An Opportunity to Build Up the Body of Christ: Part 2 - The Liturgical Design Consultant's Role in Assisting Building Committees
July 07, 2008
In part one of this article, I discussed generally the process of building sacred spaces and the work of a parish building committee. I mentioned that such a committee can benefit from an open and trusting relationship with a liturgical design consultant. So, the question is: How does the liturgical design consultant work with a parish building committee during the construction or renovation of a sacred space?
The pastor, the committee and the parishioners will benefit from having an experienced partner throughout the process. The liturgical design consultant, hired by the parish as an ad-hoc in-house expert, can be a guide and a sounding board from initial process planning all the way to the celebration of the (re)dedication liturgy.
The seasoned liturgical design consultant can bring to the table a treasure chest of previous building and renovation experiences from various parts of the region or country. Having access to the experiences of many parishes on building projects of various size, shape, and budget over many years will surely be of benefit to the committee and the project architect.
Most often, a building committee is comprised of people with invaluable expertise and great dedication. While some committees may be blessed with members who have previous church building experience, it is rare that anyone involved has built or renovated more than one sacred space in the recent past. The highly experienced liturgical design consultant can bring a very valuable voice to the discussions. There is truth in the old adage, “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” Major mistakes can be avoided by tapping into the broad experience of the consultant and the architect.
The liturgical design consultant can be a primary source to help the committee plan, organize and implement a building process. This happens best in close collaboration with the architect and the professional fund raising consultant. Over the last 30 years, a fairly standard approach and sequence of steps has emerged for the church building process. In 1992, at the national Form/Reform Conference on environment and art for Catholic worship, a colloquia of diocesan directors of liturgy and construction prepared a list of essential components of the building process. This list mirrored the recommendations of the liturgical design consulting community. This type of national wisdom is brought to the local parish by the consultant. Likewise, many dioceses offer a process outline in their building and renovation guidelines.
The building or renovation of sacred space is holy work. If the outcome is expected to be holy, then the entire team must enter into the process with the commitment to participate in the holy work. The liturgical design consultant can recommend the countercultural principles involved in building sacred space. A building committee can operate like a corporate board, and be very efficient and business-like. However, the task of building sacred space, and building up the Body of Christ, needs to be guided by the Holy Spirit and countercultural principles. Gentleness, prayer, peace, trust, collaboration, openness, humility, stewardship, justice, paschal mystery, and discernment are all at the core of this holy work.
Based on past experiences and the goals of the committee, the liturgical design consultant can recommend an appropriate schedule for the steps and events in the process. Working closely together, the architect, the professional fund raising consultant, and the liturgical design consultant can help develop an overall project schedule with the committee to accomplish the necessary work to meet the fund raising window. Likewise, the consultant can recommend techniques for involving parishioners in a meaningful way. In scheduling, it is always important to consider how the parishioners will receive and process the many aspects of the project as they unfold. If they feel like something is being forced on them too quickly, they may react negatively.
Communication is vital throughout the process to the development of trust, understanding and support. As one parish building committee put it, “The parishioners need to know everything we know.” The consultant can assist the committee in the development of a communication plan and be a key spokesperson for the liturgical and artistic components of the project. The consultant can be involved in presentations to the parishioners along the way and also contribute written materials.
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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