The first thing to remember when you enter St. Peter’s church is that you are welcome! No matter where you are in life, no matter where you on are on your journey with God, you are welcome here. “So you are no longer strangers or foreign visitors: You are citizens like all the saints, and part of God’s household.”(Ephesians 2:19).
The Church is people. The Church is not a building made of wood and brick, but made of “living stones.” People are the living stones that hold St. Peter’s together (2 Peter 2:5). Yet, within the architecture, art and symbolism of the Church, we can see a reflection of God’s Kingdom. The symbols in a church building here on earth can mirror and reflect in a small way God’s Heavenly Kingdom. A church should in all things be a little piece of heaven on earth. Here is a brief guided tour of St. Peter’s church and a “map of heaven.” It is a meditation on St. Peter’s little piece of the Kingdom of God in here in Oshawa.
God bless you and enjoy the trip!
St. Peter's Church.
Baptismal font. The wooden top is removed when in use.
Our journey begins in the foyer of the church called the narthex (Greek “small box”). You will notice the holy water basins called stoups and the Baptismal Font are close to the entrance of the church. This is a symbol reminding us that we enter the Church and begin our journey to God through our baptism.
Baptism is the starting point of that journey, so as we begin our journey into the church, we bless ourselves by making the Sign of the Cross with holy water as a tangible reminder of our identity as Christians. It was also an ancient Christian custom to wash your hands in the fonts as a symbol of washing away all the things that might prevent us from being in communion with God and our neighbour.
Stoup containing holy water
An icon of St. Peter.
In the narthex you will also see a print of the Blessed Virgin and Christ Child, and an icon of St. Peter our patron saint. Peter and Mary are two examples of how God chooses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.
“I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’" (Psalm 122:1)
Going through the narthex doors, you have entered the Nave where all the pews are. The word “Nave” comes from the Latin word “navis” meaning ship. The Church has been portrayed in art as a ship moving heavenward. Its pews are seen as a ship’s benches where all the members are thought to be pulling together. Look straight up and you will notice the roof beams resemble the belly of a ship pointing heaven wards.
The centre aisle, leading from the narthex all the way to the Altar, symbolizes our journey on the straight and narrow road that leads to God(Matthew 7:14). Although the journey to God might be confusing and tough, remember we are not alone in that journey. We are supported on either side by our fellow Christians in the pews. As well, we are supported by the prayers of the saints above (Hebrews 12:1-2). At St. Peter’s, your path to Jesus is not made alone. The Nave symbolizes the Church here on earth.
In the centre of the Nave, you will see two staves with crosses on the top of them. These are called Warden's staves or wands. In ancient times, churches did not have pews. Wardens would use these poles to help part the congregation to make way for the clergy and choirs’ processions. They symbolize the authority and leadership roles that the parish has invested in the Wardens of the parish. The Warden’s Staves are a reminder that in the Anglican tradition, responsibility and authority of the Church is shared with the laity.
A Warden's stave.
Stations of the Cross
“If anyone wished to be a follower of mine, they must leave self behind, they must take up their cross and come with me.” (Matthew 6:24)
Around the walls of the church are 14 small plaques of the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross originated in early Christianity when pilgrims walked the path that Jesus took when he carried his cross through the streets of Jerusalem. In the Middle Ages when pilgrims couldn’t go to the Holy Land to walk the original “Way of Sorrows”, they started putting them in their churches. The Stations of the Cross are best described as a meditation and a way for us to prayerfully walk the way of the cross with Jesus. The Stations of the Cross are usually done during Lent, but may also be done at any time of the year. They are a reminder that to be a Christian, we must share the weight of Christ’s cross and follow him.
One of the fourteen Stations of the Cross positioned around the church.
"Our Lady" of Walsingham
Our Lady of Walsingham
“Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you … of all women you are the most blessed and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:28,42 )
On the wall to your left, you’ll see a small statue of the Christ Child and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our statue comes from the famous Anglican shrine of the Virgin Mary in Walsingham, England. This statue, as well as the other images of the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout the church, remind us of Mary’s crucial role in our salvation and her example of discipleship. We honour Mary because God honoured Mary in choosing her to be the mother of our salvation - Jesus Christ. We honour Mary as the first disciple of the New Testament and for her example of faith and courage in following the will of God.
The Lectern and Pulpit
"Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
As you walk up through the Nave, you will see on the left the pulpit, and on the right the lectern. Both are places for reading and proclaiming the scriptures. Lectern ( Latin, “ to read”) is where the lessons from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are read, as well as the Prayers of the People. The Gospel(Greek, ”The Good News”) is the story of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is usually read from the centre of the church. This symbolizes three things: first, the teachings of Jesus are to be at the heart and centre of the community. Secondly, it reminds us that Jesus still comes to be among and to teach his disciples(Matthew 18:20). Thirdly, carrying the Gospel out to the people reminds us that we are called to bring the Gospel out into the world. “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
From the pulpit the Good News of Christ is reflected on by the clergy or others in a sermon.
The crucifix (a cross with the body of Jesus on it) that hangs on the pulpit reminds us that we are always to “.. preach Christ crucified..” to all the world. (1 Corinthians 1:23)
The pulpit with a crucifix.
“Sing to the Lord, you servants of his. Give thanks to the remembrance of his holiness.” (Psalm 30:4)
Traveling along our “little road,” we come to the chancel, the elevated area after the nave where the choir and organist are located. Chancel comes from the Latin “to sing”. The chancel and choir symbolically represent the Church in heaven where the angels and saints forever sing the praises of God around the heavenly altar (Revelations 4). The chancel reminds us that the Church does not pray alone, but does so with the whole company of heaven.
The chancel is just in front of the altar to one side.
“I have gazed upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory.” (Psalm 63:2)
Walking up through the Chancel, we arrive at the end of our journey and the goal of every Christian - sanctuary - the place and time to be at one with God. Week by week we come here to receive a foretaste of God’s kingdom in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. The Sanctuary is the area which contains the Altar, a cross, the Tabernacle and the Bishop’s chair. It is separated from the main body of the church by the Altar rail. Sanctuary comes from the Latin “sanctus” meaning holy or sacred. This is holy ground.
The Altar Cross
“Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 JB)
Every organization has a logo or a symbol by which you can immediately recognize it. The logo for the Church is the cross, and it speaks to us of love. Love embodied in the life of Jesus is the motto of the Church and so, appropriately, the Cross is front and centre in the church building.
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35 JB).
The Altar is the holy table where we celebrate Jesus’ sacred meal of bread and wine, the Holy Eucharist, the central act of worship in Christianity. The Altar, like a kitchen table, is a meeting place. It is here through receiving the Eucharist we meet and are made one with Jesus. By sharing one bread and one cup of wine we are made one with our brothers and sisters in and through Christ. The Altar is a place where heaven and earth meet in the weekly miracle of the Holy Eucharist. It is the family dining table of the Church where all are one and all are welcome.
“I am with you always, to the end of time.” (Matthew 28:20 NEB)
The Tabernacle is the small box on the Sanctuary wall which contains the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist - the Body and Blood of Jesus. Tabernacle means “tent” in Hebrew. It refers to the portable tent temple and later the great stone Temple in Jerusalem. The Tabernacle was believed to be the “Holy of Holies” and the special place where the Divine Presence of God chose to dwell among his people. As Anglicans, we believe in the mystery of Christ’s Real Presence in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist and the Tabernacle is used to reserve the Blessed Sacrament for Communion for the sick and for times of private prayer.
The Presence Lamp
The Presence Lamp is the white lamp which burns in front of the Tabernacle. This reminds us of the lamp that eternally burned before the presence of God in the Jerusalem Temple, and helps us to remember the Presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament.
The Presence Lamp and Tabernacle
One of the Sanctuary lamps
Sanctuary Lamps and Candles
The many candles in the Sanctuary, around the church and the three red hanging lamps remind us of the lamps that burned before the Presence of Christ in St. John’s vision of Heaven (Revelations 1:12-16). They also remind us of that Jesus’ words: “I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5)
The Stained Glass
“He is the image of the unseen God.” (Colossians 1:15)
The three stained glass panels above the Altar show from left to right:
A woman washing the feet of Jesus with perfume and drying them with her hair (see John 12:1-8)
Mary, the mother of our Lord, and the disciples gathered in prayer as Jesus ascends to the Father (see Acts 1:1-14)
The Resurrected Jesus meets Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday (see John 20:1-18)
The stained glass panels behind the altar.
To the left and right of the Sanctuary hangs a seasonal banner (eg. Lent, Easter, Christmas) or the Glory of Christ banner (installed during the parish's 50th anniversary in 2008) and the banner of St. Peter, our church’s patron saint. In his hands St. Peter holds the Keys to the Kingdom ( Matthew 16:13-20) and our church. Holding our church in his hands symbolizes that he continues to uphold St. Peter’s church in his prayers in the Communion of Saints.
The "St. Peter" banner.
The "Glory" banner
The Bishop’s Chair
“We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” (The Nicene Creed, BAS page189)
To the left in the Sanctuary is the large wooden Bishop’s chair. The Bishop is the chief shepherd of the Church and is a living link to the Apostles and the teachings of the early Church. The Bishop’s Chair is sometimes called a Bishop’s Throne. It is also called a cathedra (Greek “chair”) from which we get the word cathedral - a bishop’s home church, the symbolic “seat” of his or her authority and the “mother” church of all the parishes in a diocese. When the Bishop is absent, the parish priest sits in this chair and celebrates the Liturgy (the Church’s worship services) in the Bishop’s place.
The Bishop's chair
In our brief journey around St. Peter’s church, we have a metaphor of our own spiritual journey to God. Symbolically we all have come from the “outside” and have entered the Church through our Baptism. In our journey of faith we are supported by our fellow Christians, we worship with the angels and saints and we come to be in communion with Christ and each other at his Altar.
May God bless you on your journey and may you be a blessing to others.
Permission is granted to use and replicate this or parts of this article with the following ascription, "From an article by Dean Rose, St. Peter’s Church, Oshawa, Diocese of Toronto."