‘A Stitch in Time – Guidance Notes in Maintaining your Place of Worship’

Guidance Note 7 – Lighting Church Buildings

Churches are places that inspire feelings of spirituality, peace, comfort, warmth, reassurance and welcome. It is important to use every opportunity to reinforce these feelings, especially in traditional churches which are often quite closed and introverted in their street-presence. Good lighting design can go a long way to making churches feel warm and welcoming, both inside and from the outside, whilst accentuating their spiritual character.

Good lighting can create positive emotions towards churches while poor lighting can undermine our relationship with them, even to the point of discouraging attendance for worship.

In its most basic form lighting must be facilitate the practical uses of a church. It must be bright enough to allow worshippers to read their orders of service and hymn books and to enable people to move safely around the building. It must be flexible enough to provide different levels of lighting to different spaces in a variety of circumstances, depending on the time of day and seasonal changes. Lighting should also be economical and easy to run and maintain.

Poorly controlled and distributed artificial lighting can lead to the following issues:

A wide range of LED fittings are available that are reasonably priced, energy efficient and long-lasting.

  • Glare: the over-brightness of lights against a dark background. Inside it can be uncomfortable to worshippers and visitors. External lights causing glare can be a nuisance to neighbours and may be a hazard to road users.
  • Light spillage: more likely to occur with external lighting, this is the unwanted spillage of light beyond the boundary of a church which may cause nuisance to others.
  • Sky glow: the upward spill of external light into the sky that can cause a glowing effect perceived as ‘light pollution’

Good feature lighting design for churches is something of an art. It requires a knowledge of current technologies and available fittings as well as an understanding of the architecture, the liturgical characteristics of worship and the specific uses to which individual places of worship are to be put. For a lighting design to be successful an architect and lighting consultant must work with a client church to develop a clear design brief.

In Scotland, the author worked with St. Andrew’s East Church to insert new facilities into their worship space. Particular emphasis was placed on the route into the space which is lit by an overhead lighting feature, while the chancel has a backlit glass cross. The worship space has up-lighting that gently washes off the sloping ceiling, while modern pendant fittings provide task lighting when required. Because of the need to preserve the sanctity of the worship space emergency lighting was coordinated into the finishes of the new insertion.

St. Andrew’s East Church, Glasgow. New insertion together with heritage conservation working with Page\Park Architects. Photograph by Andrew Lee.

Above: St. Andrew’s East Church. Above: View to the chancel through the lobby with light above from a new lighting feature. Photo by Andrew Lee.

Below: Emergency lighting integrated into finishes.

Another project with which the author was involved was the design and lighting of the pipe organ recently installed on the gallery of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Adelaide. Hidden LED strip lighting accentuates the organ pipes while carefully located spotlights subtly wash the overall casework.

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Adelaide. Feature lighting of organ casework and pipes. Photograph by Phil Handforth.

The key to lighting places of worship is to use the minimum number of fittings that have the lowest energy use and that allow for an efficient maintenance regime, and to choose and place those fittings so that they have little or no aesthetic impact on the buildings during the day.

If you require assistance in reviewing the lighting of your place of worship please don’t hesitate to contact Arcuate Architecture and we will be delighted to assist you.

Ian Hamilton, Director
Arcuate Architecture, Adelaide

Website: www.arcuatearchitecture.com.au
Email: ianh@arcuatearchitecture.com.au
Phone: (08) 7231 5701