A Workshop for the Chapel

A group met for a requirements workshop on February 8, especially focused on the planned chapel space. To identify the range of considerations, we worked through “charettes” for seven different sample events that are planned for the new chapel: a small wedding and funeral, alternative worship in the Early Worship tradition, a mid-week Lenten service, alternative worship in emerging approaches, a prayer vigil or healing service, and a concert or reading.

Acoustics and the sound system emerge as perhaps the most critical issue on participants’ minds. We hope for a sound system that means everyone can participate fully, including a T-coil hearing loop system (and note, when lighting is discussed, that dimmer switches usually interfere with that technology). We need to account for the fact that services are likely to include multiple leaders or full participation, which means either multiple microphones or area microphones. Ease of use of the sound system is critical, since a variety of people will lead services.

There’s also the expectation of music from many different instruments in the space, so it needs to be acoustically friendly (and have ample electrical outlets).

Children will be welcomed to services, especially to alternative worship; somehow we need to welcome and embrace them without amplifying the noise they naturally make… unless we intend to!

When we consider entry to the chapel, we note that it’s important to be able easily to move in a piano or other instruments (or furniture) as well as a casket. Most often, people will enter from the Gathering Area, although we can also envision some arriving from the door by the memorial garden. For weddings (and possibly other events), it’s important to have an additional door—for the groom and pastor; we note that having a way to “sneak in” if you’re late or have needed to slip out is a friendly accommodation.

We intend that the focal point be variable—that is, that it may sometimes be more pronounced, other times invisible, and that it may be positioned in different places for different events. There may be a single leader; there may be several; there may be no apparent leader. We also anticipate seasonal changes in the chapel, both liturgical and by equinox/solstice. Within those seasons, the chapel will be used for the full spectrum of life, from a somber funeral to a celebratory wedding. To embrace that range, we envision the chapel as uncluttered and simple. It’s possible that one or more focal points can be identified with light. We’ll want the ability to easily hang banners, artwork, and even “twinkle lights,” on walls and throughout the space.

We think about a ceiling height that will uplift (the cross-beams in the sanctuary come to mind as part of our “signature”) and natural light and access to or inclusion of nature to nurture. We’d like to avoid visual distraction from people gathering or walking by outside the chapel. The stained glass currently in the Commons and library [and current WSN office] is meaningful to us.

We envision flexible lighting, with “zones” that can be lighted or kept dim depending on the kind of event. We’d like to be able to vary light levels and to make the space dark; we wonder about being able to change the color of light, too. (And note above concern about conflict between lighting controls and T-coil system.)

To accommodate technology, we’d like to assure that there are plenty of outlets. We envision a projector and a place (or places) to project it, but we’d like both to be unobtrusive. We talked about videotaping and having the ability to Skype services, which we can imagine being especially meaningful to out-of-town family members for a significant event.

The chapel’s flexible seating may mean that chairs (or benches) are set up in rows, a semi-circle, or with a center aisle, depending on the event. A platform that is modular and flexible, portable enough to move even during events, would help with varying what’s possible.

The byword for furnishings is flexibility. Funerals probably call for the most formal seating; for all events it’s hoped the seating will be comfortable, inviting, and highly mobile. We would like the possibilities to be [as close as possible to] endless.

Additional furnishings are a movable podium or lectern, communion table, kneeling benches, small tables, tables to gather around, stools for presenters, and possibly floor pillows or mats. We saw a piano and talked about a keyboard as an addition. We also talked about having a sacristy area with a sink and refrigerator for preparing communion elements conveniently.

Which is connected to the challenge of storage. The hope is that while many parts are needed for each different worship experience, those not in use can be invisible—yet be conveniently located so that changing from one event to another is as straightforward as possible. While we listed many of the items that require storage, storage arises across conversations; we’ll need to inventory what needs to be stored and where it is used how often by whom.

These words describe the range of expectations we have for the experience of place in the chapel: peaceful; calming; safe; warmth; invitation; grief and celebration; excited; happy; plain and simple; meditative; contemplative; nature, green, and plants; connected; transcendence; comfort; presence to self and to God; private; hushed; serene; non-rigid; flow to the divine; an ark or vessel; uplifted; engaged; comfortable; inspired; and connected.

For more on the ongoing discussion about the chapel, you can read individual thoughts here. The Living Hope Design Team continues its work, so check back for updates to this summary or new posts.

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