Monday, December 31, 2007

The Forgotten North

Imagine a parallel Universe where splintered Protestant churches - Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational - magically united in 1925, leading to yoked trajectories, a serious reshuffling and unusual architectural consequence.

Welcome to Canada. The moral of the story? Perhaps that ideas matter, for it's been nearly a century, and dissolving doctrinal differences in favor of unity has not solved Mainline Protestant problems, but that's another post. Architecturally, the results were so interesting that we had to call this blog "North American Churches" lest we miss out. You could also say Canada is where this all began. The first N.A.C. discussion took place a year ago on kirchenlieder, where Lance - a fellow contributor - and I discussed the nature of the Sunday School movement and the Akron plan. Yes, it's true, we lead wild, dangerous lives.

I was in Owen Sound, Ontario at the time (my wife's hometown), and stumbled into just such a building. As you'll see in the comments, the hospitable pastor of that church kindly chimed in.

This year, back in Owen Sound, I was able to supplement those church pics with many more. The photo set will be enhanced over the years. In the meantime, Salvation Corner is of particular interest (find the four signs to match the four corner churches). While the interior of St. George's Anglican is stunning, I missed it this year, but instead, by following rule #1, got into Division Street United just before a wedding. A wonderful "Chalcedonian" window scheme is explained here. Humanity of Christ on one side, Divinity on the other, and the congregation lives the mystery "in Christ," in between. Good architecture meets good theology.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Two Commandments

Yes, rules! How binding, but following esteemed precedent, only two.

1. Shamelessness. Supplemented of course by politeness, care to not obstruct worship, and gratitude for permitting photographs. Never be annoying, but do be delicately persistent.

Example: Ring the office bell, ask if you can come in, meet the pastor, janitor, a parishioner, etc. In almost all cases churches appreciate being acknowledged, photographed and discussed in a positive light, which helps beat back at least some of the shame. But without at least a little of it, often you just won't get in.

2. Participation. This enterprise could easily descend into mere documentation. Instead, take time to worship or pray (however briefly), and commune with God in these spaces, which is after all what they're for. To use anthropological lingo, ours is both an "etic" and "emic" endeavor.

Example: If the Sacrament is reserved in a Catholic church, treat the host at least as politely as you would treat another person. Even if you don't believe Christ is present there, acknowledge him anyway out of respect for those who do. Why not cross yourself with the baptismal water when entering as well? Likewise, in an Orthodox Church, consider somehow acknowledging the entrance icon.

Enough rules.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Behold the offspring of fecund millinerd, a new group blog (Lance, Tim and millinerd so far) just for North American Churches. The flickr group has been growing for some time, hence a place for sharing resources and facilitating discussion seemed appropriate.

"But he does not enjoy Gothic romantically or talk romantic nonsense about it," wrote one defender of Ralph Adams Cram almost a century ago; "He hears its living music, and it is to him not past but eternal." Likewise, this venue is not merely about old churches, but about spiritual vitality in the present.

While not excluding contemporary architecture, the hunt for spiritual nourishment will probably result in a focus on buildings of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. As with church music, it looks like we'll be feeding off that richer epoch for some time to come. Overall, the aim is to highlight buildings that, to cite the sentiment of Edward Oakes (via Philip Bess), "worship God with us."