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

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