In Christian history, A.D. 313 was a watershed year. The proclamation of the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. Now Christians could leave the relative security of members' homes to worship in public spaces. As a result, converts to the faith flooded the church.
So the church needed room. Looking around for a model, it adopted the basilica, a Roman courthouse/public meeting hall, as a place to worship. This remained the norm from the fourth century until the present era.
The Gothic form of the basilica — the style with which most people are familiar (long, narrow nave; center aisle; fixed pews; and small narthex) — has held sway for centuries.
"Not much that was new happened in church architecture until the last two generations," says Steve Edwins, president of SMSQ Architects in Northfield, Minn., the firm founded by Edward Sovik (see page 34).
"The more traditional and older style buildings don't fit the kinds of ministry people are looking for these days," adds Pete Norgren, architect for the ELCA Mission Investment Fund.
Today's architects reach for new forms of expression that will shape the life and worship of congregations. For example, making churches accessible for disabled people simply was not a concern of the great cathedral builders of the past. But it is today.
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