Ten Things I Learned About Building a New Church

Ten Things I Learned About Building a New Church June 9, 2016

The New Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, SC
The New Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, SC

OK. This is a MUST READ if you or your parish are planning to build a new church or planning to renovate an ugly modern church.

I learned these things through building the new Our Lady of the Rosary Church at OLR

  1. Beauty doesn’t need to be expensive – when we got started and I was talking about a building a beautiful church I could tell my building committee was uneasy. When I said “beautiful” they saw dollar signs. However, very often in America when Catholics tried to make a church beautiful they did what they did in their homes–they filled it with beautiful (and expensive) stuff like Italian marble, mosaics and all that stuff. If you make the architecture of the church beautiful however, you won’t need to spend all that money on marble and brass and pretty stuff.
  2. Make it Beautiful from the Ground Up – You’re going to spend X amount of money anyway to build or renovate this church. Decide that the money you will spend will be invested in a church that is beautiful in itself, not just a building full of pretty stuff. Our architect observed, “To build a church to seat 500 people, (assuming that you were going to spend a certain amount in good materials and craftsmanship and not just erect a pre-fab warehouse) You will need to spend a certain amount of money. Why not spend that money to do something beautiful for God?
  3. Simplicity is Cheap – We built the new OLR in a Romanesque style, but were inspired by the austere beauty of the Cistercian churches and the Romanesque monastic churches of France and Italy. They were simple, but they were breathtakingly beautiful. The astounding thing about going down this route is that the simple austerity of the Romanesque and Cistercian monastic churches is that they are also less expensive. The beauty of a soaring vault, a graceful arch or a lofty ceiling is not that expensive. You’re spending the money anyway. Spend it on architectural beauty.
  4. Avoid Modernist Architects – No offense intended, but find an architect who doesn’t give two hoots about his reputation or doing “something significant in the modernist style”. Find a good Catholic architect who understands the great tradition and submits himself to it in humility. Also, you don’t have to hire a famous architect who will be a prima donna and demand that you raise more money to fulfill his grandiose dreams. Go for the little guy. Go for the person who has travelled to Europe and understands the great tradition.
  5. Get someone on the committee who knows what he’s talking about – Unfortunately, too many building committee members and pastors in America are ignorant of the great tradition. They have not been to Europe. They have not visited the historic churches. They only know the big fan shaped church in the neighboring American suburb. Find somebody who has lived and worked in and visited the great churches of Europe. Draft a Catholic professor of Art History. Search for somebody in the know. Research these people. They are out there. Listen to them and learn from them. Continue Reading

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