Under the great west window of the (new) church of the Holy Trinity, Wentworth, the following inscription is carved in stone:
”THIS CHURCH IS ERECTED FOR THE WORSHIP OF ALMIGHTY GOD IN MEMORY OF THEIR FATHER AND MOTHER BY THE CHILDREN OF CHARLES WILLIAM EARL FITZWILLIAM K.G. BORN MAY 4 1786 DIED OCTOBER 4 1857 AND MAY HIS WIFE WITH PRAYER THAT THOSE WHO WORSHIP HERE MAY LIKE THEM LIVE AND DIE IN THE FAITH OF CHRIST”
The newly erected church was consecrated on July 31st 1877, and this year the anniversary of that event falls on a Sunday. It is therefore a good year for us to revive the ancient and laudable custom whereby the anniversary of a church’s consecration is observed as a special day of thanksgiving for all the blessings which both regular worshippers and the wider community have received through their church building.
This annual celebration is called the Dedication Festival. It is often confused with the Patronal Festival or Feast of Title. That is because the saint, mystery, holy place or object after which a church is named (e.g. St Peter, The Holy Trinity, The Holy Sepulchre, The Holy Cross), is also referred to as its dedication. But the Dedication Festival is about the building itself. The Church is people, but that doesn’t mean that church buildings don’t matter. The annual Dedication Festival invites us to reflect on the purpose for which the building was consecrated.
All this is of particular relevance in the light of the PCC’s recent decision (encouraged by the Diocesan Advisory Committee) actively to explore the possibility of providing more adequate kitchen and toilet facilities - together with an area for Sunday school and small meetings - within the footprint of the building. These facilities would need to be of a high standard, in keeping with both the reasonable expectations of the church’s many users and the magnificence of the building. And because it is bound to require some internal reordering, the greatest care will have to be taken to ensure that the building’s overriding purpose is in no way compromised.
That purpose is clearly stated in that inscription under the west window: “This church is erected for the worship of almighty God . . . that those who worship here . . . may . . . live and die in the faith of Christ.” Church buildings are a sign of God’s presence in the world. Their magnificence as settings for worship can help to lift up our hearts to the Lord; worship is as much about kindling faith as it is about expressing it. As settings for concerts and exhibitions church buildings can enhance our awareness of the divine origin of all human creativity. That, too, can nurture faith.
July 31st 2017 will be the 140th anniversary of the consecration of (the new) Holy Trinity, Wentworth – a day which deserves to be celebrated with appropriate festivity. How far we will have progressed by then in our deliberations on adapting the building for the next phase in its history is impossible to forecast. But we can use the twelve months from this year’s Dedication Festival to pay particular attention to quality of the worship for which the building was erected. Worship deserves the best that we can offer, and we all have a part to play in it.