I enter the building five days a week, usually too preoccupied with my own agenda or worries or stress, taking for granted the pristine solitude all around me. But this day is different, this day I am on a mission, a mission to explore the assignment given to me by a friend and mentor – I’m going to stop and smell the roses.
Entering the cavernous room with huge vaulted ceiling, the silence is deafening. It’s like being in a different time, a different century, a different world. Closing the white, double swinging doors behind me, I tread softly onto the plush red pile of the carpeted floor – red like the blood of Christ - and I wonder if this choice of carpet color was intentional. Easing into the fringes of the room I reach the center aisle and behold the sanctuary in all its glorious splendor.
The first thing you truly notice about this house of God are the stunning stained glass windows lining the entire south side of the room and running along the back of the room – or is it the front of the room, since this is where the front doors are? Vivid colors of blue, green, yellow and red mingling together to form vignettes of crosses and prophets and other religious images, and I know from research these window were installed in 1883 – over 110 years ago. Pewter colored solder bonds each irregular color and shape of glass, telling me of the love and care and patience bestowed upon these precious, elaborate grains of sand.
As I take a seat on a back row, I am impressed by the pews of strong oak wood. Darkened with age, the wood still holds some hint of the golden blonde color that was probably present when the benches were constructed. Angled backs offer a comfortable seat and the worn wood allows for easy sliding along the length of the pew. Decorative wrought iron hangers are present along the backs of the pew in front, a place for visitor cards or special offering envelopes. As a throw back from days gone by, a small oval plaque is located on the center aisle edge of each pew, giving each row a number, probably a way to make the congregation accountable for their weekly attendance.
Toward the front of the sanctuary, the most impressive sight is the golden pipes of the organ hanging above the choir loft. Massive and sturdy, these pipes give a sense of the musical majesty the organ must bring to supplement the weekly worship service. Reminding me of something from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, pipe organs have always held a magical quality and my heart beats a little faster just thinking of the thick, throaty notes each key must produce.
Although the raised preaching platform with its high-back delicately carved chairs and podium should be the focal point for the front of the room, my eye is drawn a little lower to the altar on top of the communion table. The simple wooden alter only contains one item – a large, worn copy of the King James Bible, open to John 3:16 and marked with an exquisite bookmark. There is something about the yellowing pages of this massive book that brings back memories of my Granny. Although her Bible was only a standard size, the worn pages showed the same crinkliness of heavy use present in the church’s holy book.
There is one object near the front altar that I was ignorant of until three years ago – the tall marble baptismal font. Being raised in a Baptist church from cradle roll, I have only been familiar with the colossal baptismal located behind the choir loft and resembling a bathtub for Goliath. Although I have heard of “sprinklings” instead of immersion, I was oblivious of how these acts were performed. Since absorbing myself in the Presbyterian theology for the past three years, I’ve learned about sprinkling baptisms and communions by inntinction and I look at this marble container in an entirely new life.
Looking at the gray building from the outside, most people will recognize the church as a house of God, but it is not until entering the hallowed doors you get a true sense of the spirituality of the space. I was raised to worship anywhere I might be, not just in a holy building, but sitting in the cloistered silence with the rainbow of light bouncing off the stained glass, I know God is with me today, penetrating my soul as I absorb the beautiful sanctuary around me.