Page 7, 27th September 1968

27th September 1968
Page 7

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Locations: Birmingham, London


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SACRED or PROFANE? Shared responsibility


IN a parish where a new church is to be built many questions will be asked and arkwered. One which is likely to be asked more and more frequently is this: do we want to build a large and expensive structure that will he fully used on only one day each we4 or should we try to deVise a building which can be used for secular purposes from Monday to Saturday?

This question has not been considered very much during the past few centuries. It is true that church halls have been designed with screened-off sanctuaries. to be used temporarily for the liturgy until a "prOperchurch is built.

0111hurch centres have been contitructed where the hall is separated from the church by a meerable partition, so that a small church can become a large one every Sunday.

But now a third possibility is being tried : a building in which the space used for Sunday Mass is used on other days for dancing. games, gymflashes, music, drama, films, Boy Scout and Girl Guide meetings. meals, parties, and ever popular gambling games.

This possibility is being put forward not merely as a practica expedient but as a desirable solution: desirable because resources arc not "wasted" in under-used space, but are employed to shelter all the group activities of the parilsh: desirable. it is said. because in the Christian community there is a fusion of sacred and secular, and this fusion should be expressed in the community's buildings. Few Catholic parishes are likely yet to feel that the multipurpose church is for them. But the possibilities arc worth thinking about. Cut out the gambling games, the dancing and perhaps the meals, burn incense only and not tobacco, provide a chapel for week-day Mass, for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and for private prayer; is the idea now so outrageous?

It may be argued that lithe building is convenient. for social purposes it will of

necessity be unsuitable for liturgical use, or at least will provide an Unsuitable "atmosphere".

One could answer that many secular medieval halls seem quite as suitable for worship as the large churches of the same periods: would v

Westminster all be so much less suitable for the celebration of Mass than Westminster Abbey?

If one thinks that all the village halls and parish halls one knows yvould perform badly as churehes. could the reason be that they are bad halls anyway?

have not yet been asked to

design a multi-purpose parish church. but I have prepared a scheme for a university chaplaincy building in which the weekday assembly room would become a large 'church each Sunday.

In this case the altar would

be carried publicly and solemnly into the sanctuary (the week-da "platform') before the first Mass on Sunday, and remosied at the end of the day; but if a Birmingham suburb an Anglican multipurpose church is to be built where the altatj will remain on view during all the secular weekday activities.

Either solutiOn seems to me to be more ;attractive than drawing a folding partition or a curtain across tan alcove every Sunday night to shut the sanctuary out of sight for the rest of the week.

• The new Catholic parish at Cranford, Middlesex, has a less unconventional proposal: the church and the hall are to be united on Sundays by drawing back a folding partition. This does not sound very remarkable. but the detailed brief and its interpretation are interesting. for the common defects of such an arrangement will (it is hoped) be overcome.

the weekday church arc individually plet4int spaces (and not just partitioned-off slices of building) the Sunday church is neither one thing nor the other: neither church nor hall.

At Cranford the building is designed as a trinity of spaces. a "naveflanked by two very wide parallel "aisles" each of which has its own quite distinct and separate ioof. One aisle will be partitioned off to become the hall on weekdays, but the geometry of the floor and roof has been contrived to make this aisle into a really independent room. not just a "slice-.

The weekday church. too, is a complete although asymmetrical space. a nave with one aisle; and in the Sunday church the three parts will be fused into one complex but completely unliied room.

Not quite three buildings for the price of one, perhaps, for imperfect sound insulation will prevent the use of the hall for dancing during the celebration of Mass in the church; but the two activities could follow closely on each other — secular festivities could, for example, start ten minutes after the Christmas Midnight Mass and could be continued until ten minutes before the Mass at dawn.

I am not suggesting that the multi-purpose church or the arrangement at C'ranford are now the only possibilities to be considered. Many parishes do not feel the need for a social centre of any kind.

Often a hall can be easily hired when it is needed, or there is an assembly hall available in the primary school: and there may be a youth club attached to the secondary school. Sometimes. as at Swiss Cottage, London, a new church replaces an old one, and the obvious solution is to convert the old church for use as a social centre.

There are other practical considerations: for example, the church site may be closely confined within a residential area where the noise produced by users of a parish hall would be troublesome: and if a social centre is required it may be wise to seek a new site for it.

Again. in some urban Catholic parishes the church always seems to be in use whatever. the time, whatever the day : three well-attended Masses every weekday, and the building never empty between them.

It would be difficult to assert That the church is under-used in such parishes: and yet if the building is large enough for Sunday use, it must certainly be larger than is necessary during 4he week.

The choice of materials and finishes is of special importance in a multi-purpose building. The interior of a single-purpose church receives gentle treatment from its users: floors and furniture must be cleaned. but walls and ceilings. unless they are plastered or painted. will seldon require attention.

Much rougher usage must be expected in a room used for games and dancing, and this may be a factor not only in the choice of materials but in deciding on the types of activities to be permitted.

Experiment implies the possibility of failure. Experience may show that secular activities have to be so restricted as to make the parish with a multi-purpose church begin to look for somewhere to build a hall! It may then be consoling to remember that the question of usage is not the fundamental point for the church builder.

A decision on whether or not the space is used exclusively for liturgy and private prayer is less important than a determination to erect a building of quality and distinction. If this determination usually exists, it is not always matched by achievement.

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