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Church Cooperation In Community Life by Paul L. Vogt


The thesis that the church should provide building and equipment for conservation of the social and recreational life of the church introduces standards and objectives that do not find expression in the great majority of church buildings now erected, nor even in the majority of plans sent out by religious agencies or architectural concerns bidding for contracts for church planning and building.

The traditional village and open country church was a one-room structure erected for the sole purpose of providing a place for worship. This amply met the needs of a pioneer time when social activities were largely carried on in the homes. In a very large number of communities this is still the only type of church building to be found. As the idea of providing for Sunday school began to prevail gradually side rooms were added to provide for extra Sunday school classes. In the course of time the needs of a wider program for the church began to be recognized, and then basements were added with an occasional kitchen. Thus the entertainments for adults and of the young people old enough to enjoy banquets and like amusement were provided for. But the needs of the young people under sixteen years of age and many other community needs were still uncared for.

The new program demands a building or buildings that will provide for the threefold program of worship, religious education, and community service. In view of the lack of standards for rural church building, the present discussion is offered in the hope that it may contain some practical suggestions in terms of the program demanded of the modern open country and village church.

It is believed that the type of building suitable for an open country community will be somewhat different from that needed in a village center. The number of rooms will be less. Usually, two main rooms, one for worship and the other for recreational purposes, with such side rooms for kitchen and special clubs and classes as the community can afford, will be sufficient. The recreation room should have stage, lantern slide, and moving picture equipment, and a very simple provision for games. Problems of plumbing and heating must be worked out in accordance with local conditions.

In the larger centers, in addition to the facilities mentioned above, other rooms may be added as a careful study of village equipment and needs, present and probable future, indicate. Rooms for library, committees, clubs, offices, shower baths, lockers, art center, and similar interests should be provided for if other agencies have not done so.

In building for community service the community should not make the mistake of economizing because it imagines it cannot afford the best. No community should build less than the best. If it does so, it handicaps the community for a generation or more; and this is too serious a matter to be lightly permitted. At the present time religious organizations have national agencies which are serving to an ever larger degree as a reserve resource for the purpose of aiding local groups to build adequately. Thus the general organization aids each year the limited number of local groups that find it necessary to rebuild and renders unnecessary the maintenance of a replacement fund by the local church for an indefinite period.

If it is impossible to build an entire building at one time it is better to build by units, so that in the course of time a structure of which the community may be proud will be completed. It should be remembered that a community's solidarity and spirit are gauged largely by the type of buildings it erects, and the church and community building, representing as it does the deepest interests of man, should be a living monument to community loyalty. Such a building becomes a lasting inspiration to both old and young, pointing the way to the highest and best in human life.

The building should be strategically located. As has been suggested, people like to come to the center of the village for their social and recreational life. The owner of a poolroom or a picture show that would place his building a half mile in the country would not have a large and enthusiastic patronage. The main street, near the center of the village, is the place to be selected for the principal building of the city, the community center.

Sometimes a well-meaning citizen will offer to a church a plot of land far out on the edge of a village free of charge, provided the church will accept it for the erection of the new structure. Sometimes the Board of Trustees, thinking they will save a few hundred dollars, gratefully accept the gift, thus violating the principle expressed in the preceding paragraph. When a business man plans to put up an expensive building he does not seek the cheapest land but the best location regardless of the cost of the land. For illustration, a lot on the edge of a village may cost but five hundred dollars, while a lot in the center of the village may cost five thousand dollars. If the proposed building to be erected is to cost fifty thousand dollars, even the larger land cost is but ten per cent of the total; and the value of the building to the community after erection on the more valuable lot far more than justifies the extra expenditure.

Sometimes architects are inclined to sacrifice utility to beauty. They are inclined to make the recreation room too short because a proper length would not harmonize with other lines in the building. The good architect accepts the beautification of a useful building as a challenge and does not sacrifice utility because a useful structure does not embody some feature of Gothic or Old English parish church architecture. This tendency should be carefully guarded against.

Details as to the slope of ground best adapted to church building, heating, plumbing, and other features can best be learned by consultation with a trained architect. Care should be taken to see that the recreation room is sufficiently large to carry on the simpler games, such as basketball, when the community so desires. The limits recommended are fourteen feet high by forty feet wide by sixty feet long. Many communities, however, are getting along with rooms considerably shorter and narrower than this. The ceiling should be supported by steel beams instead of posts. In most sections of the country it is recommended that recreation rooms be erected on the same level as the church instead of in the basement, as has been the practice.

In many sections of the country there is a distinct objection to having the community service features and the house of worship under the same roof. It is thought that the light-heartedness of play time tends to lessen the sacredness of the house of worship and to lessen respect for religious service. While this attitude is largely a matter of custom, and while people who have caught the vision of God can worship him any place, it is believed that wherever possible consideration should be given to this sentiment and the community service features of the church should be housed in a separate building located adjacent to the church or attached to it by some smaller club room. The two should not be located in widely separate parts of the village, as the connection between the two may be lost and the service of the church to the community in this way not recognized. Both house of worship and community or parish house should be located near the center of the village.

In villages where there is room for several houses of worship the question of community service is much more difficult. The Young Men's Christian Associations and the Young Women's Christian Associations have made partial provision in some communities on an interdenominational basis. But in the ordinary small town there is not room for a building for each of these organizations. The rural Christian Associations have been proceeding on the policy of using such buildings as are now available, but it is evident that in the vast majority of small communities, present buildings can at best be but a makeshift for complete community service. It is hoped that the time will come when the several denominations will find some way of pooling their financial resources so that as religious organizations they can provide a common building for community service. The writer knows of no village in America where this has yet been done. One village in New York State, Milton-on-the-Hudson, has a community club under the direction of a Board of Trustees of ten members, two from each of the five denominations represented in the village, the Catholic church included. This club has been very successful in operating a community house and developing a community program. It has been suggested that where property rights are involved one denomination might make its contribution by providing and maintaining the building, while the other denominations might contribute the equivalent of interest on building investment, depreciation and maintenance of building to cost of operation of the plant. It is feared, however, that in the course of time, the original cost of building to one denomination would be forgotten and the community would demand that all groups contribute to operating expenses according to their membership or some other agreed upon distribution of maintenance expense. This should be the ultimate method of maintenance.

In a number of communities one denomination has provided the building and the operating force, while other denominations have cooperated by acting on the Board of Control and contributing what they could to the maintenance cost. Such denominational leadership almost invariably leads in the beginning to interdenominational jealousy and antagonism, but in some cases the community has accepted the situation and all have cooperated, it being understood that such provision for community purposes is not for the purpose of proselyting. Sunday school and church membership is encouraged in the denominations from which the young people come, and thus a contribution by one denomination has strengthened the work of all the churches. Some form of cooperation agreed upon for a common development is preferable and independent action by one denomination should be undertaken only when the different groups concerned are not in a position either by tradition or financial ability to cooperate in a common enterprise.

The movement now is very strong in the direction of provision of building and equipment for community service by the church. May the church not fail in doing justice to its high obligation in the type of structure it may erect!

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