The Building

The Building

The Building of Calvary United Methodist Church

The Calvary United Methodist Church building has an intentional design, built with a purpose to be used by the people who are the church, to be used to empower us, to be forgiven, to hear God's direction for our lives. It is space to be used for fellowship, for instruction, for growth, for progress in our journey as Pilgrim people. We want to be aware of not only the people who have helped make this structure possible, but also of the thought and reflection that went into building this building in the way that it is.

 

Narthex

The fellowship area on the other side of the kitchen and around the fireplace is very purposeful. It is there because we believe it is important for Christians not just to come in, worship, and leave immediately, but also rather to greet each other, take time with each other, and meet each other person-to-person.

There are many other purposeful parts of this structure that are going to continue to shape us after we have shaped them, and we want to help each other be aware of what those elements are.

Centrum

First, the space that we are in for Sunday Worship is called not a Sanctuary but a Centrum. That is an intentional word: Centrum, from the word "center", the central gathering place of the Christian community. It is space used for worship, to be sure, but also for other purposes - for fellowship, for drama, for dinners and potlucks, for musical events, for political forums. Part of the philosophy at Calvary UMC is that this church's building is a community resource and a multi-use building, not just available for two hours on Sunday morning.  It is for us to use in many other ways besides worship. Ways that will glorify God and point people toward Him and toward His Kingdom.

Sometimes the word "Sanctuary" can mean an escape place, a retreat place, a place where we can get away from the world. Stephen Davis said, "When Christians worship, we do not leave the problems and challenges of our life and try to escape from them; we bring them here to look at them in a new light."

Sometimes the word "Sanctuary" implies that this space is somehow holier or more sacred than the fellowship space on the other side of the wall, or the education space, or the office space, and other parts of our building. Alternatively, that this space is somehow more holy than your living room or dining room.

The biblical witness is that it is not the space that is holy, it is the God we worship here and elsewhere who is holy. This space is no more sacred than any other space because God is present wherever we are; that is the significance of that veil, that curtain over the Holy of Holies, being torn in the Temple at the death of Jesus.

We use our Centrum for the center of our life together. We use it for our worship time and for other purposes as well. God is not just interested in religion; He is interested in life and in how you and I respond to life as people who belong to Him.

The Cross

This space is called the Centrum, and at the focal point of our visual interest in here is the cross. We expect to see crosses in Christian buildings. The cross means many things to us - it reminds us of the extent to which God has been willing to go to reach out to us, to show His care for us. The empty cross is a sign of promise, a sign of hope, and God's power even over death. It is a plus sign, reminding us God intends something good for us, something positive for us, something life­ affirming for us instead of something full of judgment and negativism.

Maybe its most powerful reminder is that this faith that we claim is a costly faith, something that requires us giving ourselves away, offering ourselves to God.

This cross is intentionally designed not to be elegant, not to be so pretty that we forget that the original cross was an instrument of execution, torture and death. It is designed to be very plain, very rough, and very rugged; to help us live out a faith that is costly, a faith that is vulnerable to other people, and a faith that requires risk.

The Altar Table

The other focal point visually for us in this room is the massive altar table here around which we gather. A few months after the Centrum was added on and in use, there was a wedding held in the building with a family that was not part of our church. One of the questions the mother of the bride wanted to talk with us about was whether we could move the altar table for the service up onto the platform and put it against the wall as she had seen in so many other churches. Rev. Dr. Harvey Martz had to say no - the position of the altar table was very purposeful. It is there in the center of the room, or close to the center, because it is designed to be more of a table than an altar, though it functions as both in our United Methodist tradition. An altar in the Old Testament worship was a place of blood sacrifice, a way of getting right with God through the sacrificial offering one would bring to Him. When you see an altar in a church building up against the back wall, it is meant to be an altar, and not as much an altar table.

The table emphasis comes from the New Testament when Christians gathered for worship to celebrate the Lord's Supper. That was their first act of Christian worship - to do what Jesus had said, "To eat and drink, and remember Him."  Therefore, the first act of Christian worship was around a table, as a family.

Think about it in terms of your own family life.  Where is the center of your family life?  Where is the place in your house where your family acts out their closeness, their relationships?   For most of us, that is around a table - a kitchen table or dining table. Perhaps it is in a family room or a living room, but for most of us, when we gather as a family, most frequently it is around our table.

This table is very intentionally in the midst of us, and we are gathered around it in this semi-circle to say that we are a family, to let us be united and brought closer together around it as a family, as a church. The table is a reminder also that the Kingdom of God, the reign of God, the harmonious relationship with God that Jesus offers to us is very often portrayed in the New Testament as a feast.

The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a banquet to which all are invited, but some people thought they were too busy to come. The Kingdom of God is as if a King who wanted to give a party - a feast - for all that would come. God wants to do something good for us, something bountiful, abundant, and positive for us. That is the first part of His good news. This table is a reminder of that feast of love - of right relationships, that abundant life for which Christ frees us and in which He nourishes and feeds His people.

The Stained Glass Windows

The Centrum itself, the cross, rough and plain, the table in the center, the windows with the rainbow imagery. The rainbow is the symbol, Genesis says of God's covenant, the sign that God will not let the waters of chaos overwhelm us and destroy us. That covenant mentioned in Genesis is the first of many covenants in the Bible - the first of many promises and agreements between God and His people. There is a covenant with Abraham to make Abraham a great nation, to give Abraham and Israel land, to bless them that they might be a blessing. There is a covenant with Israel that God will be their God if they will be His people. If they will obey His commandments, He will be with them. There is a covenant with David later on.

The covenant mentioned in Genesis is a promise that God will prevail over chaos. That is what water symbolized for Judaism: chaos, meaninglessness, confusion, darkness, disorder. It is significant that when God creates the Heavens and the Earth in Genesis I, what He does is bring order out of chaos, separate one body of turbulent water from another. That is the significance of Jesus walking on the water in the gospel story; it is Jesus walking on top of the chaos, the disorder, the confusion, the turmoil of life. God promises to be victorious over chaos and to help us to be victorious over chaos. The rainbow is the reminder of that promise, that first covenant mentioned in the Bible.

If you look closely, you will see the rainbow appears to be tipped “out” – towards the back of the Centrum and out to the north parking lot – instead of “in” – with the apex over the central cross.  Thus, the focus of the covenant is not focused on us, but on the world around us.

The Exterior Cross

The Centrum itself, the cross, the table, the rainbow windows, and finally the outside symbol that we cannot see until we leave this building. It is the closest part of our building to the street - the huge exterior cross that is thrust toward that busy thoroughfare of Austin Bluffs Parkway where 25,000 to 30,000 cars pass every day.  That cross is a reminder that God is present here in this busy world.

The pastor of a large New York City church, whose spire and cross at the top of it was visible for miles in that city, once received a letter from someone he didn't know (not a member of his congregation) saying that they had felt suicidal a few days earlier, and as they looked out their apartment window and tried to get up the courage to end their life, they saw the lighted cross at the top of his church building. They decided that life could have hope and meaning and that God could bring them through the tragedy and the suffering they were enduring, and they wrote him to thank him for the visibility of that lighted cross which had saved a life.

Again, that cross is the closest part of our building to that busy street, thrust toward that street where business and hustle and bustle are typified - just as you and I are thrust into the world as God's people as well. Sometimes we say in our Benediction, "This worship service is ended, but our life in Jesus Christ goes on and on. We go now in His name into all the world; Let our light so shine and our joy be so obvious that all who see us will come to praise God."

A friend once asked the young William Penn, future founder of Pennsylvania, if he would take him to a Quaker Meeting - a Quaker worship service in London. William Penn took the acquaintance with him, and when he and the friend had sat through an hour of silence, the person who had come with William Penn asked in a whisper, "When does this service begin?" William Penn's answer was, "The service begins when the meeting ends."

Our service in our world begins when our worship time is over. Our worship time becomes a springboard to thrust us into that world - to act as if we belong to Christ so that God’s care and love will be made visible and real through our relationships. Our worship time together prepares us for that action. It is the means toward that end.

In that sense, worship is like a football huddle. The purpose of a football game is not to huddle. The purpose of the football game is to move down the field toward the goal and to score points. However, the huddle is a very important part of reaching that goal. In the huddle the players encourage each other, correct each other, pat each other on the back (or elsewhere), and get the signals and assignments for what they are going to do next.

The huddle is a means to an end. The purpose of a football game is not to huddle. We would not be very impressed with a team that just spent time in the huddle encouraging, correcting each other, getting their assignments, and then just go back to the bench.

Worship is like a football huddle. It is very important to gather for encouragement, for clarification, for getting our assignments. Nevertheless, worship time has to be followed by the service time, the time during the week when our assignments are being carried out. Our worship time thrusts us into the world as that exterior cross is thrust into the world.

Churchill said, "We shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us."  This building is going to shape us well into being the People of God.  Amen.