Bureaucracy vs. Architecture.... and the Winner is....

In just a few months, Mountain View Community Church will be taking up residence in our new church building. After 13 years of meeting in a high school, we are very excited to have our own place to call home. I can remember most of the lengthy process it took to get there -- buying land, hiring an architect, forming committees, evaluating and envisioning our space needs, sitting in congregational meetings, raising funds. It hasn't been easy, but God has been good to us and our people have been generous. Our dreams are becoming realities, including my dream of a youth center to house our awesome student ministries. Soon Mountain View will have 30,000 square feet of space in which we can do whatever we want, whenever we want.

Well, almost. We can't have a cross. At least on the outside.

Throughout the lengthy process of creating this building, one theme that came up more than once was, "We want it to look like a church." That can mean a lot of different things. Certainly, no one was thinking medieval cathedral, but we wanted something to set it apart from a school, library or auto body shop.

As the design took shape, it became clear that cost restrictions and design preferences would preclude such classic touches as a bell tower or steeple. So someone proposed a simple idea that seemed to accomplish our goal. What if we put a cross on the side of the building, tastefully and artfully done, back-lit for a pleasant affect at night? This would be a nice, inexpensive touch, and ensure that everyone passing by would know this is a church.

Not so fast. When the design for this feature was submitted to the county for approval--along with other important details like the number of loops in the lobby carpet, the shade of leaves on the exterior shrubbery, and the capacity for individual sheets of toilet paper to be flushed in any given 48-hour period--the wise and magnanimous Frederick County Permit Office informed us that this was unacceptable. In fact, it was a violation of code 481037-f7-b5, which explicitly states that the amount of signage permissible for a building our size is 60 square feet.

That's right--a cross is considered a sign, no different, I guess, than a golden arch. Erecting a cross AND a sign with our church name on it would be a gross violation of our signage limits, akin to allowing us to float a giant inflatable Jesus over Rt. 270. When pressed, the FCPO's polite response was "What we say, goes."

The common sense oozing from this official declaration got me thinking. The cross, a symbol of faith and an important element of architecture for hundreds of years, is now considered nothing more than a sign in violation of code. What other historic feats of architecture would never have seen the light of day had they been built in Frederick County in 2010? Imagine the conversations.

"I'm sorry, Pharoah, but your pyramid is required to have 8,394 other sources of egress..."

"Citizens of Pisa, your tower must be knocked down and replaced with a one-story structure..."

"Michelangelo, we have tested the paint you are using on this chapel ceiling. The lead content presents presents a hazard for young children who may climb up here and eat it..."

"All skyscrapers with iconic towers are required to have ape-proof fencing around the exterior..."

"You are allowed a maximum of seven letters. You will have to go with H-O-L-L-Y-W-O..."

So, chalk up another victory for bureaucratic common sense. We can all rest easy knowing we have a county government to protect our safety, manage our growth, and preserve our freedom. We will be spared from unsightly crosses, giant apes, and other heinous violations of architectural decorum.

I wonder what they'll say when we hang that cross from the ceiling?