A Pilgrimage of Faith: The Building Process & the Liturgical Design Consultant - Part 1
September 11, 2008
This is Part 1 of a 2-part article. Read Part 2.
During the question and answer period of my initial interview with the parish of St. Clare of Assisi, O'Fallon, Illinois, in February, 2002, the committee seemed to be asking a number of questions about how I would handle divergent views among parishioners. Another line of questioning was about the best approach with those who were very concerned and even angry about leaving the historic neo-gothic church that had been the home of the parish for over 100 years. Behind the questions, I sensed a deep concern among the committee members about maintaining a sense of unity and gentleness throughout the building project. My answers reflected my belief that it is vital to undertake a participatory programming and design process, to listen well, to always be respectful, and to seek “both-and” design solutions. Such solutions tell the story of the people of faith and at the same time create dynamic settings for the celebration of the liturgy.
In our discussions that day, something about the “both-and” approach resonated with the committee, and we began our work together. This was the beginning of a six-year collaborative relationship. As I look back over the multi-year effort, I see the commitment to the original vision on the part of the pastor and the committee through the various trials and tribulations of the building process as key to the successful outcome. They did not let the objections and fears of some parishioners, changing diocesan requirements, rapidly increasing construction costs, and an uphill fund raising battle deter them from creating a very special place of worship.
So how did it unfold? What steps were taken to lay the ground work for a successful project? How were the divergent voices of parishioners honored in the process?
In February of 2002, the pastor, Fr. Jim Deiters, called together a diverse and representative group of parishioners to serve as the building committee for the project. With great foresight, he selected individuals that could work together over the long haul, faith-filled people with a variety of backgrounds and expertise, and very importantly, with a sense of humor. In March of 2002, I spent a weekend with the committee reflecting on the spiritual foundations for the project, the dynamics of change, their role as leaders, the consensus decision-making process, the content of the participatory programming and design process we were about to undertake, and the other team members we would need as our partners in the effort. We prayed, ate, and laughed together – a good start to many prayers, meals, and laughs we would share over the next few years.
As I came to know Fr. Jim, the committee, and the parish, I sensed that the project architect we selected would need to have a gentle, collaborative, and reassuring presence to negotiate the difficult landscape of multiple points of view and levels of fear. As the selection process unfolded, the expertise and “personality” of BCDM Architects of Omaha, Nebraska, rose to the top. All of the firms interviewed were very capable and experienced in Catholic church design, but the all important “chemistry” factor moved BCDM to the top of the list. Likewise, the plan to bring an acoustical consultant to the team early in the process led the parish hire Dennis Fleisher of MuSonics, who assisted with music ministry programming, music space design, room shape and volume, material selection, sound amplification system design, and mechanical system noise control – all vital to an appropriate acoustical environment for sacred worship.
With the team assembled, we embarked on a series of parish meetings. In early April of 2002, I conducted an intensive catechetical process with parishioners to prepare for the programming and design process. This first step was a three night “Parish Mission” where I introduced the components of the building process, reviewed the rich history of Catholic liturgy and architecture, and looked at how our liturgical spirituality would inform the design of the new church. Participants were invited to begin the feedback process with written input each night.
Then we started a series of Visioning Workshops spread over four Saturdays between late April and late June, 2002. More about these workshops and the process that led to the building of a new church for St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Part 2 of this article.
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 1 provided by St. Clare of Assisi Parish; Photo 2 provided by Ken Griesemer
READ OTHER ARTICLES BY KEN GRIESEMER: