A Place of Encounter
Renewing Worship Spaces

by D. Foy Christopherson

House, temple, theatre, warehouse, courtroom, auditorium, TV studio, or lecture hall? River or baptistery or pool? Dining room or catacomb? House of God or house of the church? In its 2000-year history the church has tried on many buildings, and is ever seeking a more comfortable skin. Exactly what that skin will look like is guided by how the church understands itself, by how it worships, and by what it understands its mission to be. A Place of Encounter brings clarity and insight to congregations and individuals who are interested in exploring how our worship spaces serve, form, and proclaim.

Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis
2004; 96 pp; $9.99; paperback

"Worship Matters" series

  1. How Are We Gonna Get This Thing to Serve?
  2. What Is a Church?
  3. Encountering God Through the Ages: A Brief History
  4. Places of Encounter: Centers of Liturgical Action
  5. Sacred Space: What Makes Space Sacred?
  6. Evangelical Space: Worship Space Makes Christ Known
  7. Formational Space: Welcome to Christ
  8. Appendixes and Bibliography
    discussion questions follow each chapter

D. Foy Christopherson's training in worship and the arts, theology and theatre, music and design brings clarity and insight to this treatment of how worship spaces serve. He has served the church as a parish pastor, workshop and conference leader, congregational consultant, and former director of the ELCA's art and design studio. Christopherson has also been a contributing writer for eleven volumes of Sundays and Seasons, an annual worship planning guide.

Christopherson currently serves as associate pastor at Central Lutheran, Minneapolis.

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Summer/Fall 2006 vol.27 no.2 pg.126

A Place of Encounter: Renewing Worship Spaces
by D. Foy Christopherson

The "mission statement" is a popular device for institutions and corporations to articulate general guiding principles for their life and work. In many cases, however, the mission statement is a noble project that never gets translated into practice. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America did something unique among Protestants. In 2002, it published principles for language, music, preaching, and worship space for congregations. A consultation group of 80 representatives of the ELCA, as well as ecumenical participants, worked on this document, which is de facto a mission statement of guiding ideas for new worship resources, publications, national initiatives, as well as the life of the local congregations.

Will these principles be read and understood? Will they be implemented on a national and local level? How might the gap between theory and practice be bridged?

Foy Christopherson's book in the Worship Matters series from Augsburg Fortress is one attempt to answer those important questions. A Place of Encounter is a concise commentary on a number of key principles dealing with worship space and the assembly. This is not a "how to" book, but a "why to" one. According to his research and experience, Christopherson gives readable explanations for use as discussion subjects for committees and adult classes. Architects and other building specialists would benefit from such a work to update their understanding of the ecumenical liturgical movement and its impact on liturgical space.

This genre of palatable and practical worship resources is vitally necessary to ensure that the Principles for Worship do not just take up space in our church's archive, but have the effect of theologically questioning the spaces where we worship.

D. Foy Christopherson, a graduate of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, has served the church as a pastor, writer, workshop leader, congregational consultant, and former director of the ELCA's art and design studio. He brings to this booklet the distilled wisdom of his work in worship, theology and the arts.

Walter C. Huffman
Dean of Chapel, Professor of Worship, Retired


Newsletter of the Worship Committee of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, ELCA; June, 2005

A Place of Encounter: Renewing Worship Spaces
by D. Foy Christopherson

If you are like most people, you are convinced the worship space of heaven itself was patterned after the perfectly beautiful church in which you were raised. We Lutherans often proclaim that the things of worship do not matter. We are fooling ourselves. Rightly or wrongly, there is almost always a holy fuss when we change even the smallest aspect of worship, or even more daring, when we change even slightly the space in which we worship. Our worship spaces are sacred spaces, not because they are perfectly beautiful, but because they are places in which we encounter the holy. Whenever you tamper with holy things and the holy memories they evoke, powerful emotions rise to the surface.

In his compact, easily readable book, A Place of Encounter: Renewing Worship Spaces, D. Foy Christopherson succinctly discusses the places we have created in which the assembly gathers to worship God. The Bible says precious little about how we should design or redesign our worship spaces. The secondary worship issues with which we can become obsessed do not distract Christopherson. He shares the history of the early Church and the tenets of our Lutheran Reformation heritage in an easily absorbed fashion. However, Christopherson consistently brings us back to the biblical basics of worship: bath, gathering, Word, meal, and sending. There are obviously many architectural ways to enhance-or impede-the promised encounter with Christ through these basics, and Christopherson explores many of them. The value of his book, however, is contained in its simplicity. Cutting through centuries of beloved accretions, Christopherson challenges each parish and each worshipper to create a worship space that lets the risen Christ meet his assembled people in bath, gathering, Word, meal, and sending. If you are looking for a "how to" manual about the "things" with which we worship, you will be disappointed, although Christopherson does discuss the history and current implications of many "things" we associate with a worship space. Rather than our beautiful buildings, the assembly of people amongst whom the risen Christ has promised to be present in Word and sacraments makes our worship and our worship spaces holy.

Most parishes have barely begun to wrestle with the exciting challenges and opportunities lifted up in Principles for Worship, approved by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2002. Christopherson carefully focuses our discussion of the major worship issues upon which all parishes should begin to chew. Each chapter concludes with several discussion questions that carefully elicit personal feelings and opinions in a nonjudgmental way. That is not easily done when parishes discuss matters of worship. Designing worship space demands care-full and prayer-full reflection upon the biblical basics of worship, how the Church has worshipped in its past, and how in the years to come we might put our worship where of faith is. A Place of Encounter is a comfortable way to begin that process. Christopherson’s concise discussion of worship space is not his sharing of the answers to all our worship questions. Rather, it is a tantalizing beginning as we discuss the most important thing we shall ever do together: worship.

When we worship our spaces of worship, we are in danger of breaking the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods." As Martin Luther reminds, "We are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things." "Worship wars" usually result from misunderstandings based on misinformation resulting from miscommunication. A Place of Encounter should be mandatory reading for not only worship and music committees, but also congregation councils and any person who takes seriously the worship of God in Jesus Christ.

John Santoro
Pastor, Trinity Church, Valparaiso, Indiana


Those who served as consultation participants in devising Principles for Worship in language, music, preaching, and worship space were concerned that their work would be useful only if it was intentionally implemented. In A Place of Encounter: Renewing Worship Spaces Foy Christopherson has admirably addressed this practical need by giving pastors, architects, and congregational committees a readable, reliable text to guide the important work of renewing liturgical spaces. Experience and passion for this subject have helped the writer produce an educational and pastoral resource that will serve any worshiping community.

--Walter Huffman
author of Where We Worship;
chairperson of the ELCA's Renewing Worship Consultation on Worship Space and the Christian Assembly


Foy Christopherson's book, clearly written and pastorally sensitive, draws out the architectural and artistic implications of the ELCA's The Use of the Means of Grace and Principles for Worship. He rightly emphasizes the primacy of the worshiping assembly, situates his reflections in terms of Lutheran theology, allows for pastoral pluralism, and educates his readers about the significant role that the architecture and artistic environment play in forming contemporary worshipers as God's holy people.

--R. Kevin Seasoltz, O.S.B.
Saint John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota