Among all the wonderful photos that exist of beautiful liturgies in beautiful churches, among my favorites are ones that show neither. A quick Google search of images from “mass during war” yields picture after picture of both priest and platoon risking their lives in an open field or in a formerly solid church, now feeble and barely standing. I love these pictures because they show the beauty of worship and the faith of the warrior. The adoration of God is portable with the person. We can be in a cathedral or on the hood of a Jeep and God is duly and equally glorified.
I keep these pictures in mind whenever thinking or discussing practical needs with a church building. The issue of need is relative. All we need is bread, wine, and one other person to have a valid mass. In the picture above, the priest has no church and no altar. He placed a piece of wood on top of two barrels. For pews, the soldiers used the rubble beneath them. With this in mind, I am not ignorant to the relevance of need.
For the Church, our battlefield is of a different kind. We are not engaged with militaries armed with bullets and bombs. We are engaged with hearts and minds that are fortified by cynicism and conceit. When it comes to the practical needs of the church building, I think we must consider the practical needs of teaching, showing, and deepening faith in Our Lord Jesus. So while we may have all the parts to do what is required, we may not always have all the parts to do what is requested by the liturgy. I want to address just one example today.
This past Christmas Eve, I was very glad that three or four of our shelter guests joined us for Midnight Mass. After being outside all day, it was quite an effort to stay up to midnight. They left after the homily (I hope because of the time and not because of the content!) and later reported their experience to Katie Bryant. What did they think about our worship? The were confused that we didn’t have Bibles in the pews and they were curious about the “bird bath” near the back. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not belittling our baptismal font. As I mentioned last week, two of my own children have been grafted into Christ’s Body from that font. The point, rather, is that the font by itself was not intelligible to our visitors. Its purpose wasn’t clear. It the purpose wasn’t terribly clear for our guests, it may not be terribly clear to our members. I’m not suggesting that newcomers should understand everything about the theology and practice of baptism just by looking at the font or the area that surrounds it, but it should be very clear that something powerful and spiritually real happens here. It should proclaim that this space is different from every other space and it should invite the questions of wonder. I wonder why this space looks so different. I wonder why there is water in the stone. I wonder why this candle is so large and why is set apart. I wonder why there are oils present and I wonder what they are for. Currently, there is no place for the paschal candle, the holy oils, or a permanent place for our font. In addition, our font is really only suited for the baptism of infants.
I can’t remember how many baptisms I’ve done since arriving at St Timothy’s. I think the number is near 150. As much as we celebrate this Sacrament, we can do more elevate the importance of Christian Initiation through our art and architecture.
These are practical concerns that can easily be addressed that move beyond “do we have the right parts?” to “are the parts we have, right?”
As we look at our current space, there many practical areas to be addressed. There are issues dealing with sound, lighting, electrical, and space (particularly the choir loft). These are the ones that speak to having the right parts. Then there is the baptismal area and the altar, which I’ll address next week. These are the areas that seek to ask if the parts we have are the right ones.