This weekend, Gail and I traveled to Davenport, Iowa to visit St. Paul Lutheran Church. The Rev. Dr. Peter W. Marty is the senior pastor there, and they have a wonderful ministry in their community, to those entering the ordained life, and in needy places around the world.
I encourage you to visit their website and learn about this congregation. Get to know Pastor Marty as well. He is the former voice of Grace Matters, the ELCA’s fine radio program that was unfortunately discontinued in 2009. You can still go to their website and download archived programs. Follow the link above and you can access his writings as well.
I had many reasons for wanting to visit St. Paul during this month when I am between assignments in my practical work toward ordination. One of those reasons is that I wanted to see and participate in worship in St. Paul’s remarkable sanctuary.
Here is what the church website says about the space, built in 2007:
Step into the Sanctuary through the large wooden processional doors. The weighty 10-foot doors are crafted with 95 simulated “pegs” to mimic the 95 Theses that Martin Luther posted on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1546.
The eternal light hangs in the Sanctuary threshold. It signals that this is a place where the Lord dwells. The constancy of the flame represents the ever-present nature of Christ.
The central bronze cross is accented with blood-red squares of art glass. The Sanctuary aisles and seating are oriented to the cross – signifying its centrality for our lives.
The communion table invites all people to share in the goodness of the Lord’s Supper.
The baptismal font flows with the lifelong gift of baptism. The design echoes the prow of a ship (or navis in Latin) – a good “naval” image for people who splash daily in the baptismal promises of God.
Ten stained glass windows – in the south exposure of the St. Paul Sanctuary – dazzle with light. They tell the story of the life of Jesus – born to live among us, crucified on a cross, resurrected, and still working through us. A much larger window, depicting Christ’s ascension, is mounted within the tall east window.
These Gospel-narrative windows were originally commissioned for the 1952 Sanctuary. Glass artisans restored the windows for their 21st-century home.
The service we attended early on Sunday morning followed the pattern of Lutheran worship and its elements were simple and focused on God’s grace. We participated in the liturgical prayers and responses, the pipe organ was thrilling, words to the substantial yet tuneful hymns we sang were displayed on a projection screen but hymnals were also available in the pews, a quartet of young people sang and helped lead the hymn singing, and four different pastors and lay people took part in speaking and chanting the service. The message was from the day’s Gospel and the Epistle readings, encouraging us to serve together as Christ’s Body by participating in his ministry as described in the “Jubilee” message from Luke 4. We went forward for communion before being sent into the world to love and serve the Lord.
The sanctuary was open, filled with light and color and simple design, and everything pointed to the cross toward which all the pews in the sanctuary are directed. The design of the building is intriguing. I heard an interview with Dr. Marty in which he described why they constructed it as they did. Though the shape of the building’s shell is traditional and straightforward, the chancel has been intentionally placed off-center, and the internal walls, aisles, seating, and other design features all turn one’s attention directly to the cross and the communion table in front of it. A sense of both transcendence and hospitality, tradition and contemporariness is achieved through the combination of soaring ceilings, windows, wood, and stained glass. And Jesus is at the center of it all.
I could go on, but I think I’ll just post some pictures so you can see for yourself. We are grateful to Pastor Marty and the people of St. Paul for their hospitality as they welcomed us to worship with them.