when it comes to sprucing up

We are preparing for a literal sprucing up of the narthex in just a few weeks from now, which is an exciting thing for a church body. Or at least it is for me, an HGTV/design blog junkie. I will admit to staring up at the dozens of defunct hooks hanging from the popcorn ceiling, imagining myself rappelling up there to scrape, to spackle, to patch, to surprise everyone with a pristinely smooth ceiling that nobody but me would likely notice the following Sunday. Then I remember how I should be, you know, praying or listening intently to the movements of the sermon.

If nothing else, this sprucing up will help my spiritual life. Sparkly popcorn ceilings can be a stumbling block for me.

Yes, our little place needs some attention. We’ve got half a dozen bulletin boards that need to come down, more exposed wire than could possibly be up to code, dusty shades covering beautiful stained glass, and mauve, mauve, mauve.

All of this has gotten me thinking about the old debate about exactly how beautiful a place of worship should be. There are many traditions that feel that simplicity is the way to go. In these spaces, few, if any, decorations adorn the walls, the pews are unpadded, the walls are white. The people are happy knowing that all of the money they might have spent on decorations has gone to other, more deserving enterprises. They can manage to sit and worship Jesus in their hard pews, and the white walls make no difference either way.

Cathedral builders would take issue with this, I think. Cathedral builders spent time. And money. And time. And money. To make those cathedrals beautiful testaments to the love of God. Or maybe they were just trying to one-up the cathedral down the street. It’s hard to tell on this side of history.

I tend to side with the cathedral builders, but not without some qualms. (Qualms are good and necessary for people, I think. They are there to reassure us that we haven’t accidently turned into Kanye West*.) For as much as I love the creation of a beautiful space, those who err on the side of simplicity warn me that some price tags are too high, sometimes motives need to be questioned, and sometimes my love for things pretty or cutting edge or trendy or current oversteps itself. The voices that remind us about being careful with how we spend money are always relevant, welcome voices, in my opinion. They always have a point. However, I have been a traveler who has found a great deal of solace and peace and wonder in the halls of one cathedral or another. One might be so bold as to type that she has seen snippets of God in these places and, though the work was expensive, the years of return on a place that is hospitable, artistic, carefully chosen and thought out, might be worth the money and the time.

The art itself–the creation of something beautiful just for the sake of it being– is a valuable practice, too. We mimic our own Creator when we take time to make sure that a piece of wood is curved in just the right way, or the paint is the right color, or a certain word works in a sentence, or the expression on the subject is exactly what we wanted to capture. (But you probably knew I felt that way.) Art surprises, encourages, uplifts, challenges, dwells within us like fireflies. If we don’t nurture the artistic in ourselves because it’s not the most practical thing to do, we are discounting a fundamental part of what it means to be human–which is, of course, to be made in God’s image. Because, seriously, no one can argue that this world looks the way it does because of practicality alone. It’s filled with reckless color, glorious abandon and just enough “what was He thinking?!?” to keep it interesting, down to the tiniest details.

Our particular church is nowhere near cathedral status, and I don’t claim to be an artist just because it’s my job to pick a coordinating color palette. No. We, instead, are mostly striving to be welcoming and hospitable, less dusty. We want to bring a little bit of beauty to a place– and I am talking about the physical space, here– that has lovely bones, strong roots, and perhaps something vital to contribute to the community.

Luckily, God, in God’s infinite wisdom and fetching creativity, put on the hearts of the leadership of a larger, nearby church, to help us with all of this. Without them, and the volunteers they are bringing with them, these changes would have been a long and major undertaking. It feels a little like someone should shout, “Bus driver! Move that bus!” after it’s all over, and that is a pretty special feeling indeed.

Surprisingly, I found very little in the way of church makeovers on the Internet. For that reason, I thought I’d share some of our choices in one or two follow-up posts which will come, as is my style, whenever I get around to writing them. Photos will be amateur, but I promise to put as much zing into the text as possible. #whosaysapicturesworthathousandwords

And by the grace of God, one of those posts might even be sparkly-ceilingless. But not yet.

*Sorry, Kanye.

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