Sunday, February 3, 2019

Beauty as Expression and as Tutor. . .

I received for Christmas a wonderful green stole made for me by Ecclesiastical Sewing.  My wife arranged it all and I was taken aback.  When you get to my age, you don't often think of new vestments but of what will happen to your vestments when you retire or die.  But this was more than a gift of a stole.  This gift brought with it a renewed sense of the role of beauty as the way we express our faith, hope, and joy and the role of beauty as tutor or teacher of the faith.

Sadly, when buildings are built for sacred use, most of the attention and money goes into the structure and budgets are typically very tight.  In the end, people wonder if there would be any money left for such things as a sturdy organ to support the congregational song or chancel furnishings of substance and beauty or a crucifix of weight and stature or paraments and vestments that give visual cue to the Church Year and each Sunday within its cycle of feasts, festivals, and ordinary time.  So what happens is that too often these things are left to the future when it is presumed money might become available for such non-essentials.  And that is how we think of beauty -- a non-essential. 

Architects often short change the chancel (it ought to be at least one third the size of the nave) and forget the lesson of history -- thinking the commission is a time for them to be creative instead of remembering that they are designing space for the liturgy, space that will be used for the Divine Services for generations to come.  Creativity has its place but there is something to be said for the lessons learned from the whim of design that does little to benefit the future of the church and the wisdom of tradition.  More often, architects have little understanding of the liturgical spaces they create, in particular the chancel.  It is treated more as a stage than holy ground and little thought is given to the particular furnishings and their appointments.  In the end we tend to purchase these off the shelf, looking through furniture catalogs and picking things out that fit the budget but may not fit the purpose or space all that well.  We end up with tea cup size baptismal fonts that do not fully express the significance of baptism or the dignity of this means of grace, altars that are really communion tables too short and too small to be fully usable for their special purpose, and pulpits that emphasize preacher instead of preaching.

Ecclesiastical Sewing was not in business when our building was conceived and built.  I only wish that we had been able to use their services then.  We certainly did not fail to honor the Lord's house with art and beauty nor did we shortchange the paraments and vestments used in the liturgy but neither did we have the rich offerings of their particular work, in collaboration with artist Edward Rojas, to produce vestments, paraments, linens, and other sewn appointments of beauty that not only express the faith well but teach the faith through stitch and symbol.

They have a wonderful blog you can survey -- in which they both explain and chronicle the history of ecclesiastical sewing and their own enterprise.  You can read it here.  I highly recommend them.  They are not inexpensive.  I say this not to warn you of the price tag but to remind you that these things are in service to the worship of God's house for many years and they are sturdy as well as carefully and wonderfully crafted.  They will be a blessed part of the Church Year lived out in worship and song and complement the fullness of all that you do in devotion to the Lord.

Beauty is not a luxury for those who can afford it but essential especially to those who struggle with circumstances and situations that try the faith and test the heart's trust in the goodness of the Lord.  So if you are building or purchasing paraments or picking out vestments, strive for things of beauty, well constructed, and with ornaments that complement the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments administered.  The rewards will be worth the cost.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Absolutely stunning! Love the Luther Rose pattern through out. Excellent 6 Chief Parts. I am so going to work hard to get my congregations Altar Guild to use this company. CM Almy is fine, like Gaspard's Reformation designs, but this is so above and beyond. I am happy you are sharing this with us.