DIXON – If it were 20 years ago, the shape of a church in Dixon wouldn’t have become the topic of discussion – locally, nationally and even internationally – that it has.
Because of Google maps, the new Christian Science Church of Dixon, 324 W. First St., can be viewed from the sky. And from that aerial view, its shape – which resembles a penis – has sparked local and Internet discussion.
Because of social media and blogs, talk about the aerial photo started to make its way around the Internet at the end of October. In the weeks since then, church officer Scott Shepherd said, the church has become the subject of not only good-natured, sophomoric jokes but also a form of bullying.
“The Internet has great capability for good,” he said in an interview this week, “and great capability for gossip and destruction.”
Asked whether the church now intends to alter the shape, Shepherd answered, “None whatsoever,” adding that he doesn’t see what others think they see.
“We didn’t design it to be seen as what they’re seeing,” he said. “And we didn’t design it to be seen from above.”
The church was designed by an architect, Shepherd said. The shape came about because the church wanted to have part of the building near the intersection of Highland Avenue and Second Street, plenty of windows for natural light, and a sanctuary, which is the eastern part of the building. But the church also wanted to preserve a large oak tree, which can be seen in the Google maps image, so the decision was made to curve the building around the tree.
John McLane, a licensed architect for 40 years who is currently working on other projects in Dixon, said he and another architect had previously worked with the church on a design, but not what is being built. They parted ways with the church after they were unable to come up with an agreement on a design, he added.
He said it’s “a little bit of a stretch” to say the church shape resembles what others suggest. It was probably an accident, he said, and an architect wouldn’t necessarily have noticed the shape while designing it.
“I doubt it, ...” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s gotten the publicity; that’s probably being looked by the church as negative.”
Construction on the church is expected to be finished in December, Shepherd said. He is now adding a storage shed, and some interior work needs to be completed.
Two years ago, there was a different version of the church on the land. But the Environmental Protection Agency ordered ComEd to dig up and remove century-old contaminated soil on the property. The church accepted about $750,000 from ComEd and agreed to have the old church demolished to make way for a new one, Shepherd said.
Almost all of that money is gone, he added, which means the church won’t have enough to finish the electrical work for the organ to bring it up to code.
The discussion about the church the past few weeks hasn’t been what Shepherd and the church wanted it to be. Shepherd said he considers the negative and derogatory comments, while not the majority, to be a form of bullying.
The shape of the building and the attention it has attracted have been discussed among the six church officers, Shepherd said, and they decided not to alter it or to respond to the discussion.
The church did, however, recently post a message on its Facebook page that said, “Giant fig leaf coming soon,” and also posted a photo of a leaf covering the church, in an effort to play along with the good-natured “joke,” Shepherd said.
Comments take a toll
But the negative comments have taken a toll, and Shepherd said some have been directed at the church, the city of Dixon, and Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science religion.
Despite what he called a distraction, Shepherd said the church is determined to carry on with services once the new church opens, and he wants the building to be a place where people of all faiths can talk about what they have in common.
“I feel sorry for them,” he said of the people posting negative comments. “Jesus didn’t tell us to turn the other cheek to take more abuse. He told us to turn the cheek so we won’t behave like these people.”