How To Guides

Selecting a Liturgical Design Consultant - Part 1

September 17, 2008


Detail: Immaculate Heart of MarySo, you’re going to begin a building/renovation project. Congratulations! Now, where to begin. One of the first tasks to be accomplished is selecting a liturgical design consultant. This task is critical to the success of your project. A liturgical design consultant can help you at every step, from forming the initial building committee to celebrating the dedication liturgy.

Built of Living Stones, the U.S. Bishops’ document on art, architecture, and worship, describes the role of the liturgical design consultant as one who assists the pastor, staff, parish-at-large, and the design team “from the earliest stages of the process.” (see n. 199-200). This is because their expertise includes both liturgy and design. They are uniquely suited for the building up both the building and the people of God.

The Association of Consultants for Liturgical Space (ACLS) is a professional organization of liturgical design consultants. ACLS has identified the variety of tasks a liturgical design consultant can provide:

» Assisting in Ministry Planning
» Forming a Building Committee
» Participating in the Selection of Other Consultants
» Conducting a Liturgical Education Process
» Facilitating Large and Small Groups
» Providing Liturgical Space Programming
» Reviewing Architectural Drawings
» Consulting and Designing for Liturgical Art and Furnishings
» Assisting with Ritual Planning and Training for Liturgical Ministers

Primarily, though, the liturgical design consultant provides guidance through the entire process and serves as an advocate for worship (especially when others are advocating for schedule or cost). The following steps will be helpful in the search for a liturgical design consultant:

I. Form a search committee.

This group is given the task of hiring (or recommending for hire) a liturgical design consultant. They will develop the initial letter of inquiry, conduct the interviews, and select the best candidate. This group should set the preliminary direction and limits for the project.

II. Investigate your church/diocesan policy.

Some dioceses require liturgical design consultants, others recommend them, while others are silent on the topic. Occasionally, a diocese will have a list of consultants available.

III. Check resources.

ACLS is a reliable resource for seeking qualified candidates. Each member has qualifications listed on the website. ACLS also has artist, architect, and other consultant members who are instrumental in building/renovating worship spaces for later use.

Check with nearby parishes and churches you know with a recent building project. Learning from the experiences of others is invaluable. And look at the Catalog of Professionals available on EnVisionChurch.

IV. Select preliminary candidates.

Matching your needs with the potential list of consultants available may seem like a daunting task, but the committee must now narrow the search to a list of six to ten candidates. You might limit your search by geographic region, areas of expertise, or some other criteria. You may even have an “A” list and a “B” list in case you must renew the search.

Note that some architects and artists also perform the services of liturgical design consulting. In this case, remember your task is to hire a consultant, not an artist or architect. You may discover that a candidate is someone you would want for another role. In that case, keep them on file until you are ready for that step.

There are advantages to having a different person/firm for the liturgical and architectural components of your project. The emphases are different (though overlapping), and this arrangement assures no conflict of interest. If, for example, a design feature will compromise a rite, you will have an independent voice to name the concerns. If the liturgical design consultant or architect also can provide art services, you can retain her/him for that task later with a separate contract. However, you may still wish to seek other artists. In other words, be very cautious of any one person who claims to do it all.

V. Send a letter of inquiry.

A liturgical design consultant will need to know several things.

Tell them something about your parish. Who are you as a parish? How many families? Are you urban, rural? Is there a school? A debt? An historic treasure? Are there earlier renovations? What else? (Note: It is inappropriate to ask a candidate to critique or create a design for your project in advance of hiring unless you plan to pay them for their time.)

Describe the scope of the project. What do you hope to accomplish? Is there a timetable? What work has been done so far?

What are you looking for in a consultant? Ask about his/her past work, a general idea of compensation and availability. If they are members of ACLS, you will find some of this on the Web site. Ask for references from projects similar to yours.

Provide general details. Give each candidate ample time to respond to your inquiry. Let them know what the next steps are, when you will contact them and, be available for questions.

Part 2 of this article will consider the next steps of checking references, conducting the interviews, and making the final selection.

Gale Francione is secretary of the Association of Consultants for Liturgical Space and a liturgical design consultant living in Davenport, Iowa, USA.

Photo: detail of a photo by Mike Jenssen of a window of the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Gaytee Studios, Minneaspolis, Minnesota, USA.


Gathering Spaces: Does your church need one?
Selecting a Liturgical Design Consultant - Part 2

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