St Augustines: High Church Remembered

My view from the pew

For the first third of my life I was Catholic, in what I would call a nominal sense. My family would attend church on occasion, and a little more than just Christmas/Easter, but would decide between two churches: one a few minutes down the road, one about thirty minutes away. With myself and two younger siblings the choice really depended on whether we were up, dressed and out of the house in time for one or the other. It was there I was baptised for the first time (the second time was a little different and years later) and later where I had my first Holy Communion. After the age of 9 I distanced myself quite dramatically from the Church as a whole, and more so Christianity.

This is why, it has been a remarkably long time since I have really been part of what many would call “High Church”, and what others would call “smells and bells”. St Augustine’s is not Catholic, but neither am I, and this is not a post meant to criticise, appraise, or preach the ways of the church. This is just a record of the things I noticed whilst visiting the church.

The first, understandably was the architecture. The building had a boldness and beauty which was unavoidable but it did not feel overdone. It didn’t look to me like someone had designed it in praise of themselves, or a person, or of wealth. As you walk in the pillars reaching skywards are tastefully decorated with floral sculpture, most evidently biblically-based. Lilies grace one whilst opposite vine and fruit wrap around the marble above the congregations heads. Architecture of churches has intrigued me due to the history of biblical symbology in the design. Some designs would include four pillars to represent the 4 gospels, other 12 to represent the disciples, others the 14 stations of the cross. I must say I didn’t count the pillars, but the dome, painted with images of images praising was enough to bring forth visions of heaven.

Although the liturgy is for more formal than I am use to, the words were refreshing and certain points caught me unaware and forced me to focus, pray and listen. The choirs voices echoing around the space was beautiful, but I have often questioned the need. Sometimes I feel that watching others worship in a practiced way feels too theatrical, but I know it helps others so I won’t complain.

The lasting effect of the service was the smell of incense, it’s slightly bitter sweet smells ebbs into your mind. Visually the smoke as it rises connected to prayers or Spirit  rising gracefully to God, but I did wonder how many no that, how many connect it to anything more than formal church services? As it dissipated into the air around I wondered whether something similar could ever work in a less traditional setting. The smoke and smell reminded me of prayer rooms where candles were lit to take people through the night shifts. The problem is how to introduce aspects like this into the liturgy of other places, would it be accepted, understood. Should it even be suggested or is it too much pic’n’mix for a legitimate expression of church?

Bursting into the sun after the service I didn’t know whether I would be attending again. Although the people were lovely, the church beautiful, I didn’t feel quite at home. That phrase “at home” I feel rather self-conscious in using, but it’s the only way I can express my issue. Something was needed to pull my soul back there, something needed to entice me in, reveal something to me that made me feel as if it was somewhere I should be, for myself and the church. I guess I will just have to pray and explore, seeing where my spiritual feet lead.

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