web analytics

church architecture 5

THE AMBO, the podium or lectern from which we proclaim the scriptures, the Word of God, is a primary sign and symbol in the worship space.

The congregation can sit facing each other (choir formation) with the altar between them at one end, and the ambo between them at the other (as it is at Knox College, Dunedin, and at St John’s College in Auckland). This underscores the balance between Word and Sacrament. There are other ways to arrange the furniture which can maintain the focus and centrality. I have seen both ambo and altar “up the front”, mirroring each other’s placement there (they are mirroring in my first example). Ambo and altar can be more akin to each other architecturally than in some places – the ambo becomes the table from which we are fed from God’s Word…

Do you place candles by the ambo, in the same manner as they are by the altar? Some light them during the Ministry of the Word, then that light is transferred to the altar at the Ministry of the Sacrament.

Do you read all and only the scriptures from the ambo? Where is the Gospel proclaimed? Why?

From where is the psalm led? From where is the sermon given (seated is obviously the early church tradition)? From where are the intercessions led? Where are the notices given? How does the presider proclaim prayers with the open hands of orans without holding a book? How do we make sure we keep a special reverence and place for the scriptures, and yet do not clutter our space with general lectern, pulpit, and presider’s lectern?

When there is no service in the church building, is it possible to “enthrone” the scriptures open on the ambo for those coming in for personal devotion to be conscious of our reverence for God’s Word?

This post is, hopefully, useful for a number of contexts. It is particularly offered as one in a series for reflection as we begin planning the building of a number of church buildings after the closing of dozens of church buildings because of the Canterbury earthquakes.

Can you add some ideas, responses, even further questions to help people’s reflections…

image sources 1, 2, 3

Similar Posts:

18 thoughts on “church architecture 5”

  1. Good morning Bosco, the following are answers from where I am at present in Malaysia, so far as I can remember:

    – No candles
    – Scriptures, also used for intercessions; Gospel proclaimed from the table or in front of the table depending on who’s reading it. Why? Probably not a good idea to ask why too much…
    – Psalm from the same place
    – Sermon from the pulpit, if given by priest/dean/bishop, else from a stand below the chancel step
    – Intercessions at the lectern unless given by the priest, when generally at the table
    – Notices from the table, or clerk’s bench, depending on who is giving them
    – Books are placed/stood on the table as required
    – I’m generally happy with the balance as it is, although not sure I’m keen on having the lectern separated from the table by the communion rail and step.
    – Scripture is usually left open upon the lectern throughout the week

    As to my personal views, one thing I find important is having the Scriptures in the hands of the congregation as well as in their ears. We all take the Sacrament of the Body in our hands, and the Sacrament of the Blood in our mouths – and so it’s fitting for us also to hold the Word in our hands and receive it with our eyes. Further, it helps with following the exposition, and gives the congregation something to read if the preacher chooses to diverge from a faithful preaching of the passage.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts and points, Vincent. I differ from you about holding the Word in a service. My preference is that the Word is so well proclaimed that reading along is not required or appropriate. I understand that in some places the community does not have good facility for those hard of hearing and could print off the readings for them. Certainly this is worthy of discussion; and I think differing responses. Blessings.

  2. shirley ostrander

    Whatever you do, please do it with an eye toward accessibility for persons with disabilities…including the lectern/pulpit… there are a few of us pastors in a wheelchair and you might want to hire one or to have one guest preach… 🙂

    1. Thanks, Shirley. This is a good point for all architectural features. And not only for pastors – it is to be hoped that people in wheelchairs are included in the congregation, and, hence, welcome to read, lead prayers, etc. Blessings.

  3. When I was the priest at Waipawa parish in Waiapu diocese, we celebrated the Sunday liturgy in the hall for some weeks while the church was being restored. The clear focus of gathering around ambo and altar, with the waters of baptism centrally located, was a great experience and opened the way for easy teaching. (See image here and here)

    1. Thanks, Martin. The arrangement in these photos and your description is a fascinating addition and resource here. My own preference would be to centre on altar (and ambo) – centring on font possibly at Easter and/or baptism. But, again, there are no hard and fast rules – and certainly invitations to reflect towards something more appropriate than what we so (too) often experience. Blessings.

  4. Gospel proclaimed from the table or in front of the table depending on who’s reading it. Why?

    I am accustomed to the gospel being proclaimed from the midst of the people. The deacon, preferably, or a priest, intentionally walking away from a pulpit or lectern to be among the people to read.

    1. Thanks, Brother David. It would be interesting to know the history of the “gospel procession”. I am very conscious of the restraints of our inherited worship spaces – I hope that in fresh designs, both the altar and the ambo/lectern will be experienced as being “among the people”. Blessings.

  5. BTW Padre, I like that architectual plan. Is that a building that was actually built somewhere? Are there photos of the completed structure?

  6. Bosco,

    I have seen a design similar to your plan in a real church (sadly now closed due to asbestos). Instead of curved walls it had more of an octagon design (but with an odd number of walls (no wall directly faced any other and this made the acoustics fantastic)). However the church in question was a lot smaller (seated 100?)

    I am very used to a gospel procession as Brother David describes – and I find it odd when the gospel is read from the ambo – but many (Anglican) churches choose to read it this way. I have found even less churches where non-clergy read the gospel.

    I like the idea of the worshipers facing each other – it very much removes the “audience” feel of some churches. Churches I have visited where people can see each other do tend to have a better feel.

    My personal preference for a worship space is flat with chairs that can be easily moved (so not pews). This allows the worship space to be reconfigured easily, which can help remind people of the change in seasons, or suite specific services.

    Happy New Year :0)


      1. If the ambo is in the midst of the people, then to process the Gospel at that point would be moot, it not really be necessary. And it would sort of be processing the Gospel out from the midst of the people. 😉

        How about we process the Gospel to the entrance, open the door(s) and read it in a loud voice, proclaiming it to all the world? 🙂

  7. This is a Roman church named for someone whom a fair percentage of Roman priests in Mexico do not believe existed, and opposed his canonization; St Juan Diego. The parish was established by Portland’s Roman bishop on the day of the canonization.

    The phase on structure with this worship space has been built. You can see it plainly in Google Maps at the address; 5995 NW 178th Ave, Portland OR 97229. The street view does not show the church building because it predates the structure.

    I did find three photos of the exterior here;

    It is nice to see the bike racks, encouraging folks the pedal to church!

    1. Thanks, Brother David. I certainly hope that the replacing church buildings in Christchurch can be at least this quality. I know that architects and others are reading these posts – so your images are very helpful. Blessings.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.