Church is, by its essential component, people.
Yet, when any people gather together with a common purpose, they inevitably develop objects that helped them focus their attention. The tangible objects allow us to experience something abstract with our full senses–touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste. These objects are all around us in daily life, and quite acutely in our liturgical life on Sunday morning.
Objects are tools that allow us to transcend our own individual identity by connecting us to the larger community of which we are a part. We use them to maintain continuity with our past and, at times, focus our attention when we are distracted.
None of these objects are sacred by themselves. All are formed by common minerals and materials before being shaped by artisans and laborers working together with a common purpose. Our community then supplies the significance to these objects to use them for our spiritual development.
The objects in our worship are also alive. The stained glass in our windows are a slow-moving liquid that morphs throughout the day as lights from the outside world filters through its pigment. The pipes in the organ dance as they vibrate, to the point where they must be periodically re-tuned to their original tone. The wood in our pews stretches in the summer heat and groans as their joints age. The plants that surround the stage inch toward the light each week and literally feast upon our exhaled prayers and worship.
Each can show us something of how their dedicated life inspires our own.
The tapestry quilt, for example, shows us a hazy image of a cross, which can remind us that the vision to follow our faith does not provide precise clarity. Or that each piece of fabric finds its identity as part of the community, rather than in isolation. Similarly, the masonry brings together four distinct styles in cement, stone, brick, and tile into an eclectic set of relationships to produce one sanctuary- foundational, organic, structural, and ordered. The flame, carried by the Acolyte and set upon the Table, is another living object. The flame symbolizes the light of God that joins us in our community to inspire us and leads the way from our time together out of the sanctuary and into the world. We use this symbol in Children’s Worship and Wonder, in Bible study, and in personal prayer to help us acknowledge the divine presence among us when we gather.
We are very much like these objects. We are made of common elements, shaped by our experiences, made sacred and alive through our dedicated faithfulness to living in the Way of Christ. We give meaning to one another and can demonstrate how to be attuned to our worship and service in ways that we would not discover alone.
Experiment: Look for some of the objects used in our worship and consider how they have come to be part of our church (what is it made of? Where does that come from? Who made it?). What lessons can you learn from its journey to us?