I enjoyed visiting St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Newtown (Sydney) on Saturday for a wedding. The church was constructed in the 1870s by Edmond Blacket. You would probably be more familiar with his “other” designs – The University of Sydney and St. Andrews Cathedral.

While waiting for the wedding to start I took some notes on what I saw around me in the building:

The church seating reminded me of the family box pews found in Europe and America. I remembered the story of Charles Simeon – a minister who faced significant opposition from his congregation in the form of locking the pews to stop people from worshipping. At the base of the box pews were foldable prayer benches with no padding at all. I could not imagine kneeling on these benches (have we grown soft?).

There was a series of stain glass windows in the gothic arches and Scripture engraved in the sandstone including Psalm 122:1 – “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.” I noticed the huge granite baptistery (not quite like our fiberglass tubs) and beautiful choir loft set at the back of the chamber.

It wasn’t until after the wedding that I noticed the most famous feature of St. Stephen’s – the glorious spire attached to the church.

Here’s my question – does church architecture enhance worship? Are there design elements that hinder worship? Any thoughts or comments would be welcome.

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About Jeremy Kwok

Jeremy grew up in Sydney before moving to the United States for tertiary studies. Jeremy completed the BA, MA (History), and M.Div degrees before returning to Australia with his wife Debbie. He currently works for Christian Education Ministries, a company that owns and operates private schools.


  1. Jason Harris 20 September, 2011 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    Sorry Jeremy. Something was wrong with the post slug which I’ve now sorted so that explains why no one could comment up to now.

    Good question. I would think at the very least there are practical elements of acoustics for preaching and singing.

  2. PJ 20 September, 2011 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    “…does church architecture enhance worship?”

    It depends on the worshipper.

  3. Jeremy 21 September, 2011 at 7:23 am - Reply

    As long as the architecture points to the Great Architect. Stained glassed windows that tell stories can be helpful reminders. Lofty ceilings don’t do it for me. However sometimes the acoustics they create when singing can invoke a higher reflection on the words of a song.

    Personally, the architecture of creation (worshipping outdoors) enhances my prayer and meditation.

  4. Steve 21 September, 2011 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    As a lifelong baptist, excessive architectural emphasis in a church is distracting, since I am used to worshipping in simple surroundings. I guess if I were an Anglican, the opposite would be true, a lifelong Anglican would probably be distracted by the lack of architectural style in churches I am used to.

    On the other hand, it is good to be flexible enough to worship in diverse environments, from a school hall, to a simple church, to an outdoor setting in a village somewhere.

  5. Jeremy 21 September, 2011 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    Good point Steve. As long as we are focused on worshipping God and not ‘where’ we are worshipping.

  6. David Williams 9 October, 2011 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    I have spent most of my life in simply church buildings such as community halls or small buildings. It really doesn’t affect things for me. I think if things are too fancy and elaborate then they can become the focus instead of God and the preaching. I also wouldn’t feel comfortable worshipping at a church that has spent millions on a building while there are so many people who have never heard the gospel or who are starving that could be reached with that money instead.

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