Letter to New Hope Baptist Church, Danbury, CT
Dear New Hope!
Congratulations! It is amazing to see your dreams realized. It has been a privilege to be part of this project to work with you under the leadership of Pastor Ivan Pitts. You have prayed for us and trusted us to make it possible to design this building to have special meaning. I will attempt to outline some of the symbolism contained in this building just waiting to ‘get out’ and be experienced.
Since 1895, New Hope Baptist Church has been serving the community and this is still a major focus of your ministry. The building is designed to be a good neighbor. The nature of all the program requirements produces a large edifice of substantial height and volume. A conscious effort was made to break these volumes down and identify them as individual faces or characters of the community. These ‘characters’ speak to the neighboring houses as equals as opposed to overwhelming them with one large, overshadowing edifice. Instead of the new ‘kid (or bully) on the ‘block’, the building reflects the existing and new faces in the community working together. The colors chosen for each of these ‘faces’ are the colors of spring or ‘New Hope’.
The ground floor of NHBC is dedicated to the community, which includes a Conference Room, Meeting Rooms, Volunteer Center, Computer Resource Center, Library and an Early Learning Center with Infant Room. The Meeting Rooms are each identified with a different color of the rainbow on a highlighted wall, the door frames, and with a flooring pattern. In the hallway, all the colors integrate together celebrating unity. The Early Learning Center picks up on this theme of grids of color creating ‘places’ for different activities. The foundation of the Baptistery above is part of the space and reminds us of what Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:24 (…everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock).
Early Christians would make a fish symbol in the sand to indicate where the believers find community. The structure above the sanctuary is composed of a series of angled wood trusses which are symbolic of the scales of a fish. The head of this ‘fish’ faces east towards ‘Zion’ which has historically been the orientation of many ‘houses of worship’. The angles of the trusses are borrowed from the angles of the existing sanctuary which has now been transformed into Memorial Hall (which also has wooden trusses). Like Jonah, when he was inside the ‘great fish’, believers fellowship here with God to garner strength before stepping outside into the community to fulfill the ‘great commission’.
The windows on the side walls of the Sanctuary outline the figures of the 3 crosses of Calvary. The grid patterns on the windows are 3 by 3 over 3 by 7 times 12. These number patterns are symbolic of the trinity (3--3’s), the completeness of 7 days in a week, the 7 seals, angels, and trumpets of Revelation, and the 12 months of a year, the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 apostles. The total number of window panes in this composition totals 360 which identify with the completeness of a circle (360 degrees) and a prophetic year (360 days). These window panes are also shaped with the same common angle of the building lines to express the exploding of the normal grid. The glass is intentionally clear and not ‘stained’ to parallel the practices of NHBC to not just keep the worship inside but to ‘get the message out’.
The Baptistery (which at the time of this writing has not yet been completed) has been placed ‘front and center’ to celebrate the traditions of this church and to express the importance of our ‘baptism with the holy spirit’ within the architecture of the building. The pulpit area unites 3 of Christ’s identities: ‘the word’ (John 1:1) the pulpit, ‘the living water’ (John 4) the baptistery, and ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12 and 9:5 (the overhead skylights also forming a cross). From the center of these skylights, there will be a suspended wooden cross which will house and conceal a projector and a light to highlight the ‘word’ on the pulpit. The center of the cross will, in a sense, project light towards the east. The east wall behind the choir will serve as a screen for the projection of words for songs and hymns and to illuminate images for sermons and theater productions.
The structure which begins from the pulpit/choir area and hangs from the trusses holds up the heating and cooling ducts and the up lighting. These embracing arms are expressive of Jesus’ longing ‘…to gather his children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.’ (Matthew 23:37).
These are some of the symbolic concepts woven into the design; however this is only a skin in which you, the body of Christ, make alive. Ephesians 3:18 tells us how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love is for us. These are 4 dimensions. This building only has 3 dimensions. You are that 4th dimension; the body which serves from this house. You are the body that fills this skin of ‘sticks and stones and steel and concrete’. I want to thank you for completing the architecture!
Thank you for meeting the challenge to serve God and this community. May God Bless you and keep you!
Peter Eckert AIA