The Anglican church where I worship recently observed the yearly Feast of Dedication for their church building. This is one of the major aspects of high church practice that I still stumble over, coming as I do from a low church background–the belief that the church building is, in some important sense, consecrated and holy, and that it is in fact somehow also “the Church.”
Perhaps there is a way around the stumbling. All Christians in a sense recognize that certain spaces are dedicated to God. Even Quakers treat a certain spatial arrangement (usually a circle) as important to their spiritual meetings. We are also all aware of the analogy between church buildings and the living church. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood,” St. Peter tells us. So perhaps it is not misguided to think that the outward church building participates in the inner church life.
So the high church liturgy does, in a way, strike the right chord. In fact, I suspect that many of the descriptions which my Anglican fellow-worshipers seemed to ascribe to the church building were also (or “really”) ascribed to the living church itself. One of the hymns we sang is below. It is over a thousand years old, and it is rooted in Scripture. Read it with the living church in mind, rather than bricks and stones, and you will see how holy a thing the Church is.
* * * * *
Only begotten, Word of God eternal,
Lord of Creation, merciful and mighty,
List to Thy servants, when their tuneful voices
Rise to Thy presence.
Thus in our solemn Feast of Dedication,
Graced with returning rites of due devotion,
Ever Thy children, year by year rejoicing,
Chant in Thy temple.
This is Thy palace; here Thy presence-chamber;
Here may Thy servants, at the mystic banquet,
Daily adoring, take the Body broken,
Drink of Thy chalice.
Here in our sickness healing grace aboundeth,
Light in our blindness, in our toil refreshment;
Sin is forgiven, hope o’er fear prevaileth,
Joy over sorrow.
Hallowed this dwelling where the Lord abideth,
This is none other than the gate of Heaven;
Strangers and pilgrims, making homes eternal,
Pass through its portals.
Lord, we beseech Thee, as we throng Thy temple,
By Thy past blessings, by Thy present bounty,
Smile on Thy children, and with tender mercy,
Hear our petitions.
God in three Persons, Father everlasting,
Son co-eternal, ever blessèd Spirit,
Thine be the glory, praise and adoration,
Now and forever.
~ Anonymous, 9th cent., trans. Maxwell Blacker (1884)
Tune: Rouen a Rouen