Episode 15: Sacred Space – Mel McGowan of Visioneering Studios

mel mcgowan
Mel McGowan of Visioneering Studios

Show Notes:

Learn more about Mel McGowan and his work with Visioneering Studios with the links below.

This is Episode 15, July 2012.  

My name is Rich Kirkpatrick and you are listening to WorshipMythbusters. This podcast is about debunking popular thinking about worship that may be more myth than truth. Presenting a myth each episode, we employ the socratic method with guests from all over the world.

Sacred Spaces

Its not just an old piano, it’s a functional musical instrument that tells a story. It’s 100 year history is seen in the patina of the finish, and the scars on the ivory keys. By ship from San Francisco, via train from Chicago, this piano was brought to a city called Eureka up the coast in California where it lived a life of many years leading worship. Eventually it ended up in the church basement. Then a family rescued it. A musician played on it and composed music in his living room, leaving the rings of a coffee mug and other gentle scarring. It ended up in a storage unit, locked away in a garage for months after some hard transitions in life for the owner of this piano. It came time to empty out this storage unit. So, as a token of friendship he gave it to me as a special gift, only allowing me to pay him for the furniture dolly underneath. And, only after much insistence on my part.

Now, I write music on it, leaving my own rings from coffee drinks. When people come to my front room, they see an old piano with handwritten notes, computer printouts of lyrics and microphone cables. They also see the scarves and ceremonial knives from Ethiopia. The message is not just “old piano” it is “writing companion” and inspiration. It is a sacred space in my home for me.

Design of space is indeed important in our houses of worship. What messages are we sending with seats facing forward in a square concrete tilt-up? Do we realize our spaces as opportunities for human interaction, or just the hearing of a sermon and reception of a worship team’s performance? Often we do not. The rush to fill a space and be efficient often falters with the very goals and core beliefs. A sacred space must intentionally lead people to see the messages we intend. And, with that we invite response and interaction that matches the message. I’ve led worship in multipurpose rooms with scoreboards and basketball hoops to Orthodox churches with icons and mystery.

Part of my experiences with sacred spaces led me to write the song, “Sacred Place”.

From the walls of the cathedral, let me heart echo your praise.

From the heights of the steeple, let me thoughts of you be raised.

The spaces we design matter, as they are the context we communicate the most important messages about our faith and devotion to God.

We do need to have a discussion as creatives about the spaces we design and execute. Often, it is not just the platform and sound system that will impact the response. How did people arrive from the curb? What does the front door say as you enter? How does the ambient lighting reflect the mood of the moment? All of these and more go beyond the front of your church. And, all of them add up to setting the expectation of the worshipper in your environment.

For this episode, I interview Mel McGowan of Visioneering Studios. Mel, before founding this company that designs spaces, he worked for Disney. Here is the interview we had just a few days ago.

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