Stuff Christian Culture Likes

Stuff Christian Culture Likes

#149 Calling the lobby the narthex

narthex.jpgDuring church announcements the pastor will reference the narthex (“Information on our outreach programs is located in the narthex,” etc.) and you must infer its definition from the context. Even the warehouse-iest of church buildings call their warehouse-y lobbies the narthex as it perhaps lends a bit of elegance, like saying fo-yay instead of foy-yer (the latter pronunciation being common in the Bible belt).

According to Wikipedia the narthex is the entrance or lobby area located at the far end from the church’s main altar and the name dates back to the Byzantine era. This is news to me as I’ve lived my entire life thinking that narthex is named after the north (narth, same difference) exit (hence the -ex) even if the exit does not face north. It’s like when I finally learned the wind chill factor is not actually the windshield factor, and it’s not measured by sticking your face out the window next to the windshield to see how cold it is. But I digress. How should I end this? Narthex is a hilarious word, and that’s the moral of the story.

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Matt Green

posted April 26, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Great insight! Er…alright, I feel better about not knowing this word when I first saw it. Thankfully, my church doesn’t seem to use it. Perhaps these more elaborate words are used to try to seem classier? Are we selling Christ, or how sophisticated our church is? Is it another symptom of needing to manufacture a culture to promote an in-ness?
(Full disclosure: my first run-in with this word is at the end of Final Fantasy 13, so everything I’m saying could be totally bunk. Caveat reader.)

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Joel Bradshaw

posted April 26, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I hail from a small-town nondenom, so we just called our possible narthexes the lobby, fellowship hall, and multipurpose room. Actually, we didn’t really have a lobby, more of an entrance.
The first time I heard the word “narthex” was in a Mark Lowry routine, I believe (I get good PK points for that, right?). I don’t remember whether he was making fun of it, or just mentioning it in passing, but it was rather confusing until I looked it up.

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posted April 26, 2010 at 3:15 pm

why did i always called it the north-ex??? weird.

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posted April 26, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Is it a try for some elegance or something else? Certainly the concrete tilt-up big box style churches filled with the results of effective marketing and popular business management principles cry out for something more elegant, but I think there is also a longing for a feeling of deeper spiritual/religious roots going around popular evangelical Christianity today. Narthex is a rather Medieval word loaded with connotations of a weightier Christianity, especially since it sounds cool and few people know what it means. I only know about the word from taking art history classes in college – even then I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where it was in the church with confidence. Still, it sounds cooler to say “I’ll meet you in the narthex” than “I’ll meet you in the lobby.” I mean, any building can have a lobby.
As for your wind chill digression… I have an aunt who thought marshmallows grew on trees until she was corrected in college. Though she may have known where the narthex was.

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Zachery Oliver

posted April 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm

“(Full disclosure: my first run-in with this word is at the end of Final Fantasy 13, so everything I’m saying could be totally bunk. Caveat reader.)”
Matt: where is this in the game? I am 38 hours in and I have never heard anyone say that.

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posted April 27, 2010 at 12:06 am

Technically the narthex should be at the west end of the church, since the altar should be at the eastern end, so the parishioners are sitting/standing facing east. Orthodox churches are still constructed this way, and Orthodox Christians place their icons at home so they can face east while they pray. Don’t ask me why; we just do it that way.

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posted April 27, 2010 at 12:08 am

Everything sounds better in Latin – even if we have to coin the phrase (or make up the word).
Pax Nabisco – Peace through Oreos!

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Still Breathing

posted April 27, 2010 at 3:49 am

Jestrfyl – it’s Greek not Latin according to the OED. I’d never come across the word so this hasn’t caught on here in the UK. We just call our the entrance or foyer.

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Tony D.

posted April 27, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Orthodox Christians place their icons at home so they can face east while they pray. Don’t ask me why; we just do it that way.
The rising sun is a daily icon of Christ’s Resurrection; when we pray facing east, we remind ourselves of the true Source. At least that’s my understanding.

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Matt Green

posted April 27, 2010 at 7:28 pm

“Matt: where is this in the game? I am 38 hours in and I have never heard anyone say that.”
Spoiler-free response, as I doubt you’re there yet: very last room of Chapter 13. It is all white. When you save there I believe it is labeled as the “Narthex.”

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posted May 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Q: Why did no one ever challenge the use of this silly and pretentious word in the church in which I grew up (which had a blue roof, just to suggest the quality of the architecture)?
A: Because no one ever questioned anything! After all, the pastor and youth minister graduated from Bob Jones, so they must know architectural lingo.

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Tony D

posted May 4, 2010 at 3:05 pm

There is, of course, quite a bit of ecclesiological significance to the term. This significance is obscured by the fact that almost all churches today allow anybody, baptized or not, into the main body of the church.
Captcha: tried smolders

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posted May 4, 2010 at 3:26 pm

“There is, of course, quite a bit of ecclesiological significance to the term.”
Yep, which is why it seems especially silly in contexts running as far away from such significance as possible.
I can pretty much guarantee that the powers that were in the church of my youth did not know their narthexes from a hole in the ground.
Still working through this — perhaps I should try smolders!
captcha: balmier He (love it!)

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The Thief

posted May 6, 2010 at 11:27 am

I was in a church that called the lobby “narthex” – in late 2001, terrorist scares going around, one of our church leaders asked his daughter to meet him in the “anthrax.”
We never let him live that one down.

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David H.

posted May 6, 2010 at 11:58 am

I think that only Roman Catholics and Episcopalians (i.e. Anglicans if you’re not in the U.S.) should be allowed to use the word “narthex.” And then only if their church is basically laid out in the model of the old cathedrals. See the graphic which accompanies Stephie’s orig post.
At our Episcopal church, which has a very definite “cathedral like” floor plan, we actually don’t use the word at all. We call it the “gathering space” instead ;) BTW, our gathering space features a labyrinth design on the floor, which means (I suppose) that we’re all really horrid pagans :D

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posted May 7, 2010 at 1:24 pm

The fundies drove me to Catholicism, and, thank God, I’ve never heard that silly word again, even in places like Paris where it might be architecturally appropriate.

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Tony D.

posted May 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I think that only Roman Catholics and Episcopalians (i.e. Anglicans if you’re not in the U.S.) should be allowed to use the word “narthex.”

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posted May 7, 2010 at 5:20 pm

I don’t know anyone who calls the lobby “the narthex,” but I’m pretty sure I hate them, nonetheless.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 5:33 pm

I thought it was “windshield” too!

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Bill (cycleguy)

posted May 20, 2010 at 6:00 pm

never understood the use of the word narthex either. IMHO: what a dumb word!

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posted August 13, 2014 at 1:38 pm

My whole life (and I’m 66) Baptists in the West Coast, Presbyterians and Eastern Orthodox (yep I converted 20 years ago) called that same area the Narthex. I never knew why.
Imagine Christianity becoming legal in the Roman Empire and tens of thousands wanting to convert to this new religion. The Orthodox don’t just mass baptize populations without them knowing what Christianity and following Christ means.
There was a period of instruction and during this time these catacumins stood in the Narthex of the Church. Usually they were baptized at Pascha (Easter).

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