A Time to Build, Part III in a Series
Oftentimes when rectors write a series of articles looking toward the possibility of a building campaign, the focus is on a new structure. In my experience the structures have been “family life centers” or education wings. Important projects, no doubt, and we certainly have them at St Timothy’s, albeit we have a better “family life center” (Drake Hall) than an education wing. Practically speaking, however, these buildings are often the least used. Education wings are used on Sundays or maybe even on Wednesdays. Parish Halls or family life centers are used a couple of times a week for specific purposes. Again, I’m not discounting their role or importance, but I am saying that is not where, in terms of space and square footage, the Christian rubber meets the Church road.
The most traveled piece of real estate in any church is the path between the font and the altar. I mean that spiritually and physically. Spiritually, our entrance into the faith and the Church is through waters and Sacrament of Holy Baptism. That is why the font is placed at the entrance (west end) of the Church. It is one of the first things we see when we enter and one of the last things we see when we depart, intentionally so. We enter the Church through baptism and we leave reminded who and whose we are.
Each week we are strengthened by the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood. At the Eucharist, Our Lord’s self-offering on Calvary is made present to us. We are there on Good Friday. The Second Vatican Council wonderfully explained the Eucharist as “the source and summit of our life.” After initiation through Baptism, we find our strength for the journey and the destination of our journey through Christ’s Body and Blood.
Think about the slate path that is worn down every single day between the font and the altar. I think of that path as the highway in which we move in the very life of Jesus Christ. I think about the people that walk down that path on Sundays and during the week. I’ve watched brides walk down that path and I’ve led the bodies of beloved parishioners over the same space. I’ve seen baptisms and confirmations and I’ve seen the heavy steps of penitents on their way to confession and the subsequent lightness of their feet after receiving absolution. I’ve seen people angry as they come up for communion. I’ve seen tears. I’ve seen faith and I’ve seen doubt. The stone in our floor supports the whole of human experience in the thirty of so yards from the font to the altar.
Addressing our worship space, especially the font and the altar, makes the most practical sense to me in at least two ways. First it is the space that is used by the most number of people and the most number of times. In terms of practicality, this is the “high traffic area” and therefore needs constant attention. Secondly, this area is the invitation to life in Christ. The very fact of its presence is a constant invitation and reminder of our life in Jesus, not only to our own members, but to those who happen to visit on Sunday and those who walk in during the week. The font and the altar are who we are. We are people grafted into Christ’s Body and have received the washing away of sin and are strengthened weekly by the very Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Today (March 22) we commemorate on the Church Kalendar James De Koven. He was a priest and educator. He was controversial at the time because of his liturgical practices (he was called a ritualist) and was elected twice as bishop of two different dioceses. He did not, however, receive enough consents from other dioceses to actually be consecrated. At the General Convention of 1874, he said this, “You may take away from us, if you will, every external ceremony; you may take away altars, and super-altars, lights and incense and vestments; . . . and we will submit to you. But, gentlemen . . . to adore Christ’s Person in his Sacrament—that is the inalienable privilege of every Christian and Catholic heart. How we do it, the way we do it, the ceremonies with which we do it, are utterly, utterly, indifferent. The thing itself is what we plead for.”
As I wrote last week, we do not need anything to adore Our Lord. We plead for the thing itself. That is what is important. But to honor Our Lord with a holy space and to elevate that path between the font and the altar as the highway to God is indeed meet and right.