Body Language: The Art of Ekklesia

In Uncategorized by tfwm

How did we worship (ekklesia – assembly) before electricity? No electronic audio reinforcement for speaking, no digital projection for imagery, no motorized theatrical lighting fixtures for special effects. Were we crazy?

Since the advent of electricity we have gradually come to a point where we are now suffering from a type of “kinesthetic amnesia”— especially in worship environments today. We have all the technical dimensions nailed down: sound decibel plots, lumen output and gobo’s, but consequently, have some of our human dimensions been lost in translation?

The more we have come to rely on electronics, the more we have unplugged ourselves from the way our human bodies were created— the express purpose of community that inherently involves communication involving all our human senses: body language.

Whatever happened to “high tech – high touch?” Well, it is certainly alive in the performance world. Have you participated in the experience of The Blue Man Group or participated in any Cirque ‘d Soleil experience? Notice the emphasis on “participated” or “experienced” as opposed to only “seen”?

Many of our sanitized suburban shopping malls have more to offer our senses than many of our worship environments. Is it possible to reclaim a sense of balance between the natural assembly environment and technology?

Actually it’s quite easy. Remember, there are thousands of years of non-electrical human history to re-discover and research. Just because our forebears didn’t have electricity doesn’t mean that they didn’t have technology, or for that matter their own respective “philosophy of technology”. While they didn’t have the option to “plug it in”, we have the option to “unplug it” and see what we’re missing.

If a tribal person visited the US and attended a movie, a concert and a typical evangelical church service, and you asked them to describe the differences, their answer may well be “in the first two instances I paid at the door and in the last I paid halfway through the show”. How sad, but so often true.

The original Greek root of the term “techni” means “art” and “logos” means “dialogue”, thus technology could be translated “art dialogue” which implies a conversation involving all our senses. Would it make a difference in connecting with our current culture if we thought of technology more in these terms? If in this day and age we are virtually (pun intended) unlimited in our technological resources, the question is not what we can do, but what we should do.

The answer to this question implies that we have a working philosophy of technology. A philosophy of technology is simply the ongoing answers to the question “what should we do?” A working philosophy of technology is one that is ongoing in the midst of day-to-day worship and worship planning. It’s not that hard, it’s just using all our senses along our journey. While there is no right or wrong philosophy of technology, there are basic realities that we can rediscover from past cultures to help guide us.

In order to discuss these basic realities it will be essential to compare and contrast our current world with ancient one(s) and further, it will be necessary to study audio, video, lighting and seating issues separately. The two examples used for comparison will be the Anasazi Native Indians of Chaco Canyon in present northwest New Mexico and Grace Community Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Or, as we might say, from one “tribe” to another.

The reason for the Anasazi is they were obviously pre-electricity around the turn of the first millenium AD, but they also had tremendous technology that allowed them to build unique structures that are still standing after another millennium. This is especially amazing given that they had no written language, no math and no wheels. Grace Community Church on the other hand, is only 14 years old and obviously has electricity, written language, math and plenty of wheels. However, it has been rediscovering what it means to seek a balance in this electronic age during their current expansion project.

Perhaps you are wondering why this approach in a technology for worship magazine. What we will be considering over these six consecutive articles are as follows:

Introduction: “Body Language Overview”

Audio: “Can You Hear Me Now?”

Video: “Room With a View”

Lighting: “In The Beginning…”

Seating: “Please Be Seated”

Conclusion: “All Together Now…”

Body Language Overview
Body Language manifests in many dimensions; the mental, physical, emotional (the mind, body and spirit thing) so it will be in this regard that we study each of these realities with both the Native American Anasazi of Chaco and the Post-Modern Christ-followers of Indy. Therefore some introduction is in order.

Anasazi means “The Ancient Ones” and is the name given by the present day Hopi, Navajo and Pueblo to their forebears particularly in the Native American Southwest. We will be focusing specifically on the Chaco Canyon experience (www.solsticeproject.org and www.nps.gov/chcu). The Chaco region was a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration that covered the northwest portion of present day New Mexico major center of ancestral Puebloan culture between AD 850 and 1250.

They had both a solar and lunar (19 year cycle) calendar in an area where temperatures range from 100F to 10F below freezing in an average year. Their choice of the Chaco area for their “center of the world” worship complex in particular is only evident upon repeat visits to witness the environmental qualities of this specific box canyon. As we will “see”, they discerned the natural sacred qualities of this place and sought to build upon it, literally.

Chaco is remarkable for its monumental public and ceremonial buildings, and its distinctive architecture. To construct the buildings, along with the associated Chacoan roads, ramps, dams, and mounds, required a great deal of well organized and skillful planning, designing, resource gathering, and construction. The Chacoan people combined pre-planned architectural designs, astronomical alignments, geometry, landscaping, and engineering to create an ancient urban center of spectacular public architecture – all with no math, no written language and no wheels.

Grace Community Church is located in Noblesville, Indiana on the far north side of Indianapolis in an upper-middle class suburban community typical of many “mega” churches. From it’s humble beginnings 14 years ago with a youth pastor who had never even put two teachings back-to-back, Grace may have grown numerically into a “typical” mega-church, but as we will soon see, it is anything but, despite it’s 6,000 person per weekend worship involvement.

Having grown rapidly in their first 5 years, they moved into their present 80,000 square foot, 1,100 seat “metal building” in 1996 and immediately added another 40,000 square foot multi-purpose building. Since that time they have continued to experience numerical, but more importantly, significant spiritual growth to the point that even more space was needed.

They began the expansion journey alongside Callahan Studios in spring 2003 with their self-stated desire to build a new 4,000-seat worship space and a Master Plan was produced to achieve that goal. Due to some strategic housecleaning issues, it was recommended that the project be delayed in order for the congregation as a whole to embrace the “shoot first, aim later” WWJD Grace type of leadership serving broken people.

During this time, there was much discussion regarding the question of “how big is too big?” particularly from senior pastor Dave Rodriguez, whose chief concern was maintaining intimacy and connectedness in the worship environment. After months of discussions, assembly site visits across the country and much soul searching amongst the Grace leadership, they decided to pursue several smaller worship environments on their 52-acre campus in lieu of a “concert hall” church seating 2,000 or more.

The results of that design concept under construction now include a new 1,500 seat “main” worship space, a new 600 seat “traditional” worship space and division of the current 1,100 seat worship space into two separate 450 seat and 350 seat worship spaces (see Site Plan and Floor Plan).

So let’s fasten our environmental seatbelts as we travel both back in time and into the future to study the acoustical, video, lighting, and seating aspects of these two different peoples in two different places at two different times. Remember, don’t rush to judgment on how you think this comparison/contrast will turn out— we may be surprised by the answers, or even more so by the questions that arise!