I recently came across an article on MSN News online about modern MegaChurch architecture. It is actually a criticism of the design of such churches as not being capable of facilitating prayer in the traditional sense of the word and promoting class distinction and commercialism. I thought it was very insightful and reminded me of why Orthodox are soo conservative in their architecture. Even though this reality is slowly changing in North America for the worst. I noticed this trendy modernization in a Greek Orthodox Church in Long Island yesterday night when I visited it for the veneration of the holy Sitka Icon from Alaska that is cirulating in the US these past weeks. The Church, although posessing a very beautiful byzantine architecture, is decorated inside by many "nouveau" stylings such as futuristic metal iconostas, see through taberbacle, and side panels that look that they came out of the Jetsons. I don't mean to make fun, but I see that there is a concern for what is new and expensive over what is more conducive to prayer. I hope this article reminds us of that. I've highlighted in bold some passages that I think are the most insightful and important:
An Anatomy of Mega Churches
Viewing these images of the megachurch in action, I got the feeling that they've kept everything bad about the scale of Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals but little of the good. In fact, it's all about scale. How big can we make it, how many people can we fit into it, how small can we make people feel individually yet how big as a group?The good that's been discarded, for me, would be the art, which is present in traditional cathedrals in both grand and intimate scale. You have the Creation staring down at you in the Sistine Chapel, but also much more to see at the human level. There are statues of saints, paintings, even wonderful votive candle racks and the like. Then there's the altar itself, with its many rich and interesting things to see.In these modern megacathedrals (or, in some cases, dihedrals, since some of them look as swept as jet wings), where are the arcades, the columns, the clerestory windows, the pendentives holding up the dome, all the fine details that furnish you with eye candy.
If you're in one of these football stadiums like the one in Houston, the stage-altar has been reduced to the level of a detail: you can only see the pastor on the Jumbo-Tron…Will wealthy supporters be able to view the service from skyboxes, where they can sit outside in a private loge or retire indoors to view the service on HDTV while noshing on the full buffet? …The skybox thought brings up another point.
What these megachurches do preserve of the cathedral tradition is the notion of class hierarchy. In the old system, the apportionment of seating reflected the notion of a structured society: God was at the top, the clergy were next to God, the wealthy nobility were next to the clergy in the pews (but just across the altar rail), and the common folk milled about in the nave (presumably with a few hogs or sheep running around). It's hard to see how the rear seats of the new megachurches are any different from the old-fashioned nave, except that there's probably less livestock (on second thought, you probably can't even make that statement with any certainty if you're more than a hundred rows away). It would be interesting to know whether seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, or there are reserved sections as there are in Anglican churches in New England.
Too bad the article is only about the architecture, not the sociology. I'll admit some of these new churches are striking, but they seem less about spirituality and more about showmanship. They're also about herd instinct. More and more, we appear not to be comfortable worshipping our own God in our own way. We have to be part of something big, and the bigness is human, not divine. A great big worship machine, with stadium seating. Helleluja!