This Is the Steeple

The architecture of the American Church is as different as the congregations that occupy them. Styles include massive Gothic edifices, megachurches that look like sports stadiums, and diminutive country churches and storefront assembly halls. Our different religious traditions, our social enclaves, our sense of history, and our personal worship experiences define our ideas about these sacred spaces. For two centuries, most American churches have followed a basic form: a rectangular building with a tower or spire, a rectangular sanctuary with pews in straight lines facing an elevated pulpit and choir loft.

Photographed for Texoma Living! Magazine by Robyn Raggio.
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Most traditional church buildings are based on a Colonial revival style, or the Gothic style. In the late 19th century, urban Protestant congregations built Romanesque churches—rambling, stone structures with large auditoriums to serve densely populated areas that drew their congregations from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic neighborhoods for accessible and participatory worship. The interior style of these churches was influenced by theater design. Excellent acoustics, good sight lines, comfortable seating, large stages and dramatic lighting began to appear.

By the mid-20th century, another trend emerged. Traditional, formal designs declined in popularity. Sitting amid more modern architecture of the ‘60s many thought it was a time to rethink how churches would accommodate their modern congregations. As the century came to a close no single style dominated. Instead, design was influenced by new materials like prefab metal and concrete, and the need to build truly energy efficient places of worship.

Robyn Raggio on assignment for Texoma Living! recently spent a weekend touring Grayson and Fannin counties looking for interesting church architecture. She concentrated on old, rather than new and ventured out to find subjects in smaller outlying communities.