When the Church Became Theatre -- In Paper!



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BY ED BLUM

A few weeks ago I complained in a review that Jeanne Kilde’s wonderful book,
When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth-Century America, was not published in paper. I was wrong. It’s in paper; it has been since 2005; and it’s a good price.

Take a look: When Church Became Theatre explores the social and religious contexts that informed the development and the widespread adoption of the neomedieval auditorium church type by evangelical Protestants in the late nineteenth century. The building type is characterized by an architecturally eclectic exterior facade, emphasizing Gothic or Romanesque vocabularies, and an amphitheater-like main auditorium with theater features. Blending social, religious, and architectural history, the book examines the buildings as texts that bear witness to significant changes in religious creed, code, and cultus.

The democratic and homelike character of these buildings indicate shifts in Protestant creed, the facilities for musical performance and congregational participation attest to changes in cultus or worship practice, and the integration of a variety of functional rooms into these churches evidence significant negotiations between the traditional evangelical code or mission of proselytizing and a new mission centered on family ministry. Adopted by Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists across the U.S., these buildings attest to the existence of an evangelical social and theological unity in the final decades of the century, a united Christian front on a public landscape that many feared was marred by social unrest. By the 1920s, that evangelical Christian unity would rupture, congregations would be rent as religious, and social conservatives split from liberals throughout the country. This rupture would significantly reduce the popularity of the neomedieval auditorium church in the twentieth century.

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