While what I hope to talk about here has to do with place and space for music ministry, I want to expend these opening paragraphs on beginnings–the obvious fundamentals, the raison d’etre, as it were, of the Church. Mission and Ministry. The what and the how of the Church.
Each congregation has its own expression of these dimensions of the shape of the Church. Once having established a clear notion of mission, a congregation needs to embrace effective means for the conduct of ministry: How do we live out the goals of mission in the life and action of the congregation?
One way this is done–the way which interests us here–is in worship. We offer our attentions to the Creator in Word, sacrament, prayer and song.
To enable ministry we fashion tools. The tools of ministry assume a wide variety of forms, interest-specific groups, written materials, programs of social ministry and, not insignificantly, the buildings we use to deliver the ministries we offer to those we seek to reach. A church building then is an instrument for ministry. It is a tool.
We all know that the right tool for a job enhances one’s ability to accomplish the task at hand more effectively. It is no less the case for church buildings. For music ministry, to be the “right” tool, the worship room (not the only, but the primary locus of instrumental and choral praise) must be crafted to accommodate a variety of conditions which appropriately enable the making and hearing of music. The whole room, of course, must be acoustically correct for both those who lead and those who follow. It must be properly “seasoned” as well to the “taste” of congregational and, often, denominational preferences and traditions.
But beyond that fundamental requirement, a host of special needs must be met for the space set aside for the primary making of music. Elevation of voices for proper projection, lines of sight between musicians and those from whom cues are received, adequate accommodation of instruments (organ, console, piano, harpsichord, drums) and instrumentalists, freedom of movement, room for hand bell tables…these are matters of “design”. These are the how of music ministry in worship. The what of music ministry in the worship space has to do with form.
The late architect Louis Kahn left us this useful distinction in his writing. The form of a spoon for example, he wrote, is a handle and a bowl. The design of a spoon is the particular size, shape, proportion and material of the elements of the form which comprise any particular spoon.
The design of a thing, then has to do with functional realities and aesthetic considerations. The form of a thing, however, goes directly to its root purpose–its reason for being. Form reflects authenticity. What then comprises the authentic form of the worship room?
Unlike the Kahn illustration which fittingly takes as implicit the understanding that the handle must be of a shape and proportion to be graspable, and that the bowl must be located at the end of the handle to satisfy the purpose of a spoon, the definition of the form of a worship room is more complex than the simple enumeration of its parts.
The form of a room for corporate worship has a place for the assembly; a place (or places) for the foci of the liturgy (Word and Sacrament); and a place for the ministers of music. But beyond these something must also be said about the relationship between these places. The authentic form of the worship room has as much to do with the relationship of places as the places themselves.
The test of authenticity has to do with how faithfully these architectural decisions reflect the core understanding of mission and ministry. Since the mission and ministry is shaped by denominational and congregational self-understanding, authentic form will reflect the specific signature of the faith tradition and, in a pluralistic milieu, cultural verities as well.
For Lutheran worship of the ilk tracing its roots to European origins and now cast in its North American descendence, the relationship between the place of music ministry and those of the assembly and Word and Sacrament, is characterized by a congruency with the central oneness of the people of God in worship. Space has no sacral nature in and of itself but only as it is enlivened by the work of the assembled people of God, i.e., the Liturgy.
All participants–presider, celebrant, preacher, lector, musician, singer, ringer and rank and file congregant–are united with common purpose. All the architectural cues which distinguish this room from all others want to reinforce this notion.
Those with leadership responsibilities do not by virtue of these privileged duties take on any special importance elevating them above the whole, but rather occupy “place” especially crafted (a matter of design) for the fulfillment of their office.
So it is with the place for the ministers of music. Faithfulness to the form of places for Lutheran worship suggests that the place of music ministry be situated so as to accomplish two things: 1) meet all the requirements to promote effective leadership, and 2) foster full participation of the music leaders in the worship event when they are not in a leadership mode, ie., be a part not apart–a part of the one of worship, not apart from the assembly at large and the other leaders of the liturgy.
This is the key to understanding the form of worship. The practical effect of this notion is to make virtually the whole worship room available for the disposition of the music place so long as these criteria are honored. These criteria cannot be honored, however, if during worship the choir and others about the business of music leadership are treated to a view of the back of the celebrant or presider and what is happening in the chancel. All other venues are open possibilities in terms of the faithful reflection of form. Particulars of location–rear of the nave, rear balcony, side seating bay, side alcove, dispersed among the assembly–are the subject of design. They are site and congregation specific.
What makes reaching for authentic form important? What legitimizes an effort to conform to this principle of spatial organization? It is really an issue of stewardship. Not the ten percent sort, but the sort that recognizes the call to handle with care all those gifts bestowed upon us. Good stewardship of the mission of the Church necessarily includes care in the management of its symbols as well as its real estate. A poorly conceived place for worship conveys a garbled message of how we see ourselves as a worshiping community. Rather, clarity in these matters is essential. Clarity and consonance of image in form of place and design of space is no nuance, but a clarion proclamation of the what and how of worship, and, if faithful, the what and how of the Church.