The Columbus Visitor’s Center reminds our community of Winston Churchill’s profound words about architecture: “We shape our buildings, thereafter, our buildings shape us.”
The First Christian Church community of faith continues to be shaped by the historic downtown building designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. Responding to the building committee’s charge to him, he wrote, “In accordance with the wishes of the building committee, our endeavor has been to design not a mere church, but a church expressing the religious aims of your congregation.
“Indeed, it is essential to establish such a true relationship between the people themselves and the design of their church. Our church is our people.”
In a recent sermon series, we were reminded that our building — the first architecturally significant structure here — and our faith are spiritually related and that the building was designed to continually shape all those who use it regularly and to those who visit it daily.
Six such features continue to remind us of the church’s simple New Testament faith.
From far off, the tower stands prominently over the Columbus downtown and reminds us of the Old Testament practice of “standing stones” wherever something notable and memorable happened to the Israelites. To commemorate such an event, they would stand up large stones or stack many stones on top of each other, thus making a statement about God’s power and presence in their midst.
Upon approaching the church, especially at the Lafayette Street entrance, a large bowl-shaped font reminds entrants of God’s holiness. The bronze laver was a prominent feature in the Old Testament tabernacle, surrounded by many rules and regulations of sacrifice — all to help them be mindful of God’s holy presence.
Entrance into this house of worship is not casual and not without the consideration of God’s pure character.
Once inside, anyone entering the worship auditorium from the back will automatically be drawn to the large cross on the front wall and what is thought to be the largest religious tapestry in America. The two complement each other.
The cross reminds us that our faith is “crucicentric”; Jesus’ greatest act was his sacrifice for all people. He died for us on the cross at Calvary. The tapestry is based upon Jesus’ practical teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. It reminds us of how to live for him.
Architectural students will note the contrast and connection of the many vertical and horizontal elements throughout the outside and inside of the building. It calls us to be first connected with God (through his invitation of the cross), and to be connected with each other.
Our best hope of relationships with each other begins with each of us being connected to God. When Jesus was tested about the greatest commandment, he simply answered, “Love God (first), then love your neighbor like yourself.”
The long, vertical lines and the shorter horizontal lines remind us that our faith is not about rules and regulations but rather our loving relationships with God and others.
The large wood pulpit is designed to dwarf even the largest of preachers, declaring that God’s Word (not the messenger) is what’s important for establishing truth and spiritual teaching. And the large communion table is the only design feature that is intended to be centered in the middle of the room.
The Lord’s Supper is, by New Testament design, the center of Christian worship.
Finally, there are several light fixtures in the worship auditoriums and at each entrance/exit that are upside down shallow bowls with an elongated end on one side. Reminiscent of first century oil lamps, they are there to remind our community of faith to always be watching and ready for the return of Jesus.
Guests are always welcome to come and visit First Christian Church. And in doing so, our prayer is that your own spiritual walk will be encouraged.
Al White is associate minister at Columbus’ First Christian Church. He can be reached at 379-4491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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