While we were in Birmingham last week, I was able to take the older three children on a short tour through Mountain Brook Presbyterian Church, the congregation where I worshiped (and was in the choir) during my college years. We met Jeff Hayes, who is the Associate Pastor and Director of Christian Education at Mountain Brook these days. Jeff was very gracious to take us around and point things out to the children. They loved it. I loved showing it to them. I’ve mentioned before that my experiences there were very formative for me, and instructive in what Reformed worship looks like when it is done really well. Mountain Brook Presbyterian did it well, starting with the architecture.
A church’s architecture is one of the most important pieces in constructing a cohesive philosophy of worship, yet this is often overlooked. To be sure, churches overcome this obstacle everyday. I think especially of church planting situations, where the congregation just has to “make do” until they get more established. (I was a part of a church once that first met in a dance studio, then at Weight Watchers.) But, when the time comes to build a building, sometimes churches unwittingly build in hindrances to their own philosophy of worship. Or they don’t think beyond their own immediate future and end up with a building that will be embarrassingly dated in just a short time.
Mountain Brook Presbyterian’s sanctuary was built in 1969, but you wouldn’t know it. It does not scream “60’s Church!” like so many other places of that worship of that era. They thought through the fact that fads and fashions wax and wane, and built a building that is timeless.
When the congregation sold their old building downtown (where it was known as 6th Avenue Presbyterian Church), they did something that was quite amazing, I think. They took their beautiful stained glass windows, which tell the story of the Life of Christ, with them to the new location and built the new building around those windows. So the “new” building honors the church’s past, present, and future all at the same time. And even though that “new” building is pushing 40, it is just as timely, and timeless, as it was when it was first built. That is a great testimony to a congregation that had a heart not only for themselves, but for future generations.
While we were there, Jeff gave us a beautiful book entitled Face to Face: The Stained Glass Windows of Mountain Brook Presbyterian Church. I wish some of the pictures from the book were available online. They are breathtaking.
So, here’s a question: I know what screams “60’s Church!” or “70’s Church!” For instance, this does:
(Yes, the steeple does look like a big rocket ship. This in in Huntsville, AL. Get it? For more on this topic, read “Church Ugly” in Touchstone magazine.) What about an 80’s Church? A 90’s Church? A whatever we’re going to call this decade Church? What will we totally embarrassed about, architecturally speaking, 20 years from now? (That is, of course, provided we don’t follow the lead of the folks at Mountain Brook Pres., who looked past their own noses.)
Thanks, Jeff, for taking the time with me and with the children last Thursday. It’s so good to be in such a beautiful sacred space. I only wish we could be there for a worship service sometime soon.