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The Suburban Church

Modernism and Community in Postwar America

2015
Author:

Gretchen Buggeln

The Suburban Church

A richly illustrated history of midcentury modern suburban churches

Gretchen Buggeln shows how architects and suburban congregations joined forces to work out a vision of how modernist churches might reinvigorate Protestant worship and community. The result is a fascinating new perspective on postwar architecture, religion, and society.

Gretchen Buggeln’s The Suburban Church beautifully recovers the life and cultural significance of a post-1945 American regional architecture so ubiquitous we’ve hardly noticed it. Focused on the prodigious output of three prominent Midwest architects, The Suburban Church pops their sanctuaries into view so forcefully that readers will never drive by again without stopping—a transforming and deft cultural reconstruction.

Jon Butler, Yale University

After World War II, America’s religious denominations spent billions on church architecture as they spread into the suburbs. In this richly illustrated history of midcentury modern churches in the Midwest, Gretchen Buggeln shows how architects and suburban congregations joined forces to work out a vision of how modernist churches might help reinvigorate Protestant worship and community. The result is a fascinating new perspective on postwar architecture, religion, and society.

Drawing on the architectural record, church archives, and oral histories, The Suburban Church focuses on collaborations between architects Edward D. Dart, Edward A. Sövik, Charles E. Stade, and seventy-five congregations. By telling the stories behind their modernist churches, the book describes how the buildings both reflected and shaped developments in postwar religion—its ecumenism, optimism, and liturgical innovation, as well as its fears about staying relevant during a time of vast cultural, social, and demographic change.

While many scholars have characterized these congregations as “country club” churches, The Suburban Church argues that most were earnest, well-intentioned religious communities caught between the desire to serve God and the demands of a suburban milieu in which serving middle-class families required most of their material and spiritual resources.

The Suburban Church

Gretchen Buggeln holds the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Christianity and the Arts at Valparaiso University. She is author of Temples of Grace: The Material Transformation of Connecticut’s Churches, 1790–1840.

The Suburban Church

Gretchen Buggeln’s The Suburban Church beautifully recovers the life and cultural significance of a post-1945 American regional architecture so ubiquitous we’ve hardly noticed it. Focused on the prodigious output of three prominent Midwest architects, The Suburban Church pops their sanctuaries into view so forcefully that readers will never drive by again without stopping—a transforming and deft cultural reconstruction.

Jon Butler, Yale University

There’s value in [Buggeln’s] documentation, especially as many of those involved in building the churches have passed away. It’s no small compliment to say that her enthusiasm for the individuals in this movement is winning.

The New Republic

Intended for graduate students and their professors, the book might nonetheless gain some attention from pastors and those appointed to building committees.

Catholic Library World

The Suburban Church

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction. New Times, New Architecture: Making a Place for Religion in Postwar Suburbia
1. The Modern Church Movement
2. The “Form-Givers” of Suburban Religion: Three Midwestern Architects
3. From Dream to Dedication: The Shared Work of Church Building
4. The A-Frame Church: Symbol of an Era
5. The Suburban Sanctuary: A House for the Worshipping Community
6. Living and Learning as a Suburban Church Family: Modern Spaces for Education and Fellowship
7. Religion, Architecture, and Community in the Celebrated Suburb of Park Forest, Illinois
8. The Afterlife of the Postwar Suburban Church
Appendix A. National Council of Churches of Christ List of Eighteen “Outstanding” New Churches, 1956
Appendix B. Statement on Architecture and the Church, Composed at International Conference on Architecture and the Church, Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches, Château de Bossey, Bogis-Bossy, Switzerland, 1959
Appendix C. Working List of Churches and Religious Buildings by Charles Edward Stade
Appendix D. List of Churches by Edward Dart
Appendix E. List of Churches by Edward Anders Sövik, 1949–70
Notes
Sources for Research
Index