'WHEN a parish commissions an architect to design a church, it presents him with two particular hurdles. The first is discovering precisely what is needed and the second is producing a design which will be approved.
It has been assumed in the past that the requirements of a church are so self evident that they need hardly be discussed at all and that good design depended only on the genius of the architect. It is now realised that these assumptions are false.
The requirements of a
church are far from self evident and the skill of the architect needs complementing by an inspired "programme.
Modern architecture Is not
concerned with style but with every detail of the clients' and users' requirements. This does not mean that it is deeply concerned about appearance but the poetry of the buildings is required to grow out of a full understanding of people's needs.
The programme is more than the architect's brief, such as a church for 300 people for 00.000. Its preparation should be the shared responsibility of the people of a parish, the parish priest, the bishop and their architect.
Inevitably the parish priest is a central figure. He is president of the Liturgical Assembly and En the past has had to shoulder alone the responsibility for building a church.
Now, given encouragement, the people will be willing collaborators in more than merely raising money. For the priest to encourage this open discussion it will require an act of faith in those he serves, but the opportunity provided to exercise his ministry in this context can be an enriching experience for him as well as for all those who accept the challenge of partnership.
For the architect the situa tion is also a challenge. To have a client who is a cornmittee can be daunting but to have several hundred people can be paralysing. It is perhaps
only within the loving framework of the Christian community that this kind of collaboration can. be attempted.
With an awareness of the difficulties that can arise in such a partnership, it may be fitting for the priest to solemnly commission the architect on behalf of the parish community. If this takes the form of a Bible service, the sacred character of their task can be brought out by readings which dwell on this theme.
In the Book of Wisdom. Ch. 9, we read, "You have bidden rue build a temple on your holy mountain, an altar in the city where you have pitched your tent," and it goes on, "It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth. laborious to know what lies within our reach; who. then, can discover what is in the heavens?"
From this point the process of research and education can begin. The priest must ensure that the character of liturgy is understood. The most worthwhile contributions from parishioners will come from those who have studied the developments of the Liturgy. the theology of the Second Vatican Council and the Pastoral Directives on Church Building.
For those who are less studious there should be the opportunity to speak from the heart, knowing that their observations are being taken into account. And for those who do not enjoy speaking in public there should be an invitation to write their ideas to the chairman or architect.
What are the ideal arrangements for the Liturgy of the Word and for the Eucharistic parts of the Mass? Are seats and kneelers necessary for both parts? Should the mass room floor slope?
The movements of priests and people before, during and after worship should be studied so that everyone's actions can be taken into account when planning the building.
It may be considered of greater importance to have the priest enter the Sunday Mass room through the same door as the people, than to have sacristies next to the sanctuary. Access to the tabernacle may be needed during mass, but it may be desirable to have a blessed sacrament chapel close to the entrance for the convenience of visitors or for security reasons.
Is it possible to do both and also put the entrance to the church by the sanctuary so that front benches fill up more easily? All these questions and many more can be broached and discussed at parish meetings.
It may take two or three general meetings before a full enough "programme" is clarified for the architect to start design work, but in the meantime he will have been surveying the site. joining the discussions and carrying out feasibility studies.
General meetings will h:tve their limitations and close study of particular issues may best be dealt with in smaller working groups or committees. Obvious categories for treatment in this way are finance, arrangements for social facilities, for sacristies. music. etc.
The finance committee will take the lead in establishing a budget and will need to forecast income, check population trends and resolve the mechanics of financial loans and fund raising. The skills of bankers and accountants among the parishioners will be needed.
If the issue has not been raised in general session, a justification for building their church at all must be made in the light of world poverty. An answer can only lie in building a church which will help to generate from the community an ever increasing commitment to the loving service of others.
From discussion the parish may decide on the need for comfortable space adjoining the mass room for getting to know each other on an informal basis. Refreshments will require a kitchen.
Provision for these things could be the particular concern of the social facilities group. They will also deal with the respective merits of large and small rooms for meetings or socials, the need for cloakrooms and all important storage. The youth should present their own case, explaining their desire for autonomy.
Suggestions from outside groups. such as "Workshops for the Elderly," the W.R.V.S., etc., could be considered if they are likely to use the new building on weekdays.
The sacristan and altar servers will have strong views on how the sacristy areas are to be arranged and the voicing of opinion can avoid unnecessary discomfort for those who work back stage.
As all these debates go on, a complex list of requirements will emerge and the architect can proceed with planning in an attempt to meet all the defined needs. Planning is always a puzzle and process of compromise but in exploring the contradictions it will not lead to a weakening of the vitality which has been generated in the debate. Surprising new insights and possibilities will come to light and the pain for individuals of sacrificing a favourite idea will hopefully be compensated by new and rewarding discoveries.
Inevitably the architect finds himself as much involved in discussion on liturgy and theology as in architecture, but in pursuing this consultation to the end, there is hopefully the gratifying experience of a diminished second hurdle. Gaining acceptance of the final design should be an easy step, because no matter how startling his proposal, it can be clearly seen as the outcome Of the clients' and users' needs.
Church means People of God. If the building is not an expression of the people's activity in worship and loving service, it will be a monument to an individual's fancy and not a House of God.