Private Chapels

October 16, 2007 | 51 comments

I have holy envy. I want a private chapel. I want stained glass, a pew, children kneeling, ritual, beauty, low murmurs, and I want it in my home.

I wanted this even before I read Brideshead Revisited. Our church houses have a gymn, a stage, a kitchen, classrooms, grounds, baseball fields, volleyball courts, barbecue pits, but also a chapel. Why not our homes?

I idly kick around sometimes what our family chapel could look like and how we could use it without stretching our Mormonness to the breaking point. I haven’t come up with anything.

Recently Melanie, a commenter, gave me a clue. She said that for Mormons the food storage room could be sacred space. I could see it–the quiet cinder block room, one window high up, divided into neat rows of cinderblock-and-wood shelves, the the cans and the bags and the bottles and the buckets dingy but orderly, stacked and labeled. Some of the buckets by one wall are good for sitting and I’ve got a old book of scripture shoved back there along with a notebook. Saturday nights my son sits out there with me while we polish our shoes. Neither of us says much. If we do talk its about God or the Civil War.

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51 Responses to Private Chapels

  1. Silus Grok on October 15, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    You’re delightfully odd, Adam… you know that, don’t you?

    : )

    As for “private chapels”… isn’t that the very essence of what our entire homes are to be — the third temple?

  2. gst on October 15, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    I share this feeling. Also, I’d like to start my own monastic order. The order will devote its efforts to illuminating the surviving scripts of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I think I will call them Baxterites.

  3. Steve Evans on October 15, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    My private chapel will perform our sacred rites (Order of the Arrow, pinewood derby, and Standards Nights) only in the original Latin. Oh, and I intend to drive drunk and malign the Hutterites.

  4. Ivan Wolfe on October 15, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    I think I’d rather have a home recording studio, myself.

  5. Steve Evans on October 15, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    To wit: this newly-acquired image of Mr. Greenwood in his bunkernacle.

  6. nita on October 15, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    Good thoughts, esp the idea about how our homes should be like a temple.

    My dad is a native of India. Lots of his side of the family are Hindu. Usually people in India as well as some in the US have a small worship area in their home, for instance an area complete w/a statues of the different gods in which they belive. Then they can go to this room in their home to worship (ie to pray and do other religious rites in the Hindu faith).

  7. Ardis Parshall on October 15, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    I kind of like this idea of a chapel, altho’ my first reaction was that such a room was too utilitarian to serve. But if you think of the shoe-polishing, there-to-talk-if-we-need-to times as the ritual rhythms of family life, why not?

  8. Sarah on October 15, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    I want one, too. Amongst other things, if you’re called to teach early morning seminary, you could actually do it in a place that feels like a spot devoted to God, rather than a spot you have to move eight pieces of furniture into and a ton of junk out of, just to give everyone a spot to sit.

    But then I also want a library and a war room, so.

  9. Wilfried on October 15, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    Considering what (Utah) Mormons can purchase in terms of Mormon statuettes, busts, figurines, trinkets and the like, I guess some are not that far from a catholicomormonhindu shrine in their home.

  10. Brian D. on October 16, 2007 at 1:19 am

    Re #9:

    Wilfried, thank you for reminding me why I don’t shop at Deserted Book.

  11. MikeInWeHo on October 16, 2007 at 2:23 am

    re: 2
    With all due respect, that is the gayest thing anyone has ever said in the Bloggernacle.

    The Baxterites thrive in WeHo, and The Illumination of Mary (Richards) nears completion. We meet Fridays at sundown in The Abbey.

  12. meems on October 16, 2007 at 2:37 am

    Oh I see. All those little statues of Mary with the gold halos are actually Mary Richards!

  13. Jonathan Green on October 16, 2007 at 2:38 am

    Yes, Adam, yes! Also, the walls and floor need to be of stone, and the ceiling needs to be arched.

  14. gst on October 16, 2007 at 8:54 am

    MikeInWeHo, bless you, my son.

  15. Adam Greenwood on October 16, 2007 at 9:15 am

    I think foul scorn of all you mockers.

    Nita, that’s the idea (except. of course, Mormon instead of Hindu). The whole home can’t really be like the temple because we do too much every day stuff here. There’s a reason we try to have a separate chapel in our churchhouses.

    The reason the food storage room might kind of work is that the activity we do there is uniquely Mormon and, frankly, not very practical unless you work hard to make it so. And the decor is not your usual home decor.

    lets hold off on the buffoonery for a little bit, in the unlikely event that someone has something actual to say

  16. Jonathan Green on October 16, 2007 at 9:40 am

    Well, Adam, if you think my preferences for a home chapel are buffoonish, you’re not invited.

    [Ed.--not at all]

  17. Ivan Wolfe on October 16, 2007 at 9:47 am

    I wasn’t being buffoonish. It may be my bad, but given the choice, I’d rather build a home recording studio.

  18. John Mansfield on October 16, 2007 at 9:56 am

    “When I was a boy we lived in a large old house. One room was called the library. It had a solid table and a good lamp, three or four comfortable chairs with good light, and books in cases that lined the walls. There were many volumes—the acquisitions of my father and mother over a period of many years.

    “We were never forced to read them, but they were placed where they were handy and where we could get at them whenever we wished.

    “There was quiet in that room. It was understood that it was a place to study.”

    “There were also magazines—the Church magazines and two or three other good magazines. There were books of history and literature, books on technical subjects, dictionaries, a set of encyclopedias, and an atlas of the world. There was no television, of course, at that time. Radio came along while I was growing up. But there was an environment, an environment of learning. I would not have you believe that we were great scholars. But we were exposed to great literature, great ideas from great thinkers, and the language of men and women who thought deeply and wrote beautifully.

    “In so many of our homes today there is not the possibility of such a library. Most families are cramped for space. But with planning there can be a corner, there can be an area that becomes something of a hideaway from the noises about us where one can sit and read and think. It is a wonderful thing to have a desk or a table, be it ever so simple, on which are found the standard works of the Church, a few good books, the magazines issued by the Church, and other things worthy of our reading.”

    First Presidency Message, June 1985

  19. Mathew on October 16, 2007 at 9:58 am

    My in-laws have a Buddhist shrine in their home where one can pray, light incense or leave food offerings to one’s ancestors. Although not religious people in the sense I am familiar with, I have never gone to their home when there wasn’t some piece of fruit set out for their dead. When my then-girl friend visited home during breaks from law school my father-in-law used to ask her to offer prayers at the shrine before returning to school. I have pleasant memories of her, hands pressed together with a few sticks of incenses stuck between them, bowing at the shrine. After my wife converted to Mormonism the requests stopped.

    My in-laws’ shrine is in their study, a rarely used, dimly lit room tucked away from the high traffic areas of the house. I’ve spent hours alone there typing or looking through binders full of my wife’s school projects. Behind the statutue of Buddha sit seven small figures representing the seven generations of Chang’s that have passed since the family left China. In that quiet place, when through the closed doors I can hear the children running and I breath air permanently infused with the scent of incense, I can see the appeal of a private chapel. In Mormonism we rightly talk about our homes as temples–I can see the value of a sort of holy of holies somewhere in our most regular house of worship.

  20. Brian D. on October 16, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Ivan, I’m with you. I’d also love to have a recording studio in my home.

  21. Kaimi Wenger on October 16, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Interesting idea, Adam. Not unlike what J. Stapley said a while back, about the one-time LDS tradition of a family altar.

  22. MikeInWeHo on October 16, 2007 at 11:08 am

    When a friend of mine died in an untimely tragedy a few years ago, his surviving spouse (who was from Mexico originally) created a little shrine to him in the corner of their living. It was replete with photos, those large glass Catholic candles you can get in grocery stores here, rosary, etc. At first I found it a little creepy but now it seems cool and appropriate.

  23. gst on October 16, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    I think Capt. Jno. Aubrey, RN, had a chapel at Ashdown Cottage (though he personally had little use for it). So I approve of the idea. Sorry for all of the gayness above.

  24. Steve Evans on October 16, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    I apologize for nothing, least of all my gayness. I still think it’s a nutty idea. Worshipping with the Saints is the essence of mormonism, not private chapels and altars where we can safely avoid our fellowmen.

    Except if it’s a nuclear fallout chapel, where sacrament is broken K-rations.

  25. gst on October 16, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Evans, the fact that I must share a pew with chowderheads like you every week is what makes Greenwood’s home worship proposal attractive.

  26. Steve Evans on October 16, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    And referring to Aubrey is supposed to be a departure from the gayness?

  27. Costanza on October 16, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    ” I still think it’s a nutty idea.” The idea is nutty. Mr. Greenwood’s first sentence, however, is creepy. Low murmers?

  28. Costanza on October 16, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Or murmurs. Either way.

  29. Adam Greenwood on October 16, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Worshipping with the Saints is the essence of mormonism, not private chapels and altars where we can safely avoid our fellowmen.

    I pray at home by myself, at home with my family, and in church on Sunday with my fellow Saints. None of these activities are incompatible. In fact, I seem to recall Jesus recommending private prayer. In my opinion at least, Jesus is not opposed to the essence of Mormonism.

  30. Kaimi Wenger on October 16, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Worshipping with the Saints is the essence of mormonism.

    And quiet meditation isn’t?

  31. Steve Evans on October 16, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Adam, no bunkernacle required for such a purpose. Indeed, IIRC Jesus recommended a closet.

  32. Adam Greenwood on October 16, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Steve E.,
    have fun fitting your ward in your closet. Meanwhile I’ll continue to worship in private and with my family and think of ways to enhance that worship. If that rankles you, please bow out of this conversation.

  33. Kaimi Wenger on October 16, 2007 at 2:18 pm


    On the one hand, you’re partly right. We don’t need designated places for prayer; we can pray anywhere we’d like. Yep.

    On the other hand, you’re far too quick to dismiss the idea of sacred space. If a location or a setting can make us feel more relaxed, more at peace, more meditative, why attack it?

    Joseph Smith went to the grove to pray, and Jesus retired to the wilderness. In the absence of a handy grove or wilderness, a quiet, private space seems like a reasonable enough idea.

    Each of us approaches God in our own way. It’s fine for you to say, a private chapel isn’t for me. Don’t mock Adam for his own path.

  34. roland on October 16, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Do you want your own private LDS Chapel?

    1) Be envious of the residents of the LDS New York City Stake Center.
    The Stake center is the bottom four floors of a 60-story residential skyscraper in downtown Manhattan.

    2) Small town branch – Brazil. In at least two areas in Brazil, the chuch small branches would meet in a converted home. However the missionaries (my companion and me) would live rent free in a bedroom and kitchen in the back. Our swimming pool doubled as a baptismal font. (Or was it the other way around?)

  35. Ardis Parshall on October 16, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    I didn’t read anything in Adam’s post suggesting that he wanted to worship entirely apart from the Saints (no mention of formal services or ordinances of any kind), just that it would be a pleasant thing to have a space in his home reserved, at least in part, for reverence. Surely nobody thinks he was contemplating dropping out of his ward and crowding his family in among the stored wheat and lentils for a Sunday version of Family Home Evening??

    We have places in our homes where kids can laugh and run around without disturbing the adult’s phone call from the boss, and places where the baby can take a nap without everyone else having to be silent, and places where food is prepared where it can remain sanitary, and places where the car’s oil can be changed without ruining the carpet — what’s so novel and mirth-provoking about dreaming of a corner in your house where you can read and pray without unnecessary interruption?

    While stained glass and angelic choirs might be fun, the suggestion of using the storage room is far more practical and utterly Mormon. To sit on a bucket of wheat, leaning up against a tower of cartons of canned vegetables, your notebook and pencil perched on a shelf next to the home-bottled peaches, in a space no one else is likely to invade before dinner, insulated from outside noise by buckets of honey, sounds comfortable and private and, well, removed from ordinary life, almost — but temporarily — monastic.

    And the fact that Adam envisions that “chapel” as suitable for the regular ritual of shoe polishing with his son (no doubt in preparation for normal Mormon community Sunday worship), turning what could be a boring chore into a worship offering, should put to rest any uncharitable suspicions about his daydreams of a home chapel.

  36. David Clark on October 16, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    If you are going to have your own private chapel, be ambitious and do something like the Scrovegni family.

  37. Rosalynde Welch on October 16, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    Adam, very fun post. I think I know what you’re getting at.

    Indirectly a propos, I did a fair part of my graduate research on the privatization of religion in early modern England, which occurred in concert with the growth of the private home as an architectural phenomenon and its accretion of power as a political center. Crypto-Catholics, of course, but also the more radical Protestants, built and worshiped in home chapels—not just with family, but with the entire household including servants and (for the Catholics) an itinerant priest. The kinds of religious activities that could occur in private homes and the extent to which the state church could surveille or intervene in those activities was a hot legal and ideological issue. Private worship was directly related to the development of the private conscience as a political instrument, which itself was and arguably continues to be the greatest challenge to religious authority in the West. If you’re interested, there’re 300 pp of unpublished dissertation calling your name.

  38. Bill on October 16, 2007 at 4:07 pm
  39. Adam Greenwood on October 16, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    the private conscience as a political instrument, which itself was and arguably continues to be the greatest challenge to religious authority in the West

    I understand the challenge of private conscience to religious authority, but what’s the challenge of private-conscience-as-political-instrument to religious authority?

  40. Kurt S on October 16, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    I have a home recording studio. I can jam on the piano or guitar while reading this ‘blog.

  41. Julie M. Smith on October 16, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    Re #18:

    Now that’s my idea of a home chapel!

  42. danithew on October 16, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    I read/heard somewhere that (in his lifetime) Joseph Smith didn’t build chapels – he only built temples. True?

    DIdn’t Mormons hold their services in homes up to a certain point? When exactly did they start building chapels?

    If I didn’t have to worry about expense at all and I wanted a private worshipful sanctuary, I’d model it on the BYU Jerusalem Center. That place has everything and the best location.

  43. Lupita on October 17, 2007 at 10:39 am

    To call our food storage location a room would be a stretch.
    I love the idea of a sanctuary within the home but currently live in cookie-cutterlandia. My space would be smallish, lots of natural light and wood, and full of books. No phones, heck, no electronics. Maybe I just have architectural envy.

  44. Austin F. on October 17, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    I don’t know if you are joking or not, but I actually saw that Russell Crowe built a small chapel on his property where he and his wife were married, and I actually thought that it was a great idea. It would be a nice place to just go, think of God, read, meditate and pray. Of course, you can do this anywhere, but it would be nice to have somewhere especially set apart for such experiences.

  45. lxxluthor on October 17, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    Brilliant. Just brilliant.

  46. Ben H on October 17, 2007 at 9:32 pm

    In Japan there were these gates you’ve all seen in pictures, “torii”, which marked the entrances to sacred spaces. Sometimes the spaces were clearly bounded by a fence or wall. Sometimes there was a torii on the edge of a clearing in the woods, indicating that the clearing was sacred space, though the boundaries were ambiguous. The path climbing Mount Fuji passed through several torii (seven or so?) as one ascended the mountain, suggesting increasingly sacred space. Occasionally there was a torii with no clear “in” or “out”, no clear space it was marking a boundary to. There would be a torii perched on a rock in a bay, or even a torii spanning a city street, through which traffic passed all day. I found this fascinating. I always wanted a torii at the gate of my yard, because I think my home is supposed to be a temple. Not so much while I’m single, but once I’m married. Otherwise it would seem like I’m a monk. Of course, lots of monks live in temples. The Hare Krishna priest in Spanish Fork lived in a temple (with his wife). Why not us? But because of this I am skeptical about having a chapel in the home. If there is a chapel in the home, it suggests that the rest of the home is not as holy. But that seems symbolically incorrect. I think the home is already as holy as can be. I’m attracted to the idea of having a separate shrine space in the yard, though, a kind of second home/temple : )

  47. Adam Greenwood on October 17, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    If there is a chapel in the home, it suggests that the rest of the home is not as holy. But that seems symbolically incorrect

    True, but given the symbolic content of most of what we do in our homes, I don’t think the symbolism you want is practical. One can argue abstractly that the home is a second temple, and I would agree that its so, but it doesn’t feel like one, sweet as it is.

  48. Ray on October 17, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    I would argue more that the home can be a second meeting house, with spaces to prepare and partake of meals (serving area and gym), to rest (foyer and mother’s lounge), to study (classrooms), to store things (closets and stages), to sleep (HP Group classroom), to play (gym), to entertain (gym) – and I like the idea of having a space to meditate and pray and gather as a family (chapel). My daughter and a friend just finished cleaning our “toy/playroom” – and as I looked at it I was reminded of this post and realized how easy it would be to accomplish if we simply decide we want it to be so.

    I really like this concept, Adam.

  49. PJB on October 18, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    I don’t think Adam’s idea is preposterous at all. Nor do I think that so much facetiousness should be directed at the idea.
    When my husband first went into a LDS meeting house he felt let down because it was so nondescript. I think of all religions perhaps our chapel in specific can be the most vociferous, irreverent, and non-worshipful due to our culture of loquacious relationships one with another.

    I think either literally or figuratively speaking we could all use a little chapel in our homes.

    By the way, the chapel I’m referring to in the above comment was in Waikiki, Hawaii. There is a hugh mosiac covering the front of the building of Christ. The whole chapel is open and you can see outside. It is so beautiful and unique. We’ve also had to meet in one branch in an OLD courthouse, in one branch it was the YMCA gym.

    I think a place in the home however small or large can be likened unto a chapel. I can only believe that those kneeling pews would really facilitate a renewed interest. They are quite convenient and much easier on the knees! Of course the kids would keep putting them up and down at first and the little ones falling off in the middle of prayer, oh well! Lets all find a chapel somewhere in our homes if not our hearts.

  50. Meli on October 18, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Just FYI, the New York Stake center is interspersed with the temple (6 stories). The 60 story residential tower is next door. Lincoln Center is across the street. At other temples, I love to spend time outside in the gardens to prepare my mind, at the New York temple, it’s the transition from in the world of chaos, to sacred celestial space of quiet that invites the spirit.

    (Though there is something about going from the Celestial Room back out to the street, porn ads, and the unsacred space of the subway that can be quite jarring).

    Right now, I’m in a small apartment. Once we move on from grad school living, I hope to have a quiet room in our house for prayer and study. Though I think of more a front parlor with lots of bookshelves and comfortable couches, rather then a pew/altar space.

  51. Rev. Hunter on November 8, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    I found your web page while seaching for info on home chapels. I think every Christian should have a special place in the home , set apart from all the cares and noise , a place to not only speak to God but also to be able to listen. No phone , no pets, no bills , no chores. Just yourself and God.

    God Bless You ,

    Rev. C. G. Hunter


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