Exploration of the Chapel in Progress

What follows differs from other posts or articles because it reflects a conversation very much in progress. These are largely individual responses to questions that will help inform and shape the design of the chapel; you can add your thoughts here. The Worship, Prayer, and Spirituality Ministry and Early Worship Task Force will synthesize these (and later additional) thoughts in a work session in early February.

What specific activities might occur in the chapel?

  • My preference would be worship and ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc I would not like this space to become one more “hangout” or “meeting room” or educational space. I would prefer more of a “holy space” reserved specifically for those types of services or meditations.
  • Informal worship: drama; different configurations of chairs, tables, and lighting; music including piano, drums, bass, and other instruments; small group discussions, creation of art including the use of clay, sand, paint, pencils, etc.; Children in Worship-style worship; watching a video or movie; listening to recorded music.
  • I would like to see a space where seating can be moved to clear the floor for dramas, dance, yoga, and floor meditation. I would like it to be a space for smaller, intimate events such as weddings and funeral services that would like a sacred space but would be overwhelmed by the larger sanctuary.
  • Healing and Intercessory services. Reflection, Prayer, Solitude, Silence, Expressive movement, Expressive Writing, Expressive sound (“music” or drumming or toning?), possibly Restorative Circles? Spiritual Direction? Sacred Conversation/Holy listening. Group Spiritual Direction? Dream Groups? Ceremonies and rituals to mark transitions and significant events (Weddings, Funerals…)
  • Early or alternative worship, weddings, funerals, youth worship, Lent Wednesday evening services, drama, recitals, worship during conferences or workshops held at the church
  • Early Worship service; smaller weddings and funerals, morning Taize services, midweek Lenten services; Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday service, Easter vigil service, youth group worship time, quiet day retreats
  • Worship—on Sunday mornings or evenings, midweek morning or evenings; funerals and weddings; youth group worship services; classis worship services
  • Worship—early, small group, alternative, weddings, funerals; if needed open the large doors to make a larger space
  • Morning, evening prayers, Lent series worship, weddings, memorial services, prayer vigils
  • Worship with arts focus such as dance, interactive performance, theatre and visual work; sharing of special projects and ministry focused workshops
  • Prayer; small-group gatherings/worship/study; personal contemplation, meditation; small concerts, e.g., chamber works

How many people will typically be involved? What’s the smallest number? The largest? In our earlier discussions, we said 80 was the maximum we should plan for that space. As more people engage in the discussion, we have a range of answers. One person should find the space comfortable; 8 to 10 to 12 may often happen; the maximum could be 50 or 75 or 100. Since we’re looking to balance intimacy with capacity, and some space will need to be allocated for storage, we’ll come back to this question.

What kind of furniture is needed? How often might it be arranged? Into what configurations?

  • Whatever happens in there, worship should take the priority, so seating and other furniture should always be designed to promote worship.
  • Chairs, tables, communion table, baptismal font, stage (?) Rearrangement of all would occur often–sometimes in a large circle, sometimes in smaller circles; tables used for art and children every Sunday and sometimes for adults to do art or journaling; communion table that can be moved around; baptismal font that can also be moved around. Maybe some comfy chairs and/or couches would be nice. Maybe a children’s corner with bean-bag chairs, books, and Children in Worship-type figures. We might like a screen that can be pulled down for projected images, movies, or hymn lyrics.
  • Chairs and tables, maybe benches, large floor pillows, a communion table.
  • It might most often be arranged around a (central?) focal point/altar. At other times the arrangement may be designed to shape a particular flow of movement through the space.
  • Super-flexible for arranging in rows, circles, or off to the side to provide open space. A storage room off the chapel would be nice to get them totally out, and also provide storage for Early Worship accoutrements. Also need tables for activities, and some sort of “stage” capability. The space might not need to be rearranged as often as the Commons is now, but we don’t want to be locked in to one arrangement.
  • Comfortable chairs, baptismal font, podium/pulpit, communion table, additional small tables to hold things like candles or other rituals we might want to use in the space, small round tables that people can sit around for interactive worship services. All of these items should be move-able because the configurations we might use are limited only by imagination.
  • All re-arrangeable chairs, rectangular tables (smaller than currently in Commons), communion table, piano, podium, arranged into many configurations; a storage area is needed.
  • The space needs to be flexible e.g., sanctuary of First Methodist Church. This space may hold a number of tables to be set up in rows like pews. Nothing, or little, attached to the floor. To be good stewards of the space by making it a flexible space. Years ago, I was part of a committee to design new sanctuary for Christ Memorial. It was never used. But after First Methodist burned down, they used some of the design ideas. The building design was what it would have looked like.
  • Chairs that are movable to accommodate different group sizes and functions; benches to better accommodate family groupings (I am being deliberate to say benches, not pews); furnished with surfaces that aids to better hearing/listening
  • Flexible seating that can be arranged in many shapes with the focus of the happening in varied directions.
  • 12-15 ‘fixed-formal’ seating, the rest temporary and re-configurable; altar-ish-like piece (or sculpture, minimal) for re-orienting attention/concentration when it strays, occasionally; even so, front and back of the chapel might reside as unresolvedly ambiguous, mostly–a revolving focus

How can the chapel support the activities planned?

  • Make it quiet! Soft lighting, subdued colors and textures, tasteful decor, an environment to promote worship and/or meditation.
  • A small stage would be lovely! Lighting must be able to be directed in several directions and have dimming capabilities. Good lighting for the piano and other musical instruments should be provided. The ability to display on the walls any art that is created is important. Good acoustics are also important, especially since individuals often share in the big and small group settings and hard-of-hearing people have a very hard time hearing them. A good sound system is also vital, with more than one microphone. A hearing loop is necessary. Anything that would bring beauty to the room would be much appreciated! Any way to block light from the windows when video is shown or the room needs to be dark would be good.
  • I would like lighting to be able to be dimmed and around the outside of the space as well as center. No staging should be permanent. Yes, to windows but I need to think more about that.
  • Beauty and function/flexibility of sacred space considerations should be primary. Comfort and a sense of privacy/safety/shelter/community are also very important. Natural elements (light, textures, colors) may communicate more effectively in this space than in other areas that may require more equipment or supplies.
  • Lighting should be extremely flexible. We like the ability to have darkness as well as good light when we want it. Might want to consider some “stage” type lighting. The stage itself should also be flexible, not a permanent fixture, but attractive. I would really like the ability to see outside to incorporate nature, but also want the ability to block window views and shut out any bothersome sunlight if needed. We will need a piano in there, and good ways to hang banners, artwork, worship creations, etc., along the walls.
  • Need good acoustics so people can hear each other share during discussion times, we NEED places to store all the chairs and tables that are out of view—this is critical—we do not want to use the interior of the chapel as storage for anything. We want flexibility with lighting so that we can go from full light for reading to dim light for ambiance during a candlelit service and have gradations in between (like for Maundy Thursday) without a lot of effort. We may want to use screens and PowerPoint so this needs to be easy to do. We also need up to four or five microphones available for when we do dramas and have multiple voices.
  • Good lighting: not necessarily bright but full, warm, uniform; ability to dim lights; some spotlight capability? Capacity for several/many portable microphones; hearing loop; don’t think there needs to be a stage
  • The sound would be independent and connected to the larger space outside of the chapel.  Lights need to be flexible. Again, whatever is used on the floor needs to be movable.
  • Visual focus on more than one side of the room so the function could be oriented one way or another; lighting that is dimmable; a small amount of portable staging, yet that is not accessible to all or could it be; art that invites adoration of our Creator; piano (baby grand, good sounding instrument); screen and built-in projection; microphones; control panel for lights and sound
  • The ability to hang and fly art; good lighting that would illuminate various levels including the floor; good sound and flexible risers to vary the height of the performance that could occur
  • Variable-but-subdued lighting (shadows in corners never dispelled)–a J. Turrell-like environmental installation comes to mind; inobstrusively ambient–engaging, ideally, the ‘six’ senses, incl. ‘mind’; single-level floor, no stage, throughout; no highs nor lows; intimate, low-slung ceiling (or, at least, obscured height), dispensing with Constantine’s misguidedly perverse trope of the Imperial Church, arch-antagonist-pretender to the secular State for power-supremacy

How do you imagine the experience of entering and leaving the chapel?

  • Just make sure that the person entering knows that it is special and separate.
  • Seeing beauty.
  • I love the chapel space on the campus of Calvin College but I would like ours to be more intimate. I would like it to feel sacred but warm and welcoming.
  • The atmosphere of the space (simple and uncluttered) may help the individual to connect with a feeling of being centered and grounded. “Peace to all who enter here” (and ALL who wish to do so may enter). I would prefer a more Eastern aesthetic than a Western one. Sacred Spaces that subtly suggest the mystery at their center by means of the flow of movement within intentionally shaped spaces can support and enhance non-verbal ways of knowing. (The sanctuary is a good example, overarched by an equilateral cross—symbol of relationship and reconciliation, understood or not by the original planners.) Spaces that invite metaphoric explorations of the Paschal Mystery, for example, might communicate volumes without volumes.
  • Enter from gathering area, but another entrance directly outside might be necessary for fire code and helpful for people not wanting to run the gamut when coming in. The doorways should be welcoming, not barriers, with good visibility into and out of the chapel. I don’t know how to portray this, exactly, but I would like to engender the feeling of entering into God’s presence. It won’t be as formal as the sanctuary, but it should still have that sanctuary feeling—a place that lifts our thoughts to God.
  • Perhaps double doors on all sides to allow entry depending on various seating configurations; NOT a door connecting directly into youth room; aesthetically, I would like it to look like a place of worship rather than a multi-purpose room
  • A sense of awe; a focal point for the viewer to quickly identify; entering and exiting thru a door, a directional point
  • A sense of entering The Holy
  • Must have boundary/gate–a passage/re-birthcanal into–reminiscent of early Christian catacombs, grottoes, caves, &c.; cf. Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, esp. #66 Holy Ground, #134 Zen View

What adjectives do you hope describe the chapel and the experience of it?

  • Separate, special, quiet, intimate, calming, restful, peaceful. Not a lot of outside noise from the hallway or surrounding spaces.
  • Comfortable. Versatile. Inviting.
  • safe, serene, peaceful, nurturing, enlivening,
  • Acceptance. Grace. Nourishment. Welcome. Humility, or Simplicity. (I’m not sticking to adjectives strictly, here, am I.)
  • flexible, uplifting, comfortable, intimate, uplifting; visual feast—but not distracting; different options: serene, calming, nurturing AND bright, airy, open
  • Serene, peaceful, beautiful.
  • Light; open; calm; uncluttered
  • Relaxing, fun, nurturing, comforting
  • Focused, inventive, a sense of wonder, safe, explorative, beautiful, surprising, reflective
  • Intimate (anti-thesis of the collective large Sanctuary–yin to that place’s yang); arena for wrestling with personal angels and demons–the nature of the chapel may change with the particular suffering-situation confronted, but it should never facilitate more than a few voices heard, acknowledged/attended, ever; place of ‘fear & trembling’ to patiently work out one’s Own Faith

Are there elements and materials that come to mind when you imagine the chapel?

  • Anything that is subtle and subdued.
  • Natural wood is lovely. I don’t know about colors because we often create our own settings with different colors during the church seasons. I love stained glass and will miss the windows in Commons II. I would hope the chairs would be comfortable, with some very comfy chairs added in.
  • Yes, wood. I would like to see the colors to be warm: burgandies, russets, sages.
  • Natural elements as much as is possible. Natural textures. Natural shapes, colors and light/dark. Acoustically soft. (Not “animated” by too many hard surfaces.) Natural wood floor would be preferable to carpet or other manufactured surface such as tile or synthetic.
  • I would definitely like to include the stained glass windows from the Commons in it somehow, and maybe the rose window? But not let them dictate an “old church feel,” maybe set them in bright and airy surroundings. I wonder if we could do things with hangings or reversible panels along walls to give options to change the mood of the room for different functions. Could we include real nature somehow—bring the outside in? Wood grains, potted trees or shrubs, natural fibers and flooring. Maybe bright colors rather than rich colors?
  • Glass; LIGHT wood; watercolors
  • Choices that will blend with the rest of the building will include the windows that are currently in commons.
  • Light woods, direct sunlight options like ceiling light tubes (with options to close them)
  • Great light, art, wood, ceramic, marble
  • Respectful of ambivalence–neither/never always-or-ever formalized with a univocal feeling/emotion/sensibility; mysterious–even mystical–apprehended faithfully only singly, idiosyncratically

What might you hope not to see in the chapel?

  • Coffee cups!
  • Chairs in rows, bolted to the floor!
  • I wouldn’t like to see pews. There are chairs that can be “pew-like.”
  • (“Propaganda” telling people what to do, who to be, how to fit in.) Ostentatious materials. Clutter. Artificial plants! Artificial anything, ideally, however, I accept that’s not realistically possible in an era when many manufactured things can help to sustain other values that we hold.
  • Organ, pews, tile floors, typical pulpit
  • Stored tables
  • A permanent screen, but AV must be possible
  • Transient artwork, bulletin boards, etc.; distractions, e.g., windows at eye level.
  • Oak, deep red, pews
  • Formal stage/raised level (hierarchical discriminations codified); trappings of the historical, denominational Church-Authority–we so get that, again and again

Is there anything else you want to be considered as the chapel is designed?

  • It would be helpful to have a “back area” behind a wall, or a closeted area with a small sink and counter space to prepare communion elements and store vestments. That way, for communion purposed, the elements don’t have to be traipsed from the kitchen. A small refrigerator would also be helpful for this. A sink would be helpful to facilitate baptisms if it was ever used for that.
  • Spaces on the wall for art when art is needed but not feel that there needs to be permanent pieces
  • Overt and Covert. 🙂 Large and Small. Conscious and Unconscious. Under and over and around and through.
  • Floor coverings: Unfortunately, for the times when we do activities on the floor, I think it may need to be carpeted, rather than hard surfaced, unless we could use something like cork that ‘gives” a little. Accessibility, so all can participate. Do we need to consider multi-media capabilities in this space?
  • I would like the chapel space to be as large as possible; I wonder about a curved eastern side wall to increase space and give a primary focal orientation for the chapel
  • Having helped design a sacred space for another church, we used Don Bruggink’s… church design. We also stressed being good stewards of resources.
  • An environmental work of art in some area of the chapel
  • Don’t know how it obtains to seek to represent the Kingdom of God here on Earth–the act of sacralizing a holy place peremptorily among an over-determining secular society (only respectful of immediate, pedestrian practicalities); I think of the rough, raw, rusticated saints who provided us our strenuously wrought Christian tradition . . . how does one achieve so un-mediated apprehension of the Holy intentionally?! A dilemma. S. Mockbee’s “Yancey Chapel” comes darn-close, in my own apprehensive-estimation . . . but miracles happen only once, or they’re not ‘miracles’–and we must accommodate the Historical District in our plans. A challenge . . .

How is the chapel different from or similar to the sanctuary?

  • It would be smaller and more intimate. A small group would not feel lost in it like they might in the sanctuary.
  • Smaller, more intimate, versatile.
  • A distinct historical and ethnic identity prevailed at the time that the sanctuary was established. We’re still connected to that history and tradition, but we have greater freedom to express our freedoms FROM and TO the previous dictates of history and ethnicity. Our identity is not so much the focus. God’s character is of greater consideration than ours. Yet, we seek certain constants whenever possible—beauty, grace, respect, temenos.
  • More informal, but still spiritual. I think it may be important to not have too “churchy” a feel if we are hoping to do alternative worship or welcome those without church background. It should not be pulpit/stage oriented.
  • Much more intimate space and flexible space. But desire for a similar experience of beauty.
  • I don’t feel a need to make any intentional connection between the two in style; the similarity is in a dedicated focus on worship space as opposed to multipurpose space
  • It should have a sense of quiet, but again, if we are good stewards of our money and resources, it needs to be flexible
  • Different in being smaller, more intimate, flexible, flat floor; similar in wood floor, worship space, controlled access, musical instruments
  • Both are sacred; both would be welcoming; one more open with greater flexibility; slightly cleaner lines and more modern
  • Two faces of a single coin, one face extensive (sanctuary) the other face intensive (chapel)–eventually, ultimately, the two serve to resolve for the person his/her solution to the question of the Many-&-One; the Sanctuary serves as a ‘center’, while the Chapel serves as a ‘corner’–the life of faith needs both, simultaneously and alternately

This page represents conversation in process; several ministries and the Living Hope Design Team will continue to develop this thinking, and Hope Church members are welcome to add their perspectives. If you subscribe to this blog, please look online for the latest version of any post.


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