Emmaus Fellow Elizabeth Marshall serves as a pastoral intern at St. Chrysostom's in Quincy. She preached this homily celebrating the work of Ralph Adams Cram, Richard Upjohn, Architects, and John LaFarge, Artist from Holy Men, Holy Women for their Wednesday Eucharist service on December 16, 2015.
When I was growing up, every time my family went on a trip near or far, my dad always made sure we visited the churches in the towns where we were going. He has always been a history buff and made sure to read aloud every bit of history and architecture that he could find about each space.
Now as a kid, I was rarely as excited or enthusiastic as he was about each church and would often sit down in a pew, tune out from all the facts that my father was rattling off, and be drawn into looking at any elaborate patterned design on the floors or ceilings.
I was 20 years old when my own curiosity led me into a church while I was travelling. I was spending the summer working for a Non Profit in Kisumu, Kenya. And Emmaculate, my host and Kenyan sister told me that her father had built a church nearby with his hands and was the pastor there.
So one Sunday morning, I decided that I wanted to see this church that Emmaculate’s Father had built. I got the directions to get there and found the church nestled in between several laundry lines, stray dogs, and small huts. The church was built of a few pieces of wood, slabs of tin, chicken wire, and a tarp, just in case the rain came.
There were no elaborate tiles on the ground or ceiling for me to sit and find the patterns in, but instead the members of the church had drawn fresh pictures and written words with sticks in the dirt. The ground was the foundation for their physical and spiritual structure.
After I witnessed the congregation and the beautiful spirit in the space during their time of worship, I had a chance to speak with Emmaculate’s father. He told me, “We built this space especially for God to enter. And he doesn’t just enter, but he lives here and it is very special.”
Recently, I asked my own father, “Besides the history of each space, what drew you to always taking us into churches growing up?” He replied, “There’s beauty in seeing how each artist and builder can communicate their images of God to the world.”
I learned a few weeks ago that this space has a connection to one of our Holy Men for today. My bet is that most of you know that Ralph Adams Cram’s architecture firm, Cram and Ferguson designed St. Chrysostom’s. It was built shortly after he died so his personal role in the building of this church wasn’t huge, but his neo gothic design and style was extremely influential in how this space came together.
If you look around now at this beautiful church of St. Chrysostom’s, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of representations of connections to God. Each stained glass window was not only designed and installed by people who drew inspiration from somewhere larger than themselves, but also tells a story of a holy figure or saint and their connection to God. The high ceilings give spaciousness for the spirit to dwell in our midst. And, the prayer that happens here through us and that has happened here for years through all that have entered tells the story of our own connections to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That energy of prayer deeply impacts this community in this space and will continue to do so for years to come.
Architects, artists, and builders have given reminders all around us to bring us back to the real reasons we are here. When Jesus and God are the purpose and cornerstone for any space, no matter where it is, no matter what it’s made of, no matter if there are elaborate tile patterns on the floor or ceiling, the spirit of the space will never be destroyed. When our foundation is rooted, nothing can separate us from the eternal love that is given from God. Amen.