant air transported you to a time and place deep in memory and mystery. A strong presence in aroma and visual beauty came from the presence of floral arrangements in our worship environments. The symbolism of the evergreen has a long history and the poinsettias are a more recent cultural symbol of the Christmas season.

While often considered an afterthought, extra expense, or mere decoration, floral materials in their selection and design can be essential supports for our liturgical experience. It is a mistake to underestimate their contribution.

As part of the liturgical environment for worship the use of natural flora has an important role. We can consciously select where and when and why we use floral elements in our churches. In their placement, these elements can support and direct our attention to ritual actions of worship. They clearly remind us of the seasons – liturgical and natural. Beyond that, many have a direct symbolism. As with all elements of worship and spaces for worship, understanding and following good design principles is the foundation for creating beauty in our efforts. In our Christian tradition, beauty is one primary way in which we can come to know God.

Taking time to learn about floral designs and how they are used in our churches is important for all serving in the ministry of the environment. As a beginning or as a refresher, the following are some things for ministers of environment to consider about floral design:


» Where are floral displays located in your church building?

» Do they impede the ritual action or overwhelm ritual centers (altar, ambo, and font)? For example, do they create a barrier to access to the altar? A good rule is to not impede the pathway of clergy or block the view of the congregation. It is not unknown for clergy to redeploy carefully placed arrangements that “get in the way.” Knowing the rituals that will take place is essential in determining placement for floral designs.

» Are the arrangements set up in such a way that they create a stage setting rather than a worship center?

» Are floral themes carried throughout the assembly space – and even to the outdoors?

» Creating a climate of hospitality that invites everyone to enter and encompasses them in worship can be achieved through careful placement of floral design in the worship environment and entry areas.


Floral bouquet» Do your floral displays connect to the seasonal celebrations of the liturgical year as well as the seasons of nature? A study of the rhythms and patterns and symbolism of the liturgical year provides a foundational grounding for any environment committee. The great cycles of Incarnational and Paschal time in the year are often well considered, but Ordinary Time also deserves our attention.

As part of our worship environment floral designs do more than just set the mood. They support our daily – or weekly - worship and reveal the unfolding wisdom marked by the seasons of the liturgical year. Fresh flowers and foliage with its distinctive scent can immediately place us in touch with the liturgical season.


» Have you considered the symbolism of the flowers you use? In times past the language of flowers was commonly understood and formed the basis for many arrangements. For the church, flowers can also speak in the language of symbolism.

Using elements from nature reflects not only the lifecycle of the plant world but also the fleeting nature of life itself. The ephemeral qualities of floral designs parallel and symbolize the passage of time. Additionally, each arrangement or a group of them can be used to form or highlight an appropriate symbol or image. There are also very specific symbols for individual flowers and plants. The best known of these floral symbols are those related to Mary.


Floral arrangement» When creating floral designs for your church, do you understanding the nature of the materials you are using and the principles of design used to form them into a pleasing arrangement? The capacity of floral elements to be formed into a pleasing whole depends on the floral designer’s ability to combine the materials in a rhythmic form following the principles of line, shape, color, and texture. Training in basic floral design gives you an insight into the fundamental building blocks for any floral design.

» Some special considerations occur when designing for churches. Most church arrangements will be viewed from a distance. Using strong, clear lines or large masses of material that can be seen from a distance will be more effective that intricate detail in these arrangements. Also, in choosing materials think first of those that are long-lasting, since most churches generally change flowers only once a week. Finally, an important design consideration is the design of the church itself – the architectural style, surface materials and colors, lighting, etc. will influence design choices for your arrangements. For example, flowers which are pale or light in color will show up best if the lighting in your church is dim. Study the architectural style of your building so that arrangements complement and do not hide the architectural detailing.

A Final Note...

Know the where (placement), the why (symbolism), and the how (design principles) in relationship to floral design in the worship space. Your skills will be fully developed through practice and experience. Taking the time to study and train your eye is important for all who undertake this aspect of the ministry of environment.

The most basic issue for floral designers working in a worship environment is how to connect good design (following good principles of floral design in general) with good liturgical principles. This most rewarding ministry for the Church enriches our worship with a beauty that we drink in through our senses – a beauty reflective of the Divine.

Carol Frenning is a liturgical design consultant in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

Photos by Mike Jensen.


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