Churches' diverse architecture adds to worship experience

Houses of worship are often among the architectural gems in a community, and Fargo-Moorhead is no different. From simple to intricate, from old to contemporary, our region is home to a variety of these odes to religious form and function. In this...

First Presbyterian Church sanctuary
The sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Fargo as seen through the wood and stained-glass entrance beneath the balcony. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Houses of worship are often among the architectural gems in a community, and Fargo-Moorhead is no different.

From simple to intricate, from old to contemporary, our region is home to a variety of these odes to religious form and function.

In this second of a two-part series, we conclude our look at some Fargo-Moorhead churches with intriguing architecture. In the first story, we looked at Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral in Fargo, First Congregational Church in Fargo and St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Moorhead.

First Presbyterian Church

650 2nd Ave. N., Fargo


Date: 1930 (completed)

When Fargo's First Presbyterian Church was built, its "university Gothic" construction was "the style of the time," says Carol Prafcke, chair of the committee that oversaw renovations to the church, and that style was a favored one if you wanted something "kind of showy."

Completed in 1930, the graceful and imposing structure boasts a cathedral feel with dignified stone walls, crisscrossing interior arches, a ceiling that peaks around 45 feet and columns that are spaced along the sides of the main worship area. Typical of the style, the primary part of the structure forms the shape of a cross.

It all lends the structure a sense of permanence and immovability. Even the stained glass is set in frames of stone, and the light fixtures are suspended from thick chain.

"It can have a very awe-inspiring effect," Prafcke says. "It's a very formal space. It's hard to be informal in this space."

The pulpit is elevated as a way of lifting up the reading of scripture and the preaching of the word, says associate pastor Mary Holtey. An empty cross at the front of the sanctuary references the resurrection of Christ.

Prafcke calls it a "magnificent building. It just is." She says, "Brides like to walk down this aisle."

Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary


619 7th St. N., Fargo

Date: 1899 (completed)

The symbolism built into the Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary begins with the shape of the elegant structure itself. From above, the church takes the shape of a cross, says the Rev. Chad Wilhelm, rector at the cathedral.

From the ground-level perspective, this red-brick structure, which was completed in 1899, has an upward thrust. The steeple, arched windows and structural components over the doors all push skyward.

It's a structure that points "up to God," Wilhelm says. And, in that visual motion, is the idea of being connected to God and "brought into his love."

The first few feet into the sanctuary are canopied by the choir loft so that there is a sense of the space being closed before worshipers emerge to find themselves under a towering ceiling. It is a physical representation of God opening up and inviting the people into himself, Wilhelm says.

Visually, the layout of the sanctuary takes worshipers' eyes toward the altar, tabernacle and crucifix, which are central to the Catholic Mass.

A dozen pillars stretching from the sanctuary floor to the ceiling represent the 12 apostles, Wilhelm says, and the circular shape that some of the windows take references Jesus as "Alpha and Omega" and the idea that with Christ, there is "no beginning and no end."


Even the cathedral's Romanesque style itself carries significance; Wilhelm says it reminds the people of the "ancientness of the faith."

"It ties us to our past," he says.

Christian Science Church

21 9th St. S., Fargo

Date: 1914 (cornerstone laid)

"Christian Scientists in Fargo ... looked to the Mother Church in Boston for guidance, choosing the Neo-Classical style, which had been used there," says a 1975 guide to Fargo-Moorhead architecture.

Like the Boston edifice, the Christian Science Church in Fargo boasts bold columns that remind one of the ancient Greco-Roman worlds and incorporates a dome-shaped structure atop the building. From left to right, the structure is symmetrical, both inside and out.

Christian Science was founded in 1879 and is based on Mary Baker Eddy's interpretations of the Bible. It's a faith without a great deal of ritual, congregation President Vicky Sieben says. There is no ordained clergy and no formal communion.


In that sense, it's one of those churches that speaks by its silence. The structure is regal, but not highly ornate. Simple arches rise toward the ceiling, and sharp, dignified lines decorate the interior. Sieben sees the simplicity of the structure as fitting for the non-ritualistic Christian Science faith.

Further, Christian Science places a strong emphasis on the spiritual over the physical, which would also seem to fit with a structure composed of clean lines and simple curves.

The building is currently on the market. Sieben says it's "more than we need, and we'd like to just simplify."

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