“It is space on earth that is made holy, not because of the place itself but because of what God does for humans in that place.” James F. White 
Often times, when followers of Christ gather together for the purpose of worship, there is little thought put into the space that they gather in. In some denominations, leaders of the community meeting in a particular space tend to think of the utilitarian aspects of the space – does it cover all of our basic needs for a meeting place? While this might be the precedent in some churches, I suggest that it is essential that gathered communities intentionally think about the space in which they will worship. This begins with viewing the space, whatever that space may be, as a gift for the community – as a place “set-aside”, a “sacred” space – rather than an ordinary, utilitarian space. This practice alters our experience of time and space while art and beauty in the church finds a natural fit, evidenced by my concluding example.
When considering the worship space with intention, it becomes possible to step out of what is known as ordinary time and step into Kairos time where God longs to meet us. The intention in this instance can be described as a deliberate undertaking to make a space conducive to the act of worship. It is God who makes a space sacred, but as the Body of Christ we are called to be his hands and feet. And this work should be viewed as an act of worship and service to God and the church.
Kairos time can be defined as the appointed time in the purpose of God, or the time in which God acts. It lives outside the bounds of Chronos, the time we know via our clocks, watches, and smartphones. Kairos time can best be illustrated by the moments we experience where we feel Chronos time, the second hand ticking away in the background, has become strangely silent or forgotten. Chronos time has stood still, and we are dipping our toes into the stream of Kairos where time passes effortlessly and unmeasured.
While time becomes elastic, so does the space one is in. This is sometimes referred to as the “thinning” of the space, where the “divide” between heaven and earth fades and we feel a holy presence. When consideration of the space we gather in for worship is done with intention and purpose, it can aid in the stepping into Kairos time and the thinning of the space. This is in keeping with a long tradition of the use of space in worship dating back to the elaborate and detailed instructions given to the Israelites for building the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus also had holy space in mind when he said:
The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:21, 23a)
How does this apply in practice to a worship space and service? I will conclude with an experience I participated in that illustrates how intention and purpose coupled with an attuned-ness to God’s leading can facilitate a transformation of the space. During our most recent Holy Week, I attended a Tenebrae service at a church that had never done one. What was remarkable was how the members of the community took a rather dull, ordinary space and made it crucial to the ethos of the worship.
We entered in through a lobby I knew to be dreary. At the service, it had been lit with candlelight while Stations of the Cross marked our path in the sanctuary. Each station slowed down one’s journey into the space because they “got in our way”. I found myself walking alongside Jesus as he carried his cross through the streets of Jerusalem and by the time I reached the dimly lit sanctuary, I was at the foot of the Cross. Prayer stations dotted the room with our attention focused on the cross and table below it. In that space, I was very aware of my surroundings and the stepping out of ordinary time. I found myself open to hear God speak to me and worship Him – I was aware that this space I had walked through numerous times without a second thought was holy other. That night, God graced us with his presence and blessed the work of those who, as an act of worship, purposefully transformed an “ordinary” space into a sacred space.
*Portions of this article were taken from a chapter I wrote, A Holy Space, for the book Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life by Lauralee Farrer and Clay Schmit.
Nate Risdon is the Associate Director of Communications and Program Development for the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has had a long time fascination with popular music and its influence on society and has just begun to think of these implications on theology and the church. White, James F., Introduction to Christian Worship (Abingdon Press, 2000), 81.
 Such as in 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles.