Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Great Announcement

It has been almost a week since President Leonard and board chair Tad Doering announced the major gifts totaling nearly two million dollars. Here's a video of most of the announcement.

What's most tantalizing about the announcement is the "Swedish Chapel." As soon as I heard it I wondered what Bud Pearson meant. My original idea was the kind of monument to Swedish pietism represented by the Jenny Lind Chapel in Andover, Illinois.

That chapel, the first place of worship for Swedish American Lutherans out on the Illinois prairie was constructed with a gift from the "Swedish Nightingale," Jenny Lind. Lind was quite generous toward the Swedish Americans. She gave a large sum of money to Saint Ansgarius, the Swedish Episcopal congregation in Chicago, for the purchase of a silver chalice. She gave a like sum to the congregation's priest, Gustavus Unonius. She also gave money for the construction of the Lutheran Chapel in Andover, about thirty miles west of the dissenter settlement at Bishop Hill.

Lind's money allowed the congregation to build the simple, pietist style chapel that remains in the midst of the cemetery. Her original gift included enough to build a steeple at the church. The cholera epidemic struck the small community, and the lumber that was to be used for a steeple was used for coffins.

That simple and spare style, common in the mid-nineteenth century Swedish church architecture, with a central pulpit, was what I thought might be intended by a "Swedish Chapel."

Talking to Noni Strand this week I discovered how mistaken I was.

The chapel is not a new idea, but one that Bud Pearson had proposed some years ago. The time was not right then for a chapel. Now, with the Bethany renaissance beginning, the time is right.

The chapel that was drawn originally featured lots of bright, light colored wood, flexible seating patterns, a plane floor (rather than the theatre seating we have today), open space. The design has a kind of airy lightness to it.

However, the Swedish architect who originally drew up the plans has passed away, and one of the tasks of this new fund raising effort is to find a new architect who can update (or draw new) the plans to include a "welcome center" and the offices of the Admissions people.

The idea of a bright and light place of worship and gathering is a welcome one, as is the idea that the theatre can have all of Burnett to work on plays - perhaps using the old chapel space as a black box theatre.

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