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Reflecting Worship Style Through Furniture
By: Andrew Holland

Many churches today are choosing to reflect their modern style of worship through their selection of contemporary chancel furniture, including clear acrylic podiums, pulpits, and communion tables. One of the latest design trends is the use of acrylic products in sanctuaries. 

The clean lines and geometric shapes of acrylic furniture work well with both traditional and modern arrangements. Podiums are often the focal point of the sanctuary, and clear acrylic podiums remove the barrier between the speaker and the audience, allowing hand gestures and other body movements.

Non-verbal communication further communicates the speaker's message and helps to express feeling and sincerity. See-through furniture gives us a window into what the speaker is thinking and can give sermons a more dramatic effect. 

Acrylic sanctuary furniture is not just limited to podiums. Other pieces of chancel, including lecterns and communion tables, are also commonly constructed from acrylic. Items placed on the furniture appear to almost be floating in midair, creating a unique spiritual experience.

Matching acrylic tithe boxes and collection plates allow members to see the impact of their contributions. Acrylic may also be used in sanctuary skylights to allow in sunlight and save on energy bills. Unlike glass, acrylic does not transmit heat or cold. 

Acrylic is also very versatile in that it can be shaped using heat to create unique designs that would be difficult or impossible to replicate with glass. Famous aquariums around the world use thick sheets of acrylic because of its strength and clarity, and it is the preferred material for windows at banks because of its bullet-resistant properties. 

Additionally, acrylic is only half as heavy as glass and may be sawed, whereas glass must be scored. Unlike glass, scratches may be buffed out of acrylic using a light abrasive and polish solution.

Cheap forms of plastic can turn yellow, brittle, and even crack over time. However, when taken care of, acrylic can even last longer than wood since it is impervious to moisture. 

Polymethyl methacrylate (more commonly known as acrylic, acrylic glass, or by the trademark name "Plexiglas") is a synthetic polymer resin used in the construction of an array of products, including fish tanks, shower doors, and even airplane windows. 

Two basic types of acrylic exist: extruded acrylic and cell cast acrylic. Extruded acrylic is created using a less expensive process, is softer, and may scratch easily. Most furniture is constructed from a higher quality acrylic known as "cell cast." Cell cast acrylic has a transparency rate of 93 percent, making it the clearest material in existence. 

There are some misconceptions about acrylic and the way it is constructed. Acrylic is actually a very sturdy, resilient material formed by a process known as bulk polymerization. In this process, the monomer (methyl methacrylate) and a catalyst (typically an organic peroxide) are poured into a mold to allow the reaction to take place. These molds typically range in thickness from 0.5 to 6.0 inches and widths from three to hundreds of feet. The molds may then be cut, drilled, and molded into various shapes.

There are also no seams in acrylic structures. A chemical welding process takes place at the molecular level that actually "melts" the acrylic pieces together into one piece of solid material.  A solvent adhesive softens up both pieces of material and then binds them together. Joints that are welded and well-polished are virtually invisible to the eye. 

Another advantage of acrylic furniture is its versatility in shape, size, and even color. Acrylic glass may be tinted to match the surrounding color scheme or left clear so as not to block the audience's view. 

A variety of methods are used to add graphics to acrylic furniture, as well. Vinyl decals may be affixed to the front to display a church's denomination logo or even scripture. Graphics may also be sandblasted to give the glass a frosted look, although this method is more expensive. 

Another popular trend includes adding wood trim to the acrylic furniture. This works especially well when the stain is matched to the color of the pews or other wood furniture in the sanctuary.  Rope lights may also be affixed to the corners during night or outdoor services.
Acrylic is very easy to take care of if a few easy steps are followed. 

Rubber feet should be attached to the base to prevent the furniture from sliding or scuffing the floor. Acrylic should never be cleaned with a dry paper towel or squeegee, as they will scratch the surface. A diluted glass cleaner and a soft cloth work much better and will bring out the shine in the material. Fine scratches are, however, easy to polish out with a simple rubbing compound applied in a circular motion.
Andrew Holland is with Covenant Church Furniture, www.covenantchurchfurniture.com.

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