Friday, April 02, 2004

stripping, art and space

My latest radio rant ..
I want to soapbox about stripping the church.

Now before you reach for the radio dial, let me reassure you, I am not talking about a nude streak down the aisle.

At Easter, some churches strip …

At Easter, some churches strip the church. As they move through the passion, through the last week of Jesus life, they take down all the furnishing and curtains.

The church becomes bare as they mourn the loss of God.

At Opawa Baptist, the process of stripping the church began early. It began on Sunday.

After the morning service, half the pews were unbolted and removed.
And in this bare space, metres and metres of black polythene were laid.

The church was stripped.

On Monday I went to the Christchurch Art Gallery.
One of the art exhibits was titled “The Imaginary Museum”. At about 12 points around the museum were nice comfy seats, a stack of newspapers and walkmans.

Open the newspaper and you were shown close up camera shots of various museums and art galleries around the world … Germany, France, Denmark..

Put on the headphones and you hear various museum directors describing their museums … Italy, Belgium, Finland.

The point is to get you thinking about how our environment shapes what we understand.

How does an art director in France use light, or the colour of the walls, or the placing of the doors, to shape our experiences of life?

Our environment shapes our experiences.

Back to church. On Sunday we stripped the church.
And over the next days, we will re-shape the environment of the church.

3 tonnes, of sand will be wheelbarrowed in and poured on the floor. A pool 5 metres wide will be made and filled with water. Trees will be placed. Paving stones will be laid down.

As I stood in this stripped out church space, I suddenly appreciated how light and colour and environment shape what we understand.

The point of all our work is to create an Easter resurrection garden. At Easter at Opawa Baptist we will literally worship in a garden. Hence the sand, the trees, the paving stones, the pool.

And at Opawa Baptist you can get to the Easter Garden by walking the Easter Journey,
walking the Stations of the Cross, contemplating artistic re-interpretations of the Last Supper, the Denial of Jesus, the walk to the cross.

So the point of stripping the church is to let our environment enhance our Easter experience.

Just like the art gallery, to let light and colour and enviroment impact on how we appreciate and experience Jesus death and resurrection.

And I suddenly thought about how environment shaped the teaching of Jesus.
The use of a boat and fishing and nets
to speak to fishermen about following Jesus, in Luke 5,
the use of lots of bread to speak about his body, in John 6
the use of parables, drawing from everyday experiences of the environment.
salt and light, coins and parties.

Jesus used his environment to communicate the gospel.

Is is time to strip our churches?

Week after week in churches our spaces and environments remain the same.

And our challenge is to follow Jesus. To let our environment shape our teaching

through the use of visuals on the OHT or PPT,
through the use of symbols and colour,

So that’s my soapbox this week.
not ourselves, but our church spaces

Follow Jesus
and use our environments to communicate the gospel and enhance our experiences of God.

Posted by steve at 07:17 PM


  1. I really love this tradition – and I really like your idea of seeting up a garden in the space. Any reason why its a garden? does it echo back to a redeemed garden of eden?

    Not sure how the church moot meets in would respond to us ripping out the chairs and stuff, they just remove the icons.

    It would be great to see churches making more creative use of their environment. And more particually in London, of their gardens, which are normally awash with people in the spring/summer months. an opportunity they seem to regularly miss.

    Comment by gareth — April 2, 2004 @ 11:33 pm

  2. Pictures please. 8>)

    Comment by Chris — April 3, 2004 @ 5:06 am

  3. Very cool. This Thursday night, at the conclusion of our Maundy Thursday worship, we will sing Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me…”) while the church is stripped.

    Having just partaken of the same feast Jesus’ disciples did before abandoning him, we will partake in the stripping that symbolizes his humiliation, thus we will be forced to remember how we are a part of that humiliation and crucifixion.

    Blessings to you.

    Comment by Evers — April 4, 2004 @ 4:56 am

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