In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of John, we learn of the Good Shepherd’s desire for his sheep to know him, trust him and hear his voice. In our modern world, trust is fleeting among humans, maybe even more so between the human and the church, and therefore transparency, curiosity and a reason to trust must be provided. This charge gave purpose to Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Elk Grove, Calif., who, through architectural storytelling, has positioned itself as a sheepfold in the residential area its 9.8-acre campus occupies.
Master planned more than 12 years ago to join a multipurpose building and K-8 school, the new 1,000-seat, 26,000-square-foot, $8.4-million worship building has actually cemented the congregation’s identity. “The original purpose in taking on this project was that it would be a space for the people of God to mold ourselves and continue proclaiming the Good News to the next generation,” says Father Alfredo Tamayo, pastor of Good Shepherd.
Through initial town hall-style meetings, the building committee and architect, HGA Architects & Engineers, based in Sacramento, Calif., were able to share ideas with parishioners and vice versa. Objectives arrived at were the need to stand out as a church without clashing with the surrounding contemporary homes, to provide ample space to accommodate a young and diverse community, and to establish a variety of areas for prayer and reflection. Chiefly, however, the building’s design was to follow a pastoral theme, meaning its very essence was to exemplify the personality and parable of the Good Shepherd. All of these goals could be met in some fashion through embracing outdoor spaces.
Jackson Construction of Sacramento joined the conversation at this point, and the three entities embarked on a design-build process. “We worked together to curtail surprises and ensure an end-product in keeping with the initial project goals,” says Bill Fargo, project manager with Jackson.
Designing a Place of Peace
The pastorally driven design intent is subtly obvious from all points on the campus. The exterior’s smooth shape is constructed from a simple palette of light-colored concrete block and glass. Concrete masonry was chosen to agree with other campus structures, but also to form the solid base of the building that is illustrative of the sheepfold—a fortress—while the high window walls represent the Shepherd’s immanence. “The flowing lines and uplifted roof express in concert the living and nurturing care of the Shepherd: a gentle hand over the sheep where heaven and earth interact,” says John Justus, principal of HGA’s Sacramento office.
Below the worship building’s towering silhouette is an outdoor plaza, which joins the original structures with the new. In addition to providing gathering space and serving as a location for processionals and Rites, the plaza is the core of the church’s ministry. “It’s the heart of the campus,” says Justus. “It’s the primary space that helps transition a person from the secular to the sacred.”
The plaza houses the formal entry to the church: three pairs of ceremonial doors opening into a narthex filled with natural light. According to Amy Marchant, chair of Good Shepherd’s building committee, the space is large enough to accommodate ministry meetings and casual group functions. One end of the space provides views of the plaza’s heritage oak trees, the other opens into a meditation garden. Near the garden are the nave doors that lead into the sanctuary.
“When one passes through, they are greeted by the baptismal font, which reflects the Christian’s journey through the waters of rebirth toward the altar,” says Justus. From the font, the eye is immediately drawn up to take in the brilliance of the curvaceous white ceiling bathed in sunlight from window walls on either side. “It’s very bright, warm and contemporary, but still gentle and connected to nature,” says Marchant. “The abundance of windows and the sweeping roof lines allude to the outdoors and the rolling hills of a pasture.”
The rolling ceiling is actually fabric covering suspended gypsum boards placed in a checkerboard pattern. This configuration achieves wonderful acoustics for the spoken Word and lends to the light and airy aesthetic desired, according to Justus.
Three oversized lanterns hang from the ceiling at intervals, and at the peak, a lifesized, 13-foot crucifix is suspended above the freestanding altar, which is made of a red natural stone to represent Christ, the Living Stone, and the blood he shed, shares Justus. Behind the altar is a woven metal veil that separates the altar space from the reservation chapel.
Natural materials, such as granite, and warm earthen colors are used throughout the space in the flooring, furnishings and wall coverings to reinforce the Shepherd symbolism.
According to Marchant, audiovisual equipment was not included in the design, as Good Shepherd does not utilize the technology in its services.
Inhabited by the Community
Since opening in March 2010, Good Shepherd has experienced explosive attendance growth. The 1,000-seat sanctuary is hosting five weekday morning and six weekend masses, all of which are packed to the point of standing room only. Additionally, due to the sheer beauty of the facility, the church is overwhelmed with funerals. “The parishioners have completely taken the space over,” says Marchant. “There are nightly community functions … we’re just amazed by the activity.”
Funding for the project came from Good Shepherd’s general savings which, combined with projected weekly collections, earned the approval and a go-ahead from the Diocese of Sacramento. Post-construction, fundraising campaigns are planned to help handle the expenses associated with operating a facility that is so heavily used by the community, among them security.
Good Shepherd isn’t currently able to employ full-time security staff. But according to Father Tamayo, a parishioner-led security schedule has been created and volunteers monitor the property nightly. An alarm system and attentive local law enforcement are a part of the security plan, as well.
“The church building was designed not simply as a gathering space, but as a representation of the dwelling of God among us,” says Justus. That said, the response of the community is evidence that the Shepherd is dwelling there, and is indeed at work.