Not many people see everything around them, and few are acute observers of their environment. In fact, most of us see just enough to prevent us from falling. That kind of seeing is a safety device. Real seeing requires the use of your mind’s eye and making connections with a world that is beyond the physical. You could call it “seeing with your soul.”
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Austere. Clean. Simple. Those are qualities we traditionally associate with a Reformed worship environment. The early Reformers, after all, eliminated many of the visual distractions for the simple, direct worship of God.
However, a visually simple environment is becoming more the exception than the rule in many of our churches. That may be due largely to our tendency to add new fixtures to our worship space without much thought as to how they blend with the existing structure and furnishings.
In our daily environment we are assaulted by visual images. Most of them are related to our daily "needs" and call attention to what we "could" have or "should" have. When I take a ride, read a newspaper or magazine, or sit down to watch a movie, I am bombarded by such reminders. But when I attend church, I seldom see any kind of visual that reminds me of my spiritual "needs."
If you've ever waited for something important to happen, then you understand the significant feelings surrounding the Advent season. Advent is like an expectant mother waiting to give birth. She and her husband have spent months, perhaps even years, talking about and planning for this child. Advent is the last stretch of the planning. The time is coming close now. Is everything ready? Suitcase packed? Doctor and hospital phone numbers close at hand? Is it time? Now?
On the following pages Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, a professor of art at Calvin College and a member of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, explains how his congregation developed a meaningful environment for worship. The congregation, which began as a mission chapel in 1949, has grown into a multicultural congregation of roughly one hundred families. Through the use of a church symbol, banners, liturgical color, and sculpture they have created a worshipful and meditative.