A Pilgrimage through Christ Church
I’ve often experienced church buildings as places that have helped me see more of God or be more open to God’s presence. For instance, the intricate beauty of a church’s architecture can hint at the majesty and beauty of God, at least in some small way. As a new member of Saint Hilda’s House, I have not been at Christ Church long, but right away, I knew it would be a beautiful place to worship. I’m sure many have had a similar thought their first time walking into the church.
As a part of our Saint Hilda’s House orientation, Fr. Joe took us through the building of Christ Church and explained to us the significance of many of the church’s features. This was a great chance to see the meaning behind a variety of details that I otherwise wouldn’t reflect on too deeply.
For example, towards the top of the cover for the baptismal font is a pelican plucking its breast. I wouldn’t have taken much notice of this before (and certainly would not have recognized it as a pelican as opposed to any other bird), but I now know that it’s a Eucharistic symbol; as the pelican is shown feeding its children by plucking her breast, so Christ feeds us with himself. Fr. Joe also explained the church’s overall set-up. With the baptismal font in the back, different Christian virtues written up the aisle, and the altar in the front, the church is representative of a Christian’s journey, which begins in baptism and culminates in communion with God, which we experience in the Eucharist.
I also learned that the altars have five crosses marked into them to signify the five wounds of Christ during the crucifixion. Thinking about the symbol of those wounds in the altar helps to emphasize that the Eucharist is not only a celebration of God given for us, but is also a practice grounded in the reality (and, in some ways, brutality) of Christ’s crucifixion. The altar is not only a table, but is symbolic of a tomb as well. Christianity—and Christ Church itself—seems to challenge us to hold onto both sobering and joyous symbols, not as opposites but as things that work together to describe our faith and what Christ does for us. This point is reinforced by another observation Fr. Joe shared with us: on the crucifix behind the altar, Christ is crowned with an actual crown, not the crown of thorns. The images of Christ, even as he is hanging on the cross, show him as ultimately triumphant.
For me, the most personally significant aspect of the design of Christ Church is that it surrounds congregants with the saints. Fr. Joe showed us many examples of this, including: the pulpit which has small statues of Christian figures such as Augustine of Hippo, the saints shown in various stained glass windows, and the various people like Mary, Paul, and Peter depicted by the crucifix behind the altar. It’s so heartening to know that the Christian life, including all of its struggles, is not something experienced in isolation. It is something that, this year, I get the privilege of experiencing alongside my housemates at Saint Hilda’s House. It is also something that I will always get to experience in the context of all the Christians who came before me and who will come after me. I get a wonderful sense of this while in Christ Church.
I look forward to continuing to worship in this gorgeous setting and seeing how this building and this community shape my faith in the months to come!