A Priest to the Temple — The Parson’s Church

In our ongoing Herbert Festivall, I present you…

CHAP. XIII. The Parson’s Church.

THe Countrey Parson hath a speciall care of his Church, that all things there be decent, and befitting his Name by which it is called. Therefore first he takes order, that all things be in good repair; as walls plaistered, windows glazed, floore paved, seats whole, firm, and uniform, especially that the Pulpit, and Desk, and Communion Table, and Font be as they ought, for those great duties that are performed in them. Secondly, that the Church be swept, and kept cleane without dust, or Cobwebs, and at great festivalls strawed, and stuck with boughs, and perfumed with incense.

Thirdly, That there be fit, and proper texts of Scripture every where painted, and that all the painting be grave, and reverend, not with light colours, or foolish anticks. Fourthly, That all the books appointed by Authority be there, and those not torne, or fouled, but whole and clean, and well bound; and that there be a fitting, and sightly Communion Cloth of fine linnen, with an handsome, and seemly Carpet of good and costly Stuffe, or Cloth, and all kept sweet and clean, in a strong and decent chest, with a Chalice, and Cover, and a Stoop, or Flagon; and a Bason for Almes and offerings; besides which, he hath a Poor-mans Box conveniently seated, to receive the charity of well minded people, and to lay up treasure for the sick and needy. And all this he doth, not as out of necessity, or as putting a holiness in the things, but as desiring to keep the middle way between superstition, and slovenlinesse, and as following the Apostles two great and admirable Rules in things of this nature: The first whereof is, Let all things be done decently, and in order: [I Cor. 14:40]The second, Let all things be done to edification, I Cor. 14 [:26]. For these two rules comprize and include the double object of our duty, God, and our neighbour; the first being for the honour of God; the second for the benefit of our neighbor. So that they excellently score out the way, and fully, and exactly contain, even in externall and indifferent things, what course is to be taken; and put them to great shame, who deny the Scripture to be perfect.

How many church buildings have you walked entered a thought, “What a dump!” And how many have you entered and thought, “This is inspiring!” Herbert’s hope is that we encounter more of the latter, but I fear we live with lots of the former. One friend of mine went a church recently, and she told me it looked like a run-down museum of 1950s culture.

Why do we allow this? Mostly, it’s complacency. We get used to our own junk, so we stop seeing it. Here’s a good fix: invite one of your honest friends (preferably not a church-goer). Ask them to walk through the church and tell you what they see. You’ll be surprised. “That bulletin board looks cluttered.” “The church seems filthy.” “Those felt banners are hideous.” “This furniture is lovely.”

The cleanup work can be fun. When I started at Christ Church, we had a “Dumpster Party.” One Saturday morning, over 20 people showed up, and we filled a Dumpster in two hours. Easy. And no one has missed any of the junk we threw away. We got a closet and a classroom back for program use. Our church balcony can hold the bell choir now. Then a few weeks later, we had a “Scrubbing & Scones” party on a weekday. Because it was during the summer, entire families showed up, and we scrubbed, dusted, and cleaned our church interior from top to bottom.

Oh, sure, there’s still work to do here. It’s an ongoing struggle. Now that I’ve just re-read Herbert, I’m freshly inspired to organize a cleaning/trash social event. These things bring people together, and the church looks better. Many people have commented on how the church looks better than it has in quite some time. And most of the difference is de-cluttering.

Why does it matter? Because God matters. Because liturgy matters. Some people who would not serve Christmas dinner on a dirty table seem to have no problem with a cluttered, dirty church, and that’s not right. When we clergy insist on a decent, orderly church, we are teaching and living the fact that what we do and how we do it is of great importance.

(Full text of A Priest to the Temple is here.)

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