I had the rare privilege of worshiping ‘without strings’ today: a church I’d never been to, with people I’d never met. I went because I’d heard good things about them. I went because as I pondered the church I usually attend for it’s beauty, music, incense and ritual, I knew I couldn’t face the old language. I went because at the last minute when I thought ‘no, I’m going somewhere else’ this church’s web page showed me exactly who they were, and convinced me that I wanted to join them.
It was good.
It was very good.
Even though there were times when things were chaotic, when I was getting frustrated with some of what was going on around me, still God was present, and the liturgy cohered. (is that a word?)
I suspect I will blog about different aspects of the service over the next week. But let me start with something unexpected:
St Thomas’ was a familiar sort of building — the same size and shape arches many of us live with in Scotland, thought the church felt pleasantly wide for its length. But whereas in Scotland we are likely to have arches of stone, here, it is all wood. So there is always a question of how you will balance all that dark gleaming.
Many a church I’ve seen in the States has been painted in light colours, and you can tell when it was last painted by which colours are on show. Now, we’ve all seen good paint and bad paint, colours which help and colours which hinder. But the effect of white paint and dark wood was interesting.
I was very aware that if one wanted to show off the building one would make a different choice — pick out the fine line of the arch in gold, perhaps, or use shades of colour to emphasis height and depth.
Instead, the white walls emphasised the shape of the space — literally created a ‘space’ that felt open and full of potential: a bit like a ‘black-box’ and a bit like an art studio. A space in which things were happening, and might happen.
It might have felt like an empty space, but even as you walked in you could see ‘things going on’. The church was draped in Lenten array — and that is not a visual I like– but there was a fabulously large bolt of cloth draping the nave cross and swooping out towards the west door. I didn’t find it beautiful, but I found it dynamic. Here was a community who had shaped itself for the season.
In the North transept, the white was broken by a thousand paper cranes hanging on thin wire, creating a canopy of movement and colour. I wondered if it might be where the font was (which would have been unusual, but I hadn’t yet found it), but in fact it was the quiet play space for young children. It reminded me of the stars in St Mary’s Cathedral, but had the advantage of depth of field and movement, visible from almost all parts of the church.
This time, I did think the effect was beautiful, and it made me wonder what was going on there — what the story was for those cranes.
In most regards the space was fairly traditional — pews, nave altar, choir, east altar– but simple things that were well done raised both questions and expectations.
And all that before a word was spoken or a note sung…
quite wonderful really.