This is None Other than the House of God and Gate of Heaven

By Rev. Canon Stewart Murray, Incumbent at St. Barnabas, Ottawa

October is a busy time in the life of parish communities. The full schedule of activities and programmes is well underway after the hiatus of the summer and people are returning energized and even excited about what is happening in their church community. I have always found that, after visiting other parishes over the summer, I return to my own with some new ideas drawn from what others are doing and with a deeper appreciation for the uniqueness of my own community. One of the gifts that visiting other parishes gives is that I have come to appreciate the variety of church buildings that are part of our Diocese – from contemporary to traditional, with pews and without, multipurpose worship spaces to historic and picturesque. Each building reflects its unique history and the people and communities that built them and still use them. Often I have simply taken for granted the churches and the facilities that have been part of the landscape of our Diocese for over a hundred years.

On the fourth Sunday in October, the BAS and BCP provide readings and propers for the Feast of Dedication. This feast is to celebrate the dedication of our churches to the worship and praise of God; it is a celebration of the history of our parishes and of the ongoing ministry and witness of the community. It is an opportunity to draw inspiration and lessons from our particular parish history to encourage and strengthen our witness to day and into the future.

Have you ever thought about the sacrifices that people made to give a tangible expression to their faith in Christ by building the churches in which you have worshipped?

From my time at St. Richard’s – now Julian of Norwich – I was inspired by the stories of people planting a church in the suburbs in the 1950s. I have been inspired by stories of the sacrifices made by people who built St. Matthew’s and St. Barnabas during the Great Depression. Similarly, the pride of people in Vankleek Hill and Huntley in their churches as a sign of their confident faith and of the importance of the church in the life of their local communities was inspiring. This summer, I was moved by both the beautiful church and the people of St Paul’s Kanata, who in faith built a church to serve not only the current needs of the parish but the future growth of the community they are part of.

It is true to say that the church is people, not just a building – but our church buildings are a focal point for the community to gather for worship and to grow together as the Body of Christ. Hardly a week goes by that I do not receive a phone call from a group looking for space in which their Christian community can meet. They realize that, without a dedicated place to gather, the community will struggle to come together and grow. Our buildings are also a tangible expression of the presence of God in the midst of the world. In the built landscape of our communities, churches are a constant reminder of deeper values and of the spiritual heritage that has shaped our communities.

I invite you to take some time to learn about and appreciate the rich legacy that our churches have given to us. Take time to thank God for the faithfulness and sacrifice of those who have gone before us, and for the inheritance of faith that our church buildings are an outward and visible sign of. Take time to appreciate the beauty of the churches that continue to inspire and challenge us to be faithful witnesses in our day.