Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 6, 1964
NUMBER 13, PAGE 4,10b

Building A Meeting-House


The good old-fashioned term "meeting house," long since replaced by the more prosaic and less expressive "church building" (which, in turn, is being nudged out of use by the more sophisticated "sanctuary," or "plant," or "facility"), has begun to make a come back. We see an increasing number of church properties, especially among the Episcopalians, eschewing the traditional "Parish House" designation for the more truly descriptive "Meeting House." It will probably shock some of our "ambitious to be up-to-date" brethren to know that the term "Meeting House" is now beginning to appear on the corner stone of some of the most expensive church properties in America.

Which introduces a few reflections on the subject of meeting-houses. There is quite an epidemic of building going on all over the nation...building of meeting- houses by little groups of conscientious and faithful brethren who have in many instances been forced out of the larger and more expensive houses they sacrificed to erect, and are having to start all over again. We opine that this trend will continue, and that as the years go by we shall see a great number of small new buildings going up in every part of the nation. There will be desperate, and often discouraging efforts made to obtain finances, to arrange loans, to provide in some way the necessary funds for such construction. Brethren in great numbers will follow the example of the ancient Macedonians, first giving "their own selves to the Lord," and then "according to their ability, yea, and beyond their ability" sacrificing for the cause of Christ.

We urge in all these new undertakings that the most careful study be given to the subject of Acoustics. This may seem a small matter and of minor importance in the far greater task of providing any kind of house at all in the first place. But with care and study a house with effective and proper acoustical qualities will be no more expensive than one with poor and inadequate qualities.... and the singing, the teaching, and general atmosphere of the services will be richly enhanced.

Where is the preacher who can do effective work while screaming at the top of his voice to be heard above the mighty roar of an exhaust fan? Sometimes brethren think an amplifying system takes care of the problem, and that by simply turning up the volume of the amplifier they remove the evil of the boiler factory sound level. But this whole vicious cycle is depressing — and unnecessary. A few simple precautions would have eliminated the high decibel rating in the beginning. If the house is built by a contractor, then let the contract specify that the noise level of both heating and cooling units shall be satisfactorily muted. This can be done in the very process of construction, by the selection of proper materials (no more expensive than the other kind), by the placement of noise-making equipment (mostly fans and motors) in such position as to minimize the noisiness, by proper installation of sound-absorbent insulation to further deaden the undesirable noise, and by the exercise of good judgment in the whole arrangement. We feel that in many buildings the brethren have simply ignored the entire question of sound; and in not a few instances even architects and contractors have betrayed an astonishing lack of foresight and judgment in handling this aspect of a church meeting-house.

It was this writer's good pleasure to hold a meeting recently with the West End congregation in Richmond, Virginia. We met in their newly erected meeting-house, which shows in every feature the most careful and meticulous planning. What a beautiful contrast to the thoughtless and unplanned, hit-or-miss, construction so often in evidence! The high beamed ceiling was NOT covered with the deadening, perforated, sound-killing acoustical tile which destroys the beauty of the singing in so many buildings, and puts the speaker under a depressing and unnatural strain. Instead, the singing was given a resonant quality that accentuated, rather than stifling, its true beauty. There was no amplifier, but the speaker could be heard all over the auditorium without any lifting of the voice or increase in volume. There was neither the booming echo nor the deadly stillness that might have come from a poorly planned auditorium.

It is just as easy to build a good auditorium (and no more costly) acoustically speaking as it is to build a bad one. The difference will lie in the willingness of the builders to give thought and care to this aspect of the construction. For many years brethren had a craze for covering the whole ceiling (and often the side wall as well!) with perforated acoustical tile. The result was deadly. The singing, no matter how large the audience nor how great the effort, was strained and difficult. And speaking in such a place was both psychologically and physically a terrific burden on the speaker. Fortunately, the trend has abated somewhat, and we are seeing very few (but still too many!) new buildings with this architectural monstrosity.

Builders of new meeting-houses, take care!

— F. Y. T.