Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer
When you walk in the front doors, the soft light fills the sanctuary in front of you as it streams through the ornate stained glass windows. A beautiful depiction of Christ’s ascension sits above the choir loft and the Communion Table. If you arrive early enough, you can sit in one of the pews admiring the different windows while listening to the radiators or A/C (depending on the time of year, of course) slowly click on and the creaks of an old building moving and settling with every gust of wind.
The sanctuary at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC isn’t anything special. It wouldn’t necessarily stand out when a picture of it is placed next to several other sanctuaries; but just like any church building, it carries its stories with every creak of the building and click of the radiator. For a smaller congregation like Westminster, this is where the heart of their ministry takes place.
A person can’t sit in the company of the creaks and clicks too long on a Sunday morning before one of the members comes to greet them. A friendly smile, a handshake or even a hug, and if they are lucky a short story or a memory from when the member was growing up in that same sanctuary.
My favorite story? The one of the two families who couldn’t remember which pew was “theirs” so one of the ladies, a life-long member, found a Sharpie. To this day a visitor will find an “F” on one pew, and a “B” on the pew just behind it.
There are initials and pictures carved into the pews up in the balcony. The initials of the 80-year-old men who used to cause trouble up in the balcony as teens in worship, but now sit quietly down below.
Names of educators and leaders are found in the different stained glass windows. Some are quickly remembered, others might not be as easily recalled, but their influence still remains.
For a smaller, older congregation the stories shared in the sanctuary are one of the best, and most accessible, forms of ministry. The hugs and smiles show how much they care, even if they did just meet you. The songs that are sung, the joys and concerns that are shared, the tears that are shed, and the Word that is proclaimed can be life-giving for the stranger coming in from the cold or the neighbor looking for some encouragement.
Looking around at the faces of those in the pews during worship, there is a glimmer of new hope that is present. The older faces show patience and wisdom. The younger faces are lit up with new energy. The quiet giggles of the children bring the potential for new adventures. New memories are made in the old sanctuary every single Sunday. New interpretations of centuries-old scriptures are brought to the surface for prayerful consideration. New life is found in the creaks and the clicks of the aging walls and equipment.
Every sanctuary has its own stories to tell. Stories of Baptisms, stories of funerals; stories of weddings, stories of tear-filled conversations; stories of kids climbing around under and on the pews, stories of the elderly who lean on the pew for support as they walk up to take communion. For many congregations, if not most, this is where ministry begins. This is where the greatest story of all time is first heard, and where other stories, as a result, begin.
Westminster Presbyterian Church is located at 301 E. Whitaker Mill Rd. Raleigh, NC 27608 and Sunday morning worship is held at 11:00am. They are led by Union Presbyterian Seminary alum, Rev. Jonathan Sherrod (M. Div. 1992). Learn more about their ministry at http://www.westminsterraleigh.org.