Have you ever stood inside one of our church buildings and wondered what stories it could tell? Why is the font at the back of the building while the altar is at the front? What is that funny bulge in the brickwork or opening half-way up an internal wall?
Last weekend, in the course of 48 hours, I conducted a baptism, a wedding, a funeral and a service of Holy Communion. Life began, continued and ended – with several pointers to eternal life beyond. Each service in a different building; each building with features that contributed to the moment. In all 8 of our buildings, the font is at the back, near the entrance. This, at times inconvenient, placing is deliberate. Just as you can’t enter the building without negotiating the font; so too, the Christian journey begins with baptism.
The font is not a comfortable resting place. Our eyes (and feet) are soon led to the altar, and the celebration of Jesus’ self-giving. But this is not a place to linger either. Here we are fed and from here we are sent back out into the world – to serve. The church building, then, is a place of journey, but it also offers a place of rest. A kitchen unit speaks of hospitality; a prayer desk in a side-aisle reminds us to come aside and rest a while. There are quiet places to sit. All this is intentional; the story of salvation told in wood, brick, stone and glass.
All sit amidst the graves of past generations. At a freshly opened burial plot I recently read, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God. Where the altar and our breaking of bread remind us of Jesus’ life and death; these words, written centuries before Jesus by the anonymous writer of the Book of Job (Job 19:25, 26), testify to God’s promise of resurrection. A promise fulfilled first on Easter morning; a promise we claim at each eucharist and each time we lay someone to rest.
As well as the story we want to tell, there is also the unwitting testimony of history, the history of the people of the parish down the centuries. Riches and poverty, fervent faith and indifference, welcome and rejection; all this and much more encapsulated in the building’s fabric. These are not museums but living structures proclaiming the gospel and holding up a mirror to our own lives.
Next time you are in your church take a few moments to look and listen; what story is it telling now? What is your part, my part in that story?
Rev’d Philip Payne Trinity 17
The Notice Sheet for 9th October can be found here