Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What's in the Sanctuary: Summer Sunday Ideas

My last post suggested “preaching your sanctuary” as a way to help people see the richness going on in architecture, furnishings, and fabrics.  Read on for specific suggestions on how to do this:

1. Ask children, youth, and adults what they notice in the worship sanctuary. “What do you see that you've often wondered about?” What is it? Why is if there? What does it have to do with our worship, or this congregation?
2. Call attention to any symbols in the sanctuary: look around to notice and explain any Latin and Greek words or initials found on crosses, woodwork, banners, or windows (INRI, IHS, XP(Chi Rho), AO (Alpha-Omega). What shape of crosses are there, and to what do these refer? What other symbols do you see (doves/Noah's ark or Holy Spirit, flames/Pentecost, etc.)
3. Notice numbers of things: how many windows are there? How many light fixtures? What else seems to appear in numbered groups? Note possible religious symbolism or references of numbers:
1=beginning, God
3=divine completeness, Holy Trinity
4=Creation, four directions
5=Five Books of Moses (Torah, teaching)
6=The created world (six days)
7=Completeness, perfection, seventh day or Sabbath rest
8=The first day of the new week, New beginning, new creation
10=10 commandments, responsibility
12-perfection, governance: tribes, disciples
4. Notice colors in the room and in windows, and note possible meanings:
Yellow - "warm," "exciting" holiness, halo, light
Green - "peace, stillness" growth, life; Church Season: Common Time
Blue - peaceful, deep, "typical heavenly color"; water, sky
Red-glowing, alive, joy,energy, Holy Spirit;Church Season: Pentecost, Reformation  
White- "Harmony of silence" purity, clean, new, Church Season: Christmas, Easter
Violet-"sad," repentance, passion; Church Season: Advent, Lent
5. Notice any shapes in woodwork, panels, walls, windows and possible meanings:
Triangles (3 sides=reference to Trinity)
Circles (no beginning or end=eternity)
Rectangles (foundations=strength)
Squares (4 equal sides=balance)
Organic shapes: found in nature, like grape clusters, leaves, vines, flowers

Other Teaching and Preaching Possibilities
Notice opportunities for developing a series of sermons, children's sermons, or confirmation lessons about:
-Symbols, shapes, colors, and numbers in the sanctuary, their origin, history, and meaning today
-Fabrics in the Sanctuary:
Flags: If there are flags, what’s their story/history/colors/symbolisms; what do they represent, why are they located where they are, how are they connected to worship life? What questions do they raise, and what might be learned from them?
Banners: Notice the colors, symbols, themes, and placement. Who made them, and why? Are they seasonal, or regularly there? What is the connection to worship?
Vestments and Clothing: who wears what? Do clergy and choirs wear something that sets them apart, and why? Are there any dress codes for your congregation? Are there any unspoken expectations, or spoken ones? What is welcomed and what isn't, and why? The Bible speaks about clothing, so examine some of those passages: Deut. 22:5, Zephaniah 1:8, Ezekiel 44:15-18, Mark 12:38-40, Luke 6:19, Matthew 6:28-33, James 2:2-7, Ephesians 6:14-17, Colossians 3: 12-15.

-Furnishings in the Sanctuary:
Many churches have a lectern and a pulpit, while others have a single podium which serves both functions. What are the functions, and how are they different? What's the history behind this furniture, and what significance does it hold for us today? Where are they placed in the sanctuary, and why? What is their contribution to worship?
Most churches have an altar or a communion table, and some have both. What is the difference between them, and are there any rules or customs for what is placed on them (fabrics, candles, Communion elements, offering plates, plants, flowers, etc.) and why? Are any of these given as memorial gifts to the church, and who gave them, and why?
-The Windows
How many are there and why? Are there stories in the windows? What are the colors, shapes, and symbols, and what do they say to and about the worshipping community? Are any of these given as memorials, and who gave them, and why? With 6-8 windows you have that many sermons or lessons to give! People will tell you how they never heard these stories or explanations before and how they so appreciate what you've helped them see and understand about their sanctuary.
--Building Features
Notice the interior “sections” to your sanctuary and learn about these terms: narthex or foyer, the nave, and the chancel. What different functions do they serve? Can you see a shape to the nave and chancel: square, rectangular, circular, octogonal? What does this shape say about this congregation? Is there a cruciform floor plan-Latin Cross or Greek cross? What does the ceiling look like? Does it evoke something “upward” or heavenly, or more sheltering or, ark-like? Does the exterior have a unique shape?
What artworks, as in paintings or sculptures, are in the church facilities? You might help your people really “see” them by bringing them into the sanctuary on an easel, or by projecting a larger image on a screen, and helping them understand the history, artistic vision, story and message of that particular work of art. For example, many churches have Sallman's "Head of Christ" or Leonardo's "Last Supper." Much can be drawn out of these particular works of art, as well as from others in your church.
Thanks for reading this far!
The above material is meant to get you started with experiencing your worship facilities in new and engaging ways, and communicating this with congregations as early as this summer.
For more information on preaching with visuals and with your architecture, go here to find my book, Feeding Imaginations: Worship That Engages. You can also order my Silver Screen, Sacred Story. Using Multimedia in Worship there or at the publisher,
Check my website for other updates at and thank you so much!!