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An Altar in the Service

Those of you who have been watching our Sunday services may have noticed a change in my recording spot over the past couple of services. The peaceful blue canvases I had been standing in front of still hang above my head, but now I have set up a little prayer space on the desk next to me.

I find images and objects can be significant in worship, and given that we are currently working through An Altar in the World, it seemed appropriate to have something a little like an altar in the service too. It will change slightly from week to week, but with a few core objects that will remain.

I chose these carefully, but while the meanings behind them are clear to me, some of them are quite personal and will not be clear to everyone, so I thought I would write a short post to explain them.

The framed photo is a print that my parents gave me to mark my induction at SBC. I believe it is from the Lindisfarne Scriptorium, and it is a beautifully illustrated rendering of the command to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength". It normally hangs in the vestry at church, as a reminder of the faith I am called to live out and encourage others in.

The image of Christ is a print of an icon I saw in a side chapel at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford upon Avon. It shows Jesus on the cross, surrounded by the heavenly bodies and bursting with light and colour. I think it is right that images of the crucifixion normally focus on the agony and the horror of it, because we should not sanitise Christ's suffering, but all the same there is something arresting about this image, and I find it leads me into prayer.

The rainbow cast in glass was bought to celebrate our decision as a congregation to affirm our desire to be a church for all. It hasn't been seen in church yet, but I hope that when we do open the doors again and find a place for it in the sanctuary, it will speak quietly but firmly of the promise of God for all of creation.

The small clay cup was made during a prayer exercise I led in my early days of preaching. The prayer was based on the line from Psalm 23 that speaks of our cup running over, and the cup remains for me a symbol of God's blessing. It is also links to the mug prayer exercise we practised back in December.

The candle is part of my Lenten practice this year. These small candles burn for twenty minutes, and lighting one marks out a period of prayer and reflection each evening. I filmed one of these candles burning for the quiet period of last Sunday's service.

The jar of oil was used to anoint me at my commissioning service at the end of my training for ministry, and I in turn offered it for others to be anointed with. It's another reminder for me of the call we share.

The cross wrapped in a crown of thorns was given to me by members of a former church as a gift at my baptism, and has variously hung next to my desk at work and sat on my bookcase at home ever since. It's a reminder of the communities of faith I have been part of, as well as a symbol of the crux of my faith.

The paper chain was a new addition for last week, as it received a mention in my welcome to the service. This Lent, we have adopted gratitude as a family habit, writing something we are thankful for on a slip of paper each evening, and then connecting them together. You can expect to see the chain grow as Lent goes on.

And finally, the stack of books was also new, and particular to last week's sermon. You can see Do Nothing to Change Your Life by Stephen Cottrell, The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel, Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggeman, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly by Morva Dawn, and The Power of Ritual by Casper ter Kuile. I recommend any or all, if you want to dive deeper into the practice of Sabbath.

I hope that was interesting, and may perhaps inspire you to think about what objects hold meaning for you and help you in prayer and worship.

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