The church sanctuary was renovated throughout 2009 and rededicated at the beginning of 2010. Pastor Roger J. Gench spoke then about the theology of sanctuary renovation, saying:Presbyterians believe that the Word—that is, the self-communication of God in Jesus Christ—comes to us through a variety of media, and not simply through preaching. Thus, the architecture of the sanctuary should reflect the multiplicity of ways in which God is speaking to us in worship.
The newly renovated sanctuary of The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church continues to give the pulpit designed by George Docherty, minister of this church for a quarter century, the prominent symbolic space in the chancel. Indeed, because the pulpit has been moved forward from its former placement, it has an even more pronounced space within which to reside. Moreover, because the pulpit is closer to the front pews, it offers a more communal environment for the Word to come into our midst (see Philippians 2:5-11).
Yet because the preached word is not the only means by which God speaks to us in worship, other venues for the Word are emphasized as well. The relocation of the organ and choir highlights how the Word comes to us in a very special way through music. Theologically, moving the organ and the choir to the main floor emphasizes the communal nature of worship. The Book of Order suggests that the primary role of the choir is “to lead the congregation in the singing of prayer. They also may pray on behalf of the congregation with introits, responses, and other musical forms.” The Book of Order further indicates that “instrumental music may be a form of prayer since words are not essential to prayer.” Thus, the current placement of the choir and organ reflect and augment the significant role our Book of Order gives to music.
The Sacred Story in the Sacraments. The elevation of the communion table and baptismal font accents how God’s Word is revealed through the sacraments. Let us consider some background for these renovations. Among the theological documents that came before the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) was a pastoral letter that stressed how sacraments are God-given means of grace that can “strengthen the church’s ministries of evangelism and hospitality…[and]bring into clear focus the gospel’s call to ministries of compassion and justice.”
Several of the practices the letter recommends are relevant to the renovations of the sanctuary at New York Avenue. The letter suggests setting the baptismal font in full view of the congregation, opening the font and filling it with water on every Lord’s Day, and setting the cup and plate on the Lord’s Table on every Lord’s Day. The intention behind these sacramental practices is to remind us every Sunday of the sacred story that is conveyed in baptism and communion.
The overall intent of renovating our sanctuary is to make the whole area a visible sign of the many ways in which we believe God is revealed in worship. Psalm 150 says it best:
Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!