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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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God's architect

Ed Sovik: 'Flexibility suggests change and hope'

Edward Sovik, vigorous at 85, has a ruddy complexion, strong Nordic features and a sly smile. He settles his tall, lanky body into a chair, leans back, thrusts his hands in his pockets and begins to talk softly about the role of architecture in the life and faith of congregations.

His beliefs were honed by a career encompassing the design of some 400 churches. Last year the North American Academy of Liturgy honored him with its first Godfrey Diekmann Award. The citation read: "With critical eye and gentle hand, he has crafted spaces that call the assembled church to its task: God's word proclaimed, God's praises sung, the world transformed with beauty and with justice."

Sovik returned from service as a fighter pilot in WWII to establish an architectural firm and teach architecture at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.

He is as much theologian as architect. "He had a liturgical reason for everything," recalls Liz Behring, a member of Sovik-designed St. James Lutheran Church, Lake Forest, Ill.

Sovik designs what he terms "one-room" churches. "Traditional rectangular churches have a sharply divided chancel that is for the clergy and the action." In effect, this divides the space into two rooms. "Nothing very Lutheran about that," he says, pointing out the contradiction for a group that "considers itself one body of Christ."

A divided room has no focal point. "The focus moves as the liturgy moves," he says. "Start thinking in freer forms. The liturgist can form the room into any configuration."

His designs have flexibility. "The Christian life isn't just a matter of being but of becoming," he says. "Flexibility suggests the possibility of change and of hope."

Sovik designs churches to be houses for the people of God--not houses of God. The distinction is critical, he says: "God lives in the world, not in some temple. It's in the world that God makes his presence known.

"What makes a place of worship is the character of the room. It must be a place of beauty. And the room itself needs to be hospitable, [or] it doesn't properly represent Christianity."

Regarding building materials, Sovik contends: "If anything about the building is inauthentic, artificial, pretentious, deceitful, it's not a church."


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