‘Stone Altars’ (Part 2)

I asked for your hearts, but you built these stone altars for yourselves

I think the drive to be as irreligious as possible is in reaction to the deep sense of calling to serve within the church. I have been baptised and confirmed in the Catholic church, Baptised in the sea by an evangelical charismatic pentecostal church, and now am about to be confirmed in the Church of England. Stone altars eh?

PS: My Journey is a funny one. At times I feel like the Isrealites with Moses in the desert, knowing where Canaan is but feeling compelled to follow the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night. My experiences in the various churches are a result of a distinct tug within the heart which my head and person knew not to dissobey. There has always been an overwhelming sense of direction which following has yielded a deep – identity forming – lesson. My father is a Catholic, my mother is an Anglican, and only recently understood my faith after spending what in hindsight seem to be malting seasons in the various churches.

So, the journey of selection for ordination training requires that I be confirmed in the Church of England by the Bishop. This meant that I will be confirmed by the Bishop of Kensington at St Paul’s Cathedral. This is due to happen this saturday at a service from 7pm.

Now… I hope the thoughts that follow make sense.

At the back of my mind was the idea of confirming your baptismal vows on easter saturday, which traditionally is a day of mourning as Jesus was in the grave that day. I didn’t dwell much on it though, recognising it as an other that I could ignore for the time being: life was proceeding, it was just another ceremony in another ‘stone altar’.

One of the requirements was that I hand wrote a testimony (Short blurb of my Journey to faith). Being efficient at missing details I didn’t see the instructions to do this until last friday: the letter was due on tuesday morning. After a weekend of procrastination and other responsibilities I found myself on monday night, having written what was neccesary, driving to St Paul’s. The sun was in the west, its light still keeping the sky a dark shade of blue. I’ve never enjoyed going into London – if anything was a ‘stone altar’, the city was. I am in love with open expanses and find busy streets and traffic jams really annoying. This night however, there was no traffic. The lights seemed to give way and so did the buses and taxi’s. It was as if the universe needed me to get to my destination on time.

Having left the Great Western Road, I turned onto Southampton Row, then onto Kingsway, and finally left onto Fleet street past the strand, totally oblivious of where I was and completely depending on google maps to guide me there. As I crept along something caught my attention at the road side. There was a man waiting by the zebra crossing, but none of the drivers were stopping to give him way. He distracted me enough that when I turned back to see the road ahead, there it was.

I recall reading William Wordworth’s account of Crossing the Alps in The Prelude where he speaks of the actual mountains being different from the ones in his imagination: they had ‘usurped upon a living thought’. Nowhere had this sentiment carried than here. Towering over the buildings infront of me was the iconic dome. I felt a deep sense of awe as I continued my approach. It was as though the breath within me had left. Slowly she skirted her way, separating herself from the buildings around her until ‘there’ she stood, bold and commanding: the Edifice.

After parking walking around it twice (trying to be Joshua like) I delivered the envelop and quickly left: I was due at a meeting within the next half hour.

Giles Fraiser, former canon chancellor of St Pauls, in a radio 4 program – which I listened to on my way home that night – spoke about the place of the Cathedral in today’s society. He said (or the sense I got from what he said was) that it gave the church and Christianity both presence and platform to become.

We are not the religious wing of the National trust

Jesus died on the cross and was buried, and rose from the dead because we couldn’t attain righteousness through religiosity. But why let history happen, why show us how to be religious. Far from just being a very effective way of understanding faith and the Divine, religion serves the same purpose: to give presence and platform for Christianity and the Church (the cloud of witnesses) to become.

Confirmation and Baptism are all about declaring faith to the world. So too are these buildings.

Yes! These ‘stone altars’ were for us. That doesn’t negate the call of God to the heart, neither does it negate the place and purpose of the platform. The quiet space that the building provides is important. The church can thrive and survive without it,however, that these edifices exist is – in a way – a good thing (and this is the thought I’m currently grappling with.)

I asked for your hearts, but you built these stone altars for yourselves

I’m still dissatisfied with where the statement has left me but will continue to follow the pillar of smoke and fire, when it rises or rests.

Talitha Koum!


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