Star of Bethlehem’s Sanctuary
Different from a traditional layout
The layout of the worship space of Star of Bethlehem is markedly different from what most of us are accustomed to. Traditionally the typical arrangement of a worship space is designed on a ‘two-room’ concept. That is, the elements of Baptism, Word and Sacrament are presented from the chancel area at the front altar platform of the church, while the congregation, in an audience setting, views the chancel from pews arranged in straight rows from front to back. This traditional layout grew out of two necessities.
First of all, before the invention of sound amplification, sanctuaries were designed to allow for the most efficient path for sound to travel. The long nave design allowed the pastor to speak along a narrow axis and hopefully his voice would reach all the way to the back pews.
A second factor is that many of the liturgical and processional traditions of the early church came to be developed as they occurred in long, narrow sanctuaries. Even after the advent of modern amplification systems, churches’ interior layouts continued to follow traditional design patterns because of traditional worship practices.
A fan seating arrangement
Star of Bethlehem’s new sanctuary layout follows a ‘one-room’ concept. It is designed to best maximize today’s available audio and video technology and at the same time convey significant Christian symbolism. The design incorporates the entire space into the worship service. The fan seating pattern gathers the entire congregation around the altar and pulpit where the Word of God is proclaimed. No matter where you may be seated, the seating arrangement reminds us of the unity we have in the fellowship of all believers. Just as the love of Christ surrounds us, we sense that we are surrounded together in worship.
Flexible seating arrangement
The seating capacity of the sanctuary is approximately 500 persons, and it is designed to be flexible. Flexibility is obtained with the 180 chair seats that can be easily moved into different arrangements throughout the sanctuary. They can be positioned individually or linked together in small rows. This flexible seating will allow us to adapt the sanctuary to meet the needs of many different service formats. It will serve us well when we have to alter the seating for festival services, concerts, weddings, funerals and special-needs services.
The chairs and pews are also comfortable. Careful testing went into selecting the chair and pew design that was ergonomically friendly for most people. Of course, contributing to the comfort factor is the padded seating which was an option available to us because the sanctuary is not carpeted.
Advance professional acoustical planning was enlisted early in the design process to ensure that the sanctuary sound would be bright and resonant. It was the desire for the space to have this sound quality that governed many of the design and material decisions.
For instance, the porcelain tile flooring is beautiful, but its function is to provide the reflective properties necessary, and not absorb sound like a sponge.
Area for choir and musicians
The choir platform has been located on the south wall for acoustical and practical reasons. By singing from the far south wall, the choir voices are directed across the long axis of the room over the entire congregation. This allows voices to cover the entire congregation. The tiered seating will make it much easier for the choir to be directed and for the back voices to be projected into the worship space, while the V-shaped layout will allow choir members to better hear each other.
The choir platform area also has space available to accommodate the pipe organ, piano, electronic keyboards and other instrumentalists. The practical layout will make it easier for a wider cast of musicians to enhance our worship.
The octagonal altar platform is where we will gather together to receive the Lord’s Supper. Standing together around the platform will be a vivid demonstration of the unity we share through Christ’s gift of the sacrament.
Message of the cross
The first thing you’ll notice about the sanctuary stands out well before you even enter the space. In fact, you notice it as soon as you enter the building from the parking lot. The beautiful cross with its impressive scale and distinctive relief radiantly fills the front wall of the church. It has been described as a triumphant cross. It certainly does reflect the message that our Savior won the battle over sin, death and hell on a cross.
Also evident is that the cross was uniquely designed especially for Star of Bethlehem as it communicates our congregation’s name. You can clearly see the star-like pattern bursting around the cross. And when viewed from the narthex you can see the stars twinkling in the blue mosaic field behind the cross.
The baptismal font is intentionally placed prominently at the entry of our church to remind us of the significance of this sacrament. It is through the gift of this sacrament that God miraculously washes away our sins, works faith in our hearts and brings us into the family of believers. Every time we enter the sanctuary the prominence of the font will serve to help us remember our baptism. It will vividly display the sacrament to our children and to those visitors who are not baptized. It will be a symbol of God’s love when brides and grooms exchange their vows, and it will be a comfort and assurance as funeral caskets pass by.
The baptismal font is by far the most artistic element of worship in the sanctuary. All of the sanctuary was designed to be beautiful, but the font was specifically designed to convey the wonder and mystery of this gift. The base is made of limestone rock – Jesus is our rock. The font basin rests on this secure rock base just as our faith rests secure on Jesus. The running water is the ‘Living Water’ that we have in Jesus. The font is awash with the waves crashing around it just as the troubles of this world crash around us but they cannot harm us. Secure we rest in Jesus.
Designed with care
In summary, the sanctuary interior has been designed with careful attention paid to the balance of function and meaning. It is where we worship our Lord and King and it is why we have attempted to do our very best. We would be remiss if we did not offer a special acknowledgement to the design skills of the Studios of E.J. Potente. Their experience and insight have helped us to build a beautiful house to our God.