Catholic Herald Reporter INCREASING numbers of Catholic, Anglican and Protestant parishes arc turning to an institute in Birmingham for advice on how to build and remodel churches that encourage congregations to worship with the fullest possible participation.
The Birmingham University Institute for the Study of Worship and Religious Architecture has developed steadily as a research, study and advice centre since it began three years ago.
"We don't try to. put across a particular point of view," the Rev. Gilbert Cope, deputy director, told me this week. "Our main object is to get people to state what their worship is.
"When they are able to express it, ive can explain the advantages and disadvantages of a certain design."
For instance, a Catholic may decide to place his baptistry in the church porch to emphasise the sacramental entry. A Methodist may feel it more appropriate for his church to make the font more prominent, just in front of the sanctuary.
PHYSICAL POVERTY But always the Institute tries to make its consultants seek reasons, liturgical reasons, for making an architectural decision, instead of relying On personal taste. Then it puts them in touch with an architect who can translate their ideas into bricks and mortar.
The factors to consider are practically infinite. Outside should the church dominate its surroundings the way medieval cathedrals did? As a contrast Dr. Cope likes to show pictures of Continental churches that are deliberately subdued by towering skyscrapers "reflecting the physical poverty of Christ's witness".
At the same time, he has many favourable words for Le Corbusier's chapel at Ronchamp which looms up startlingly from every angle of approach.
Inside, the position of pews, tabernacle, Communion rails or table, Missal or Bible stand, organ, pulpit, even windows, exerts an immeasurable influence on each object's importance.
By seriously studying the function of each, the Institute tries to help parishes discover the central theme of their worship, so they can fit each detail into perspective, leaving little room for guesswork. "The main problem," says Dr. Cope, "is getting the sanctuary into the midst of the congregation."
NON-DENOMINATIONAL Unlike the separate Catholic and Protestant centres on the Continent, Birmingham's is completely nondenominational. All three staff members happen to he Anglicans— Dr. Cope, the Rev. Professor J. G. Davies who directs it, and the Rev. P. Bridges, who is research fellow.
But the 25 consultant members come from all faiths and include Fr. J. D. Crichton who edits Liturgy. They also represent a variety of related professions— theologians, architects, sociologists, artists and surveyors.
Being part of a university enables the half-dozen architects and clergymen who are working for the Institute's diploma in liturgy and architecture to draw on widelyvarying disciplines.
Dr. Cope is convinced that forcing people with contrasting attitudes to express their beliefs in their own words inspires an awareness that preaching to them could not.