The First Presbyterian Church in Invercargill is the latest to seek the expertise of theology professor and former architect Murray Rae on how to modernise their building whilst maintaining the look and feel of a church.

The church is set for a $500,000 makeover following damage by a fire in 2015. First Church Heritage Building Trust chairman Bill Watt believes the renovations offer a great opportunity to make the church better for the community, but it needed to maintain the dignity of a church.

Rae became involved in the early stages of planning.

“I met with the church’s planning committee and talked them through the kinds of theological considerations that might inform the remodelling of the church.

“This led to their decision to proceed with a synagogue model rather than a cathedral model. The synagogue model emphasises the gathering of the people in fellowship with one another and with God, while the cathedral model is based on the temple paradigm where attention is directed to the sacrifice on the altar in the holy of holies.”

Due to his expertise in both theology and architecture, Rae has been involved in a number of projects over the years, especially since the Christchurch earthquakes.

“I’ve been to Christchurch a number of times to talk with churches and church schools about the ways in which church buildings themselves communicate a theology. I advised on the recently completed St Andrew’s College Chapel, Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, and a number of others.”

Read more about Rae’s research in the latest issue of He Kitenga. His latest book Theology and Architecture: The Art of Place will be published later this year.