Houses of worship

Confession: If I were choosing a Meadville area church to attend based on the beauty of the building, I would choose either


St. Mary of Grace (Water St),

which is the darlingest,





or First Presbyterian (Liberty St), which is the most beautiful.








I would uh… not choose 312 Baldwin St.

a sanctuary by way of relish house, thrift shop, and bulk food store.

But this is where I belong, for many excellent reasons—among which is the fact that I am in a relationship with one of the pastors.

Our church house is ugly outside and in constant renovation inside, which means mishmash… a mix of aging tile, stained carpet, plywood, and country wallpaper borders.

But I find friendship there, and roots, and vibrant worship.

The heart can rise above its surroundings to worship the Lord anywhere, even in squalor (which we know nothing of). What bothers me is that none of us LIVE in houses like this—possibly excepting the Zooks, who are now living in a little messy renovation of their own. Do we care less about the house in which we meet to worship? Shouldn’t we give it more attention, not less? I offer kudos to our trustees, who are currently working as hard as they can…

Sometimes we Mennonites have been proud of ugliness (God forbid) because it’s “plain.” Sometimes we have been embarrassed by simplicity (God forbid) because it’s “ugly.” I hope neither is true at Meadville Mennonite Chapel. We all hate the mishmash together, and chip in money as often as we can, but in the end our building will be plain. No doubt ’bout.

Is that because we believe in it?

Or can’t afford better?

Or don’t care?

I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to walk up to one of the beautiful buildings above each Sunday morning. Would it make a difference?

What do you think? Does beauty affect worship?

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11 years ago

Oh, I am so awfully ambivalent about this very thing! In some ways, I’d much rather cast my lot with a people who gather in something similar to the houses and gathering spots of disciples on the lower end of the socioeconomic totem pole… but I’ll be very honest: my fingers itch to tear down that country border every single Sunday. 🙂

mama zook
11 years ago
Reply to  Becca

Remind me the next time we are in to visit Ryan and Shari and I will remove the country border for you…because I do think that sometimes we “let” little things get in our way of worshipping! In our church, it’s the time on the clock that bugs me to death, (and sometimes gets in the way of me focusing on Jesus) and I’d really like to remove it and place a picture of Christ there! I’d be glad to do you the favor (as long as I’d have the blessing of your trustees…I know our trustees would not appreciate me removing our clock)!

11 years ago

I love, love spires stretching against blue sky. But it doesn’t help me worship. Call me Amish, because I function best in simplicity. Make that tasteful simplicity. 😉

mama zook
11 years ago

BTW, I love the beautiful churches too, and one with bells that ring to welcome people to the worship service would be great!! When we lived in Terre Hill, PA, we lived across the street from one church with bells that rang on the hour and I loved it!

11 years ago

Oh my goodness, yes! Beauty does indeed inspire worship. One CAN worship without beauty, and certainly worship does not DEPEND on beauty. An offering; a “sacrifice of praise” lifting your heart despite your surroundings or current turmoil. BUT when one has beauty to inspire, aahhhh! It’s so true how religious people in general put value in plainness, ugliness and poverty for fear of becoming proud, vain and rich, none of which are valid reasons to exist at a level less than God intended. At the very heart of God is excellence, nurture and BEAUTY!

Josh Coblentz
11 years ago

It seems to me, without having read your blog, that beauty does affect our worship. I would like to read your blog more often than I do. And I would particularly enjoy reading this one I think. I am going against what most wise people have always said, that we must “seek first to understand.” April and I talked about this blog, that is all. So I understand little. Nevertheless, I speak. I think a good response to beauty is worship. I think also that we tend to be moved toward a baser, more ugly response of greed. That is, most people (at least in the west) want beauty. “Want,” here, is not a pure desire for, but a hasty and insatiable lust after. It is not the longing of refined hearts but the “false start” of hedonists too hungry to wait. For instance, we like to build our vacation resorts near luscious waterfalls and white sandy beaches, staking our claim. “This is mine.” Now, to tie the responses together. I am not saying the one response (worship) is good and the other (getting/attaining) is bad. There are strands of goodness, perhaps, in both, but there is a lot of difference between the two, especially in their extreme forms. It seems as though we in the west are especially trained away from experiencing beauty and towards having it, if indeed that were possible. Further, the response to have beauty fundamentally undermines the spirit of worship. Having said all this, ornate and indeed beautiful churches I say “ought to” facilitate worship, but I’m not sure we know how to allow it to. In a sense we are in bondage. I have hope, though, that this will not always be. We should work towards this in our own experience now in the present. Perhaps one day we will have a more perfect response. Indeed we will. (the message today has been brought to you by brother josh)

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