Saturday, November 30, 2013

“I could not rest until I found a church like that”

Frederick Buechner was a guest lecturer at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL in the fall of 1985. While doing so, he attended St. Barnabas. He later wrote about his time here:

I also found myself going to an extraordinary church or, with my rather dim experience of churches back home, one that was extraordinary at least to me. Its name was Saint Barnabas, and it was located in a small town nearby called Glen Ellyn. It was described to me as an evangelical high Episcopal church, and that seemed so wonderfully anomalous that what took me there first was pure curiosity. What kept taking me back Sunday after Sunday, however, was something else again. Part of the service was chanted at Saint Barnabas, and I discovered that when a prayer or a psalm or a passage from the Gospels is sung, you hear it in a new way. Words wear thin after a while, especially religious words. We have spoken them and listened to them so often that after a while we hardly even hear them anymore. As writer, preacher, teacher I have spent so much of my life dealing with words that I find I get fed up with them. I get fed up especially with my own words and the sound of my own voice endlessly speaking them. What the chanting words did was to remind me that worship is more than words and then in a way to give words back to me again. It reminded me that words are not only meaning but music and magic and power. The chanting italicized them, made poetry of their prose. It helped me hear the holiness in them and in all of us as we chanted them.

. . . .

They also used incense at Saint Barnabas. They censed the open pages of the Gospel before they read from it, and even in the midst of a midwestern October heat wave, the church was suddenly filled with Christmas. The hushed fragrance of it, the thin haze of it, seemed to say that it is not just to our minds that God seeks to make himself known, because, whatever we may think, we are much more than just our minds, but to our sense of touch and taste too, to our seeing and hearing and smelling the air whether it is incense that the air is laden with or burning leaves or baking bread or honest human sweat. “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” says the 34th Psalm, and it is not just being metaphorical.

. . . .

And I remember too that the last time I attended a service there, there were real tears running down my cheeks at the realization that the chances were I would probably never find myself there again. When I got home, I thought I could not rest until I found a church like that.
Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets,
(New York: Harper San Francisco, 1991), p. 82-86

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Reading" St. Barnabas V

This is the last in the series of reflections on the symbolism built into the worship space of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Sanctus Light & Tabernacle
The Sanctus Light, or Presence Lamp, which hangs behind the altar, burns when there is any "reserved sacrament" near the altar. The Reserved Sacrament is Bread and/or Wine which has been blessed, but not consumed, at Holy Eucharist. The Bread is also called the “Host” from the Latin hostia which means victim.

The reserved Sacrament is kept in the wooden Tabernacle suspended beneath the Sanctus Light.
In our sacramental understanding, God uses physical objects as means of conveying grace. The bread and wine, once consecrated at the Eucharist, continue to be active agents of grace and are worthy to be reserved and venerated.
It is customary to bow reverently when passing by the Reserved Host as an acknowledgement of the presence of the Holy Gift.

Stained Glass Windows
St. Barnabas has two stained glass windows. Like the Baptismal Font, Altar, and Processional Cross, these were designed by liturgical artist, Richard Caemmerer.
The stained glass window behind the altar is the Pentecost Window. This window depicts the flame of the Holy Spirit and the flames that danced above the heads of the disciples in the Upper room on the first day of Pentecost. May that same Spirit enflame the community that worships here.
The stained glass window at the entrance is the Resurrection Window. This window conveys a sense of dynamic upward sweep that culminates in a crown, signifying that Jesus Christ is risen as Lord of lords and King of kings. It reminds us that every Sunday is an Easter celebration of the resurrection, the foundation of our faith and hope. May it encourage us to live as resurrection people.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Reading" St. Barnabas IV

Another in a series of posts identifying some of the symbolism in the worship space of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Like the Baptismal Font, the altar was designed by Richard Caemmerer. It is the focal point
of our worship space representing the centrality of worship at St. Barnabas. Those who were here at the building’s groundbreaking tell us that the first spade of dirt was turned where the altar was to be. Unlike many churches, St. Barnabas intentionally has one altar and one main cross (the processional cross) emphasizing our unity around the one sacrifice of Christ.

The theme of eight recurs around the altar. The railing has eight sides, and the brick foundation of the altar is three tiers with eight sides each. This reminds us again that as we receive the Sacrament we are incorporated into the promise of the eighth day and new creation.

The Lantern
Above the altar is the "Lantern", a circular, lit, white pointed ceiling drawing our eyes upwards to “the things that are above” (Colossians 3:2). The white circle, with its two rings of light, represent the purity, light, and eternity of heaven.

Below the lantern is an uneven circle of wood representing the world as we know it – uneven and broken by sin. Sixteen wooden beams (8X2) radiate from that uneven circle making it into a symbol of the Crown of Thorns Jesus wore at his Passion in which he identified with and transformed the brokenness, suffering, and sin of this world.

Processional Cross
The St. Barnabas processional cross stands next to the altar reminding us that the Eucharist is a participation in the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  The cross was also designed by Richard Caemmerer.

On the horizontal arms of the cross are the Greek letters, Alpha and Omega (the equivalent of A and Z), reminding us that Christ is first and last, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 1:8)

At the top of the cross is the Chi-Rho, an ancient Christian symbol made of the first two Greek letters in "Christ" – ‘X’ and ‘P’ (rho, or ‘r’ in Greek) - superimposed on each other.

At the bottom is another ancient symbol, a Christ monogram. It is a combination of the ‘I’ (iota) and the ‘X’ (chi), the first letters of Jesus Christ in Greek.

In the center of the cross is the body of Jesus – the corpus (body). The presence of the corpus makes this a crucifix. It is a reminder that in the incarnation, God came to us enfleshed as a human body. In the Passion, Jesus shared in real bodily suffering; and in his resurrection, Christ rose bodily from the grave conquering death and establishing the promise of new creation.

The placement of the cross next to the altar signifies that the Eucharist is always a participation in the one sacrifice offered by Jesus. And it reminds us that we can bring all our needs to the foot of the cross and that we are called ourselves to take up the cross and follow Jesus.

"Reading"St. Barnabas V

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Reading" St. Barnabas III

This is the third in a series of post looking at the symbolism in the worship space of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL.
Circular Seating
The seating is circular reminding us that God calls us into community where we are bound to one another. The pew design – open at the ends – underscores our mutual connection. We sit together such that we see one another even as we direct our attention toward the altar. Thus, we hope to discern the body of Christ both in the bread and wine of Eucharist and in the members of the gathered body of Christ.
This arrangement reinforces the fact that Christian worship is inherently communal. It is neither entertainment nor the activity primarily of the clergy. It is performed by everyone gathered. Liturgy means the work of and for the people.  The word is Greek, a compound of the word for people (laos)
and the word for work (ergon). It was not originally associated with worship, but with any work undertaken or paid for by private citizens for the benefit of the people.  In the New Testament, Christ is said to perform a liturgy:  “Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry [the Greek word here is litourgia], and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6). Christ’s life of obedience, death on the cross, and resurrection is the Christian liturgy. It is public work done for the benefit of the people. Our service of worship is a “making present” and participation – together – in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. In worship, we appropriate Christ’s liturgy as our own and are shaped by it. Our worship space encourages that shaping.

The pulpit mirrors the design of the altar rail, reminding us that the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are fundamentally one liturgy. The pulpit repeats the theme of the eighth day and new creation. Of necessity, the pulpit is only half of an octagon, but it suggests the whole. It was designed by Fr. Matt Gunter in consultation with the Saint Barnabas Liturgy Commission.

The design of the pulpit reflects the importance of scripture in our common life. Attached to the front of the pulpit is a stand for the Gospel book, which is left open during the sermon, showing our intention to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The two candles on the pulpit symbolize the light of Christ and our hope that his Word will illuminate our hearts.

"Reading"St. Barnabas IV

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"Reading" St. Barnabas II

Continuing the series on the worship space of St. Barnabas, Glen Ellyn, IL where I have been the rector since January, 2000.

The Lion’s Head

Just inside the main doors, on the wall to the right, is a lion’s head. The lion is the classic symbol for St. Mark and is a reminder that St. Mark, Glen Ellyn was instrumental in the founding of St. Barnabas. Around the lion’s head is a reference to Acts 15:36-39 which refers to Mark’s companionship with Barnabas in mission. It recognizes that our congregation is part of a web of other congregations and that to be a Christian is to be part of a larger community and a longer story.
It also calls to mind Revelation 5:5, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.” 

The lion will make many at St. Barnabas think of C. S. Lewis’ Aslan.

 Eight Days a Week

One of the distinctive and pervasive symbols in the worship space at St. Barnabas is the number eight. Eight walls enclose the space and the octagon recurs in other places. For Christians, eight has symbolized the conviction that new creation has begun through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because it is the day of resurrection, Sunday became understood as not just the first day of the week, but also as the first day of the New Creation. As such, Sunday became known as the “eighth day”. In an early Christian text that was not included in the Bible, we read,

. . . when giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.

– Epistle of Barnabas, 15:8 (c. 100 A.D.)

Thus, worship on Sunday is a present invitation to enter into the new creation in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17). It is also a call to live in expectation of the new creation promised by God and inaugurated by Jesus. (cf. Isaiah 65:17-19, 22-25; Revelation 21:1-5)

Baptismal Font

The Baptismal Font, designed by liturgical artist, Richard Caemmerer, is one of three focal points, the other two being the altar and the pulpit. It is octagonal, symbolizing that through baptism we enter the eighth day and the beginning of the new creation.

However, the base of the font is a cross, reminding us that the Church’s one foundation is the cross of Jesus and in baptism we are summoned to take up our cross and follow him.
The baptismal font is placed at the center of the entrance to the worship space. This reminds us that “Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God” (BCP, p. 858). In the water of Baptism “we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit” (BCP, p.306). It is therefore customary to dip a finger or two in the water and cross oneself when entering or leaving as a reminder of our own baptism

Paschal Candle

The Paschal Candle stands near the Baptismal Font, except during Easter season when it is near the Altar. Paschal, derived from the Jewish Passover, is the classic term for Easter. The candle is lit when there is a baptism and reminds us that in baptism we have new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Light of the world. May the light of Christ gloriously rising dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

“Reading” St. Barnabas

For fourteen years I have had a love affair with the worship space of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Glen Ellyn, IL where I have had the honor of serving as rector. It is an unusually successful combination of contemporary and classic design. Though that design is deliberately simple, there is an abundance of symbolism “written” into the very structure. And there are other symbolic features as well. Recently, I completed a brief booklet explaining some of those feature. I’d like to share that here in a series of posts. Here is the beginning:

“Reading” St. Barnabas

What does it mean to “read” a church? Historically, churches have been designed not only for utility, but also for the edification of those who gather for worship. The earliest churches had paintings on the walls. Eventually there were also icons, stained glass windows, statues, banners, etc. But even the design and structure of most churches have been intended to inform the faith and worship of those who gather.

This is true of the worship space of St. Barnabas. Built in 1964, it was designed by architects Buderus & Sunshine. It received the top award “for excellence in religious architecture” given by the American Society for Church Architecture.

Our worship space is rich with symbolism. What follows is an explanation of some of that symbolism. Given the nature of symbolism, you will likely see other meanings. If you see them, rejoice and be edified.

Red Doors

It is customary, especially in Episcopal Churches, to paint the doors red. The reason for this is obscure. There are several proposed explanations. The most mundane is that once upon a time painting the doors of a building red signified that the mortgage had been paid in full. Red doors also remind us of the Passover in which God commanded the Hebrews to mark their doors with sacrificial lamb’s blood to protect them from his judgment on the firstborn in the land of Egypt. For Christians this symbolizes the blood of Jesus “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

Red is liturgically significant. It represents the blood of the martyrs calling us to lives of self-sacrificial love and discipleship and faithful witness (martus in Greek) to the good news of Jesus Christ. Red also represents the fire of the Holy Spirit. When we enter the church we place our lives in the sphere of the gift-giving Spirit who births the church and us as its members, who comforts, strengthens, challenges, refines, and transforms us. Red also reminds us that we are about to hear the Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit, read and proclaimed.

Jerusalem Cross

The windows of the doors leading into our worship space are etched with the Jerusalem Cross. This cross was first used as a coat of arms for the Latin Kingdom in Jerusalem during the Crusades. These remind us that the Church and its members have at times succumbed to the temptation of fear, power, and violence in ways that are unfaithful to the glad tidings of peace promised at the birth of the Prince of Peace. Thus, we are reminded that repentance is a basic Christian practice and humility a basic Christian virtue.

Still, the Jerusalem cross is a positive symbol: The larger central cross stands for the person of Christ and the four smaller crosses are the four Gospels proclaimed to the four corners of the earth, beginning in Jerusalem. Together, they symbolize our focus on Christ and our commitment to proclaiming his good news to the world. As we enter the worship space, they also remind us of the heavenly Jerusalem that is our hope and the worship in that City in which our worship participates.

"Reading" St. Barnabas II