On a recent trip, I stopped in again at the all faiths chapel in the newest DFW terminal. Don't consult the kiosks or directional signs; the chapel isn't marked. You may notice the one institutional sign over the door, provided you look up from the bustle of passengers across from gate D20.
I visited this non-denominational chapel the first time, when the terminal opened in 2005. I had high expectations. Everything else in the terminal has been so thoughtfully designed. The chapel seemed like a complete oversight. I felt offended that the team of celebrated designers and artists had produced such a tepid environment.
This visit, my reaction wasn't as emotional. Still, the chapel is a disappointment. There's little here to inspire; it seems like a watered down version of church. There is an abstract stained glass window, clearly back lit with electric light bulbs. The window is inoffensive, with some leaf-like forms suggesting God's presence in nature. The table and pulpit are solidly built but quite a bit over-scaled for the room. The rack for a prayer shawl seems like a late addition for Jewish visitors. But the sign above it really shows how little thought went into this place. I can't imagine our Muslim brothers and sisters feeling at all welcome in this place.
We've had some very exciting opportunities to work with worship spaces that are non-sectarian. We're currently volunteering our time to organize a restoration program for the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel. This simple structure was built over 100 years ago by the City of Austin as a non-denominational place for burials and small religious gatherings. When the chapel is finally restored, it will be an amazing place for all sorts of receptions, meetings or gatherings, but the plan is to also continue its linage as a place of prayer. See this link to the Save Austin Cemeteries website for a full presentation.
I shouldn't be so surprised that DFW was so completely stumped in making an appropriate design for a spiritual, yet not sectarian worship environment. In "The House of God," a 1946 text, the armed forces are shown to have devised a unique solution - namely, a rotating back wall, with alternating pulpit, altar and bemah. As the image suggests, the chaplains simply finish one service, then rotate the altar away and make ready for the next denomination! I marvel at the ingenuity expressed in these photos, but despair for those who were left with yet another watered-down worship space.