Transformed by a Place

I have been a professional church musician for over 45 years so worship has been a major focus of my life and thinking. I think a lot about the spiritual formation aspects of worship as I plan for each service. What it is really being formed in our hearts, minds, and souls during the hour most of us give to corporate worship each week? Is it hefty enough to balance out the spiritual formation that happens the other 167 hours of our week through TV, the Internet, and other popular culture? As Richard Rohr says, “Transformed people transform people.” Does “church” transform us so that we can transform the world?

Visual your corporate worship space. What does your space say about what your faith community believes about God and about humanity? What is the eye’s main focus? Where is the Baptismal font and how big is it? What art elements are present and are they true? Is the space warm and inviting? Larger than life and awe-inspiring? Cluttered and cold? What kind of spiritual formation is the actual worship space having on your faith community as you review the last several years? How about on you as an individual?

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Gothic cathedrals were viewed as Scripture in stone. The building preached to an illiterate population as much as the music, liturgy and preaching did. Stories of the faith and what those people believed about that faith were told in stained glass and other works of art. The shape of the space led one’s view upward, towards God. What kind of spiritual formation would be reinforced in a space like that?

Later, some Protestant churches were stripped of any decoration at all. They were simple to the point of bare so that nothing would distract an individual’s attention from God. Music was viewed with suspicion in some cases and art was definitely taboo. What kind of spiritual formation would be reinforced in a space like that?

Or what about people who eschew gathering together in corporate worship in favor of spending time in nature? Romans 1: 20 and Psalm 19, among other places, tell us that creation proclaims the reality of God. What kind of spiritual formation is reinforced in meditating on and in nature?

Many times, when we talk about “church,” we have in mind a group of people who meet regularly in a particular place. They are part of the larger “Church,” which is the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Does their site-specific worship connect them in any way with the larger Body of Christ, the Church, in all time and space? Is there a sense through the preaching, the music, the art, the building itself that this group of people is joining in not only the worship going on always in Heaven but that is going on continually here on earth?

It is important that we critique not only the sermon or the music but the architecture that contains our corporate worship. It is contributing to our spiritual formation, for good or for ill, as much as the preaching, praying and singing are. And since corporate worship informs our private worship times throughout the week, that formation can have far-reaching effects. It is also giving a message, right or wrong, to the children who worship with us in that space, a message that will be foundational for them as they grow.

Church attendance will transform us. The question always is: for better or for worse?

Join the Conversation

What does the worship space in your church look like?

Do you believe the space and aesthetics are significant in worship?

Valerie Hess:
Valerie-Hess-low-resValerie Hess is an author, instructor in the Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, retreat speaker, musician, mother and pastor’s wife. She does a weekly blog at www.valeriehess.com and has written numerous articles, mostly on the themes of spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines and church music. She has written three books: Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines (co-authored with Dr. Marti Watson Garlett), Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings and The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation" (co-authored with Lane M. Arnold). Her husband is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO. She has two daughters.
  • Robert Alan Rife

    Valerie, I look forward to a long conversation sometime with you on this topic – a favorite of mine as well. When one enters an “auditorium” with larger than life smiles pasted on larger than life screens and a larger than life band, I sense that a people is being formed more deeply in already existing cultural propaganda with Jesusy words thrown at it. Now, I recognize that is a far too simplistic way of looking at this. However, it does lead one to consider more deeply what message we’re actually preaching through our space, or non-space, our liturgy or non-liturgy, our language, etc. You’re preachin’ to the choir here, sister!