Someone asked me recently, “If your church disappeared tomorrow, what impact would that have on your community?” In other words, what does All Saints offer to the community that is unique? As I pondered that question one thought kept coming to me: We offer to the community a view of the beauty of God. Three hundred years ago, the most beautiful buildings in the world were churches, the most beautiful pictures were painted using Biblical themes, and the most beautiful music was written to the glory of God for use in the church.
So where has beauty gone in the American church? We have traded our organs and choirs for rock bands and light shows, our altars and pulpits for tables and bar stools. Rather than stunning cathedrals that took decades to build we now have pre-fab steel buildings that go up in a weekend. We have rejected beauty and called it ostentatious or garish. We have cut corners on houses of worship in order to have more money for "ministry." But did we ever stop to think that perhaps things that are beautiful can actually be ministry?
Somewhere along the way Christians gave up on beauty. It simply didn’t seem practical anymore. The Church had more important things to do. We needed to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and spread the Good News of salvation, and in the midst of such noble pursuits an elegant tapestry or a beautiful symphony just seemed like a waste of time and resources. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these things are unimportant. Far from it! We have spent the past few months at All Saints trying to discover how we can do all of these things more effectively. My point is that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice beauty for the sake of the Gospel. In fact, we do ourselves a huge disservice if we do.
When I first met my wife 25 years ago, the thing that initially attracted her to me was her physical beauty. Her long, curly hair, dark eyes, and infectious smile inspired me to approach her and get to know her better. These things drew me in and allowed me to experience the more substantial things about who she really is as a person. But her physical beauty reflected to me her inner beauty. In a similar manner, beauty in the church can reflect God's magnificence and glory back to us. It can inspire us to come in and learn more about who this God is.
At All Saints there is beauty all around us. Every time I tell people where I go to church, the first thing they say is, “That is such a beautiful building.” It is hard to walk into our facility and not get a sense of the beauty and splendor of God. Our recent art galleries, organized by Deacon Robert, have brought people in from all over the community to enjoy some amazing pieces of artwork that reflect God’s beauty and love for us, and our liturgy continues to serve as a reminder of God’s order and grandeur in the world. As we look to the future we have plans to expand our music program to provide not only high quality music for worship but also a regular series of public concerts and events that proclaim the glory of the Lord.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” and Psalm 96:9 says, “Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!” Part of what it means for us to be created in God’s image is that we are creative beings. God has imbued us with the ability to not only create beauty, but also to appreciate it, because it draws us in to his own creative beauty. Eating a ham sandwich may fill our stomachs, but gazing upon a beautiful painting or walking into a beautiful church will fill our souls. I am so excited to be part of a church that understands the importance of beauty. But we must remember that we are not owners, but rather stewards of these gifts we have been given by God. Let us always seek to use them for God’s glory, sharing them with our community, that we might draw them in to the ultimate beauty of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Rev. Eric Zolner
Father Eric is a 3rd generation Anglican and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO.