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Faith and Sports by Eric Jensen
Every Sunday we gather in our sanctuary to praise the Lord. I think Mount Tabor Lutheran Church is a stadium. No, it really is! Humor me: this month’s ramblings are a bit more esoteric than usual as I zoom across the country to Red Lion, PA to visit family. But I think they are still worth pondering.
Now I know I often get sentimental and say oh this and that brings us together, blah, blah, blah. Well because places of worship obviously bring us together, this piece focuses more on the outward appearance of Mount Tabor. What makes it such a valiant piece of architecture? What shape is the church? (Hint: not a cylinder). Why on earth would a church be built like ours? Well I have some thoughts.
Our church is a stadium, is it not? Think about it. What are stadiums used for? Concerts, games, seminars, and community events. What is the church used for? I think we heard it from our own Travis Jelsma-Beery during announcements on Sunday: it’s the advocate for recovery communities at Mt. Tabor. It’s used for so much more than worship. 12 Step groups meet in the building, and we host a Red Cross blood drive nearly twice a year. The church, like the stadium, is a multi-faceted tool for the community. We think of buildings as places to provide shelter, but when you think about it they are also tools. Churches and stadiums are invaluable tools for our communities.
So what makes a good stadium? Well for me it’s lighting, acoustics, and vibe. I hate the word “vibe” but there isn’t really a concise way to describe the rush of adrenaline that walking into a stadium gives me. So let’s look at Mt. Tabor: the lighting is phenomenal! The way the sunlight pierces through the top of the church and onto the cross hanging above the altar, cutting through the stagnant air and creating a pathway of God’s radiance from the heavens into our very own humble arena. Next are the acoustics. Oh how tremendous they are! I learned from a very young age to be quiet in church because you can hear everything in that circle when it’s so quiet during the Prayers of the people. Lastly is the vibe, and generally the vibe is good! There is something dramatic about the shape of our church that makes everything done in the center of it seem more theatrical. I miss the days during Lent and Advent, of kneeling around the altar for communion because when you take a step back and just look at what that portrays it’s Epic. It’s the most key part of our worship, accentuated by the location. You are in the open where you have nowhere to hide: the light of God shines down on the cross over the altar, and everyone is touched by it. For me, that’s the very definition of “epic”.
Our church is hard to describe, hard to put into words. From the outside the shape you might use to describe it is “cylindrical”, but that isn't quite true. A cylinder is straight, it’s skinnier, it isn't as curvy as our humble abode. No, I would describe Mt. Tabor as a “birthday cake.” A thick round bottom with a thinner, smaller section on the top of it that narrows the higher you get. It’s a fascinatingly odd design. If you know what the old Tabor looks like (on 1st Ave and E St.), it’s amazing this building was designed the way it was. The old stadium, (Tabor 1), looks like a traditional church: any church in America. Our current stadium, (Tabor 2), couldn’t be farther from that! Designed by Charles Petersen, the church stands alone as the only “birthday cake church” in America! It’s unique among all other Lutheran churches. Zion Lutheran (on Foothill Drive) is designed much more in a Cathedral style. Our Saviors Lutheran in Holladay is what I can only describe as “a strange looking box.”
Why is Tabor so different? Because it has to be! The building is in an odd place; seemingly central in a small city. So you obviously have to build upwards. Zion and Our Saviors are enclosed: boxed away from humanity. Tabor is on a street corner. It has to look different. It has to stand out. It’s the Giant of Seventh East! Sure it’s what’s on the inside that counts. But hey, it never hurts to look pretty darn good on the outside too.