Traveling in rural England a few years ago with my family, I suggested we stop to look at a church I had read about in our guidebook: “Its oldest parts are Saxon and the whole building breathes history.” With the three kids in the backseat, we followed narrow lanes seemingly back through time, farm fields close by on either side looking little changed from the Middle Ages. An easy-to-miss marker directed us to turn right, and we parked in an empty field. Clambering over a rise, we came upon the humble stone edifice of St. John the Baptist Church. Inside, altar rails, an imposing pulpit, and high box pews of varying sizes (“the ecclesiastical equivalent of cattle pens,” I was amused to read later in another guidebook) haphazardly crowded the space. Graceful stone arches flowed in a regular pattern throughout. The walls revealed layers of ochre paintings made over the centuries.We were delighted to find embedded in one wall a carving of the Madonna and Child, the hand of God hovering over her. A pamphlet told me it dated from the Saxon origins of the church. Out in the churchyard was a Saxon preaching cross, the place from where itinerant priests spoke to the local populace before the building was built in 1250. I later learned that this little church in Ingelsham was much loved and gently restored in 1877 by William Morris, poet and craftsman, known for his reverence for everyday objects.
My memory of this ancient church and its physical evidence of changing worship practice over centuries came to me as I served as editor for this issue of God’s Friends. The writers in this issue invite us to think freshly and boldly about the spaces in which we gather to proclaim the Gospel. Randall Warren tells the story of how the people of his parish removed the pews and renovated their hand-me-down building in a process both painful and empowering that, like the Eucharist, led them to a moment of transforming physical and symbolic action and renewed communal life. Karen Fraioli’s congregational processions through their neighborhood free them from the confines of a building and a predictable liturgy. In a photo essay on the renovated Philadelphia Cathedral, we see Richard Giles’s call to the roots of our Christian faith in which the community of the baptized is the primary symbol of Christ. And Donald Schell probes the meaning and effect of the ordering of worship space. He urges us to let our church buildings express Jesus’ bold message that the holy love of God is everywhere, within our reach and touching us all the time.
—Tracy Haughton, Issue Editor