Worship and Worship Space

by Volker Dobers

For about two years the Church Council concerned itself with the issue of the concept for the design of the church interior in view of the forthcoming renovation of the St. John's Church.  This exercise was made necessary by structural defects encountered over  the last decades (cracks, staining, and problems with the heating system and with lighting).

The question was raised during a meeting of the Church Council in late January 1990 about how we as the Lüchow congregation wanted to celebrate worship in our worship space today and in the future.  We reflected upon the celebration of a welcoming and lively service of worship with a central focus on being a flexible, bright, and friendly church.  Thus the appearance of the traditional church interior ought to blend with the new mission.

The results of a questionnaire which was part of a meeting on the theme of "Worship and Worship Space" made it clear that in contrast to past divine services, future services should be "open" and lively.  Items which were criticized included the traditional "one man show," the distance of the congregation from the pastor at the altar, the "stiff" communicants at Holy Communion, the lack of participation of young people, and the seating in immovable rows of church pews.  Also criticized was the distant location of the baptismal font.

Then Church Council members asked what "weather" captured the mood when people thought of the interior of our church.  Among the fewer than thirteen possible key descriptions proposed,  those which predominated were: "drizzling rain, changeable, and cloudy."

Candidates for Confirmation who participated in the same questionnaire gave the opinions that the church in Lüchow felt like a prison to them: they felt trapped, caged in, and alienated.

These impressions draw attention to something worth noting:  Interior spaces have an effect on those who live and celebrate within.  This is affected by the colors, the floor plan, the type and direction of the seating, the building materials, and even the lighting.

Even the theological emphases - for example, the manner in which the Lüchow church interior  focuses on Christ's sacrificial death for sins through its 1866 altar design - influence those inside the church building.

In Lüchow it is mainly the structural  limitations which create difficulties in regard to divine worship: the present altar (and the large chancel) are positioned some 25-30 meters to the east of the rows of pews - a concept which seemed to make sense 125 years ago from the worship stand point.   Today, however, worshippers in Lüchow regularly number about one hundred, and there is a greater wish and need for closeness during worship.  A new central altar  in the middle of the nave near the present pulpit as proposed in the current plans would serve to bring worshippers closer together.  By developing a new central focus around the "Lord's Table,"  more possibilities and options for worship could be created than was the case before.

After the clarification of worship priorities, the proposal went before the Church Council and those involved with all phases on the Parish Advisory Board for a second round of discussions of the critical question regarding to what extent St. John's church interior was to be changed.  The crucial question was: Should there be a radical alteration of the church interior, or should only cosmetic repairs be made?  Of prime consideration was the fact that funding was desperately needed in the former East Germany for the preservation of church buildings there.  In this connection the Church Council took up the question of whether or not local church (landeskirchliche) resources might be designated for use within the former German Democratic Republic.  For a complete redesign of the church interior would speak to all aspects of worship and the Church Council's responsibility to the local congregation and its church buildings.

Regarding all these decisions, it will be asked in the future whether such measures are justifiable in terms of preserving the assets of the church as needed, and whether the design is helpful and conducive to worship in view of the financial constraints.

As a third step the Church Council and Parish Advisory Board jointly conducted a day trip to old churches in which new liturgical focus points were created within re-designed worship spaces.
Visits to the Lübeck Cathedral and to St. Peter's Church in Lübeck demonstrated the kinds of possibilities which can result from the opening up of church interiors.

Additionally,  in the meanwhile four artists were commissioned to complete and submit designs in competition for the proposed new worship center.

Proposed interior renovation of St. John's church (1990)
Proposed interior renovation of St. John's church (1990)