Space for all

A hospital chapel is a place for meditation and prayer—practices shared by many faiths. So in 2005, Mission Hospitals decided it wanted its Mercy Chapel to expand its scope beyond its traditional Christian slant.

All welcome: Interior designer Jaan Ferree stands inside Mission Hospitals’ Mercy Chapel, which recently received a multifaith makeover. Photo By Jonathan Welch

Enter designer Jaan Ferree, who took on the task of finding the right group of people who could open the chapel up to a broader group of worshippers while retaining or even enhancing its spiritual ambience.

The hospital, says Ferree, “was very clear that they wanted all faiths to be welcome in this space, including people of no faith.”

A public charrette revealed what people would like to see in the new design, and there was resounding support for seating arranged in circles to accommodate small groups. “The pews needed to go,” notes Ferree. Meanwhile, a group of local artists and crafters set to work creating pieces aimed at encouraging a feeling of reverence, including stained-glass windows illuminated by a series of skylights.

What you won’t find in the new chapel are any religious symbols that speak directly to a specific faith. There are just too many of them. “We would invariably leave someone out,” the designer explains. There is, however, a small prayer room dedicated for Christian worship, to honor the chapel’s past.

Because hospitals are notoriously institutional, the chapel uses natural elements—plants, water and light—to establish an alternate environment. Similarly, the colors set the sacred space apart from the drab hues more typically seen in hospital corridors. Only one request could not be granted: the use of candles. Safety still comes first, so no open flames are allowed in the hospital. But Ferree compensated by using small lamps instead of overhead lighting.

Mission Hospital’s new Mercy Chapel opened in early June.

 

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