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12/26/2013

Worship in a Gothic Setting: A Journey Begins

Recently as I began to attend a church built along the Gothic lines, I have had cause to explore what and why we worship as we do. The contemplation of that subject involves traveling the long and winding road of church history discovering the crossroads, the roadblocks, and the straight roads of what we call the Christian Church.

Teaching a class on general humanities several years ago, I had used church architecture as one of the
exploration possibilities as we discussed the idea of form and function in human history.  We looked at the symbolism of religious structures from several eras and traditions.  They were then urged to look at their own church to see what was being said about worship, people, and values by its form, decoration (or lack of it) and use.  Since most of those students attended modern and non-traditional churches held in auditoriums, store fronts, and old Baptist churches the results would be interesting.

Churches (and the denominations they represent) are classified as Low Church and High Church in regards to their worship styles.

Low Church refers to the less liturgical religious traditions.  Into this area will generally fall most Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic, Holiness, and non-denominational groups.  These groups will take great pride in following what they understand to be a more Biblical, less Catholic, and purer form of worship experience.  These groups often see history as a shackle to be shaken off and discarded in a never ending search for a new and more impressive spiritual experience in the present.

High Church refers to the more liturgical religious traditions.  Into this area will generally fall most Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist and Episcopal churches. These groups will take great pride in following what they understand to be more Biblical, historical, and traditional form of worship experience.  These groups often see history as a companion who enriches, teaches and makes meaningful the life of a person or a church.

Some groups will straddle a middle ground in the use of a liturgy (a word meaning the public service and refers here to an order of worship with responses and specific elements in a printed handout), robes for the clergy and processions into and out of the sanctuary.

Strangely, though, even those churches who would claim to be free of such formalisms as a liturgy actually use a liturgy.  They are like the old Christian who proudly claimed they had "no creed but Christ" not understanding they had just named their creed.   There is an underlying structure to the more "free" church service with its own formal, accepted and repeated practices: a welcome, three songs, a prayer, an offering, a sermon and a prayer/dismissal/altar call. These groups simply do not bother to write it down and often are more flexible as to order or time. 

Given all of these details, as I observed the Gothic nature of the sanctuary of my present church home it caused me to wonder.  What does it mean to worship in a "Gothic" sanctuary? How should the form of this place influence and shape the nature of the worship experience or personal spiritual response?  This led to other questions such as what is the Biblical definition of worship, what are the expectations of the person who worships and how will this form contribute to a person's spiritual growth?

The journey will begin with the last question answered first...


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