In an article entitled The Post-pandemic Church will need to Wipe Out, Spread Out and Reach Out!, US-based architect Ravi Waldon quotes someone who recently said “The Church has left the building”. That is literally the case just now!
But what needs to be done to safely bring congregations, and their wider communities, ‘back to the building’, and how might Churches build resilience in the medium and long-term to enable them to manage the rapidly changing and uncertain future?
Cleaning and maintenance
Cleaning and maintenance programs for churches will be more important than ever.
Healthy design choices
There will need to be more healthy design choices in the use of such things as UV light air purification systems to improve air quality, and hygienically-designed toilets and kitchens to limit the potential spread of disease.
Furniture and textiles used might be chosen for their antimicrobial properties and cleanability.
Hygienic surface finishes
Wall, ceiling and floor finishes should be easily maintained and durable against stronger cleaning products.
Allowance needs to be made for more space between individuals and between families, with wider aisles and expanded rows. Pews may need to be spaced further apart, or discarded altogether in favour of loose seating that can be set out to suit requirements. Where large numbers may wish to attend weddings, funerals and baptisms they may need to split up, with some observing proceedings by video link in adjacent rooms, in lobbies or outside.
Smaller classrooms and meeting rooms may be designed to maintain smaller gatherings of people, with seating arrangements that might be circular to prevent people sneezing on one another.
Aisles and corridors may need to widen, and lobbies may need to allow for less concentrated gatherings, at least until we all settle into what social distancing means for the future.
It may well be that spaces outside could be used more regularly for worship, for fellowship and for wider community activities. Given South Australia’s climate, this would be possible for much of the year and provides a very positive external manifestation to neighbouring communities of the activities of their local churches. External shade structures could protect against the weather and double for use during community events.
By necessity, the use of video and streaming technology has become much more widespread in recent months, and in the long term it may replace many face-to-face meetings and teaching activities.
Online Church may become a ‘virtual’ threshold into Church for those who are curious, unconvinced or nervous to turn up in person. Online Church may supplement the Faith journey, but it won’t become the journey. Relationships still require presence.
SA’s places of worship
Often the spaces inside our places of worship in South Australia seem far larger than today’s smaller congregations require. In the current circumstances this is a blessing rather than a burden, given we have space to spread out.
Congregations should take the opportunity to pivot in the face of current challenges and redesign their places of worship to be resilient in helping to serve future mission. Never let a good crisis go to waste – it can be a positive call to action.
Ian Hamilton, Director, Arcuate Architecture