Thursday, July 22, 2010

Anglican Values 6: The Beauty of Holiness

Anglican Values 6: The Beauty of Holiness
August, 1997

Roofs. Termites. Plumbing. Painting. Signs. Lawn sprinklers. Garage cleaning. The list of things we do for our church property is daunting, and this year the Vestry is determined to accomplish many projects we have known we need to do for some time. Work will be done. Inconvenience will be endured. Tempers will be frayed. Money will be spent.

Why do we care so much about the physical structure of the Church? A clergy friend of mine from another denomination explained to me once that in his tradition, the building is functional, a place to accommodate the real church, the fellowship of believing and practicing Christians. I was touched by his explanation. Sometimes I look around at the myriads of churches with very functional physical settings — rented warehouses, even — and have a sort of envy of their simplicity. But purely functional is not the Anglican way.

Back in the days when most Anglicans went to Evening Prayer, we regularly heard a verse from Psalm 96 at the beginning of the service: "O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth stand in awe of Him." Anglicans care about the physical beauty of the Church. For century upon century we have built the very best we were capable of, and in every land where our Church has been planted, beautiful buildings have arisen -- sometimes simple but soul-filling, sometimes gloriously complex — and places have been nurtured to be worthy of the worship of the Lord of Hosts.

There is something about the way architecture, light, music, vestments, liturgy, the ordered worship of the Book of Common Prayer, even landscaping, come together, that is characteristic of Anglicanism. It can be absolutely revelatory to a visitor if it is done well, with joy and lightness and filled with the Spirit. A person can be lifted up to heaven by all of this beauty ~ or so it seems. And many people have found the Lord in the Church's beauty, beauty which reminds them what they were created to be, the high and beautiful calling of human life in this wonderful world of God's.

There is of course a danger of relying on the beauty alone and not practicing the gifts of the Spirit in person, of formalism, ritualism, or worse, idolatry — the beauty becomes its own reason for being. And we trust God to protect us from the dangers of the path he has set us on.

At St. Michael's we are blessed with an extensive property and with two church buildings, one of them a historic treasure without peer in our part of the world. We are blessed with people who love our music, liturgy, and the beauty of our worship. Thank God for our Vestry's decisions. Thank God for those in the congregation who will step forward to help us pay for this important work. Thank God for the beauty He has given us. Let us worship Him indeed in the beauty of holiness.

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