The layout at St Patrick’s 2015
This shows the so-called ‘corona’ suspended above the altar, itself octagonal. The icons were sometimes changed according to the liturgical seasons. The inside of the screen has icons of saints and angels, with Rublev’s Trinity at the eastern end. This icon serves as a focus, both as it were of the saints and angels, and also for the worshiping community here on earth.
Sadly, to my mind, although this ‘corona’ has some liturgical value, it fails to be all that it might be. It might almost be seen as functioning as much decoratively, as liturgically. One of its major shortcomings is that it simply hangs above the altar. It does not mark out a sanctuary area. This church layout, for all its many merits, simply has the altar standing in the midst of the nave. Properly, a church needs three distinct, though inter-relating areas: an outer area, sometimes called a narthex, where the world begins to approach the church; secondly, a nave, where the community of the church gather so as to be formed into God’s holy people; and thirdly, a sanctuary, where the Kingdom and this world meet. No one can simply jump from this world into the holy place. Surely enough God wants all people to be gathered into the life of the Kingdom. And indeed, the Kingdom is immanent; it is ‘pressing in’ on time and this world. But the Kingdom is also transcendent, and unless there is at least some awareness of the transcendence of the Kingdom we shall not be able to make an appropriate response. (This is where repentance and conversion come in.)
The hanging icon screen which I suggested for St Patrick’s (see here) would have marked out this sanctuary and revealed it to be not simply a place where this world is equated with the Kingdom. Rather it would have been revealed as a place where God’s Kingdom, grace, and invitation were being revealed, so that the community witnessing this from the church (nave) could choose to respond to the divine initiative, be transformed and gathered in. (Significantly, in every service at St Patrick’s the Scriptures were always brought from the altar/sanctuary into the midst of people. This in itself demonstrated something of how, from the Kingdom, God’s Word was approaching and calling his people, looking to renew their vision and hope, and inviting their response.)
When the worship area was first reordered (1985–6) the pews were reused. After having first been removed (wrenched!) from their original siting, they were rearranged, two-deep, in large octagonal shape around the altar. Subsequently (around 2002) chairs replaced the pews. The chairs were marginally more comfortable, but perhaps something was lost when the pews went. Although I believe there is little to be said for pews when they stand in serried ranks, dozens deep, so that the immediate focus of attention for most of the congregation is the back of the heads of the rows in front, nevertheless, when the pews are in the kind of arrangement in which they were at St Patrick’s (only two-deep) no one is left looking at the backs of countless heads, there is perhaps this rather subtle advantage that pews have over chairs: there is something more ‘communal’ and less individualistic about pews than chairs.