narthex, sanctinasium, Goditorium

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Do you remember when you first heard the word “narthex” and wondered what on earth it was? If you think that’s a strange word for part of a church building, how about the even more unusual words “sanctinasium” and “gymuary”?

definition of narthex, sanctinasium, goditoriumNarthex is one of those words that even long-time Christians joke about as being hard to understand (see the citations under narthex in the definition below). But narthex has one big thing going for it: because it’s a standard architectural term, it’s defined in pretty much any decent dictionary you pick up. Does the fact that narthex is in the dictionary stop Christians and non-Christians from making fun of it? No! The only thing funnier than the word narthex is the weird shape your mouth makes when you say vestibule.

And speaking of dictionaries, there’s no point getting out your Webster or Random House for today’s other Christianese words. You won’t find them there at all.  These next words we’re going to look at are what linguists and lexicographers call “blended words,” also known as portmanteau words. Blended words that are formed by combining two or more other words together to make a single word. (For some great additional examples of blended words in Christianese, have a look at all the blended denominational words such fundagelical and presbycostal.)

As the etymologies in the entries below will show, you can combine sanctuary and gymnasium and come up with sanctinasium, sanctunasium, and sanctuasium. These are all words for a large multipurpose room that doubles as a sanctuary on Sunday mornings and a gymnasium the rest of the week. It’s the same pattern with combining gymnasium and sanctuary: this results in gymuary or gymtuary.

Now here’s a question. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been on the team that sets up all the chairs and other church stuff in a gymnasium early on Sunday morning? Now raise your hand if you’ve been on the team that folds up all the chairs and packs up all the equipment after the church service is over. If you have one or both arms up, then you are definitely getting some jewels in your heavenly crown!

Finally we have Goditorium. As you can guess, this is Godauditorium. This happens to be the oldest of this small group of words, appearing in print as far back as the 1950s.

What other names do you know for a church’s multipurpose room?


narthex n. A lobby (or vestibule or foyer) in a church building that one goes through in order to enter the sanctuary (or nave or auditorium).
The term is in regular use by several mainline Protestant denominations, including Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists.
The noun narthex is well defined in college dictionaries, so the citations below illustrate only the ironic or self-conscious use of the word.
See also *concourse.
2009 Smith Every Monday: Finding God on Tough Days 69 : As we entered the church narthex (Christianeze for church entry way) no one greeted us. We stood in that icy climate—both physical and relational—for more than twenty minutes with no one present saying a word to us! 2010 Rissinger The Crucified Church 34 : When I first came to the church, people would mention “the narthex” and I honestly thought it was some kind of extinct bird on display in a back room somewhere. Eventually, I discovered that “the narthex” was the lobby in the front of our building. To his credit, in the interest of making the church more palatable and “homey” to visitors, one of our pastors began calling the narthex the “lobby.” 2013 Thomas Letters from Ruby 000 : Calvin … vaulted into the church. He found himself in the dark narthex, which is what church people call entryways in order to confuse newcombers, he thought, grinning to himself.
sanctinasium n. [sanctified + gymnasium, from the idea of converting a gymnasium into a sanctuary by “sanctifying” it through the addition of church equipment such as a stage, pews, a cross, and a baptistry] Also *sanctunasium (or sanctuasium); *gymtuary; *gymuary. A large multipurpose room at a church that serves as the church’s sanctuary and its gymnasium.
See also *Goditorium.
1992 Caes Caring for the Least of These: Serving Christ Among the Poor 78 : But when they needed new facilities, they replaced their traditional sanctuary with a “sanctinasium”—a multipurpose facility where they worshiped on Sundays and played basketball and ate potluck dinners during the week. 1998 Gaylord Herald Times (MI) (11 Jun.) C13 : The building will have an office, nursery, classrooms and a “sanctinasium” with removable seats, which will be used for services on Sunday and for other activities the rest of the week. 2000 Bowman, Hall When Not to Build: An Architect’s Unconventional Wisdom for the Growing Church 177 : A “sanctinasium” is a room that can be used for a wide range of functions from worship services to basketball…. Though basically a gymnasium, the facility includes a platform, stage, and baptistry so that it also serves as the worship area and fulfills a variety of other purposes. 2004 (14 Sep.) : How many Protestants worship in sanctuary/gymnasiums (we called ours the sanctinasium)? 2013 Coupe There Is Always a Reason to Dance: Work as If the Lord is Your 131 : The congregation size was approximately 400-500, and we gathered in the “Sanctinasium” for worship service after Bible study classes. This facility was a full gymnasium during the week, and was very actively used.
sanctunasium n. [sanctuary + gymnasium] Also sanctuasium. Syn *sanctinasium.
2005 (1 Jul.) : They have a sanctuasium, or a gymuary. 2007 (6 Nov.) : I called it a “sanctuasium,” and it worked equally poorly as both sanctuary and gymnasium! The church was great, but the building was not. 2008 (30 Aug.) : Our church services are held in a functional, windowless gymnatorium, or sanctunasium, as we like to call it. 2011 (20 May) : For the first 3½ years on Sunday mornings the church leased Memorial Hall in Blanchette Park in St. Charles. Later, it moved into the vacant Blackhurst Elementary School on Elm Street; parishioners called the worship area the “sanctunasium.”
gymuary n. [gymnasium + sanctuary] Syn *sanctinasium.
1992 Compton Growing New Churches: A Manual for New Congregational Development 27 : Many new congregations realize that they do not have the facilities of most existing congregations; therefore, they have to develop humorous and creative ways of talking about their multi-purpose space. Christ Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is worshiping in a multi-purpose room that is a regulation size high school basketball court. The congregation laughs at whether to call the room the “Sanct-a-gym” or the “Gym-uary”!
gymtuary n. [gymnasium + sanctuary] Syn *sanctinasium.
2007 (14 Aug.) : The Rev. Bill Bandy, project manager for the addition, said the “gymtuary”—gymnasium and sanctuary—will be 50,000 square feet and since work began in March, has employed between 1,000 and 1,500 labor hours.
Goditorium n.
1953 Berrey American Thesaurus of Slang ¶328.3 : A church auditorium. 2010 Cousineau Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words 136 : A goditorium is slang for a church, the place where one listens to a godbox, a rare but colorful term for a church organ.
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