The Entrance of a Mission into a New Place of Worship

Tradition has it that only a Bishop may consecrate worship spaces, church buildings, altars, and other such sacred spaces and objects.  This is largely due to the fact that Bishops, as the head pastors, are representatives of the original Apostles (and also, in a particular sense, successors of those Apostles).  In a way, this practice of having only the Bishop consecrate major worship-related facilities and objects is an extension of the sacramental rite of Ordination, for priests and deacons also are set apart for particular functions in the worship setting.

In these days of regrowth, especially as Anglicans in North America, there are a lot of church plants, mission churches, and other such small congregations that don’t own their own space.  Some rent their own spaces in a warehouse or storefront or other such building, while others (such as my congregation) lease a space for worship that is used during the week by other groups for other purposes.  A couple different issues come up as a result of these various situations:

  1. When there are many small missions in a diocese, the Bishop is not always available to consecrate each one’s new space right away – especially when many small congregations move around from place to place as they shrink and grow and spaces become available or are closed to them.
  2. When a congregation is leasing space for worship, but that space is also used by other groups for other purposes, it cannot, by definition, be set apart solely for worship.

The solution to these two concerns is a rite for blessing or dedicating a worship space that the local priest can do which neither steals the Bishop’s role in consecrating, nor assumes that the worship space will be used solely for Christian worship.  To that end, I put together this liturgy for the Entrance of a Mission Into a New Worship Space.  The spoken words of the liturgy are in black type, the actions (or rubrics) are in red type, and explanatory notes are in blue.

Grace Anglican Church’s altar cross looks much like this.

THE ENTRANCE OF A MISSION INTO A NEW PLACE OF WORSHIP

This brief liturgy of prayer can be thought of “the invasion of the Gospel into a new location.”  The first four sections are excerpts from the prayer Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, adapted to refer to “this place” rather than the original “myself.”

The entrance is sealed with blessed oil with the anthem:
Celebrant   
I bind unto this place today a mighty strength:
All             the invocation of the Trinity;
the belief of the threeness
and the confession of the oneness
of the Creator of creation.

The priest begins at the entrance of the room, or worship space.  The Oil of Catechumens is recommended, as that is the oil associated with people who have not yet been baptized, as well as being used for exorcism.  The entrance, or primary door, is “sealed” with oil in the shape of the cross as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit sealing the way in and out, keeping out evil spirits who would otherwise seek to disrupt the worship of God.

The Nave is sprinkled with holy water with the anthem:
Celebrant   
I bind unto this place today:
All             the strength of Christ’s birth,
with his Baptism,
his crucifixion, with his burial,
his resurrection, with his ascension,
his descent for the Judgment Day.

The “nave” is the main section of the worship space in which the people are found.  These lines of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate bring the Gospel of Christ into association with this part of the room, in which the Body of Christ is to be found.  If there is an aisle, it is appropriate for the priest to process up it, toward the Altar, sprinkling the holy water in either direction along the way.

The Sanctuary is sprinkled with holy water with the anthem:
Celebrant   
I bind unto this place today:
All             The strength of the love of Cherubim,
the obedience of angels,
the service of Archangels,
the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
the prayers of Patriarchs,
the predictions of Prophets,
the preaching of Apostles,
the faith of Confessors,
the innocence of holy Virgins,
the deeds of righteous men.

The “sanctuary” is the front of the worship space where the altar, choir, and pulpit would be found in a traditional church building.  While this looks different in every individual location, the common ground is that this is where the people come forward to receive Communion, and where the ministers preach and lead the congregation.  Thus, the part of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate that refers to the ministry of the heavenly hosts is recited, recognizing the union of that worship in heaven with the ministry of Word and Sacrament here on earth.

The Altar and its vessels are sprinkled with holy water with the anthem:
Celebrant   
I bind unto this place today a mighty strength:
All             the invocation of the Trinity;
the belief of the threeness
and the confession of the oneness
of the Creator of creation. Amen.

Finally, the Altar itself (representing the Holy of Holies) is sprinkled with holy water, and the anthem returns to the confession of God himself, whose presence we meet at the Altar.

Most worship spaces have a cross or crucifix that is placed on (or behind) the Altar.  Once the entrance, nave, sanctuary, and altar have been sealed and blessed, it is time to “plant the flag.”  Someone brings the Cross up from the back of the room and places it in its place.  The preparation is complete; now comes the serious pronouncement against the powers of Satan.  And, after that pronouncement, prayer and worship may commence!

Suffrage for Spiritual Protection
The Cross is placed upon the Altar, and the Celebrant faces the room.
Celebrant    Behold, the Cross of the Lord;
be scattered you hostile powers.
People         The lion of the tribe of Judah,
the root of David, has conquered!
Celebrant    Let your mercies be shown upon us, O Lord.
People         As we have put our hope in you.
Celebrant    Lord, hear our prayer.
People         And let our cry come to you.
Celebrant    Let us pray:

St. Michael’s Prayer
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and may you, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

This suffrage followed by the Saint Michael Prayer make up a small part of a long set of prayers from the medieval era invoking the protection of the Archangel Michael.  While some of its content may not translate comfortably for all Anglicans, these excerpts are appropriate and Scriptural.  (Notice that the initial pronouncement by the priest “Behold… be scattered…” is spoken “facing the room.”  Although the priest is facing the people, it is not the people whom the priest is addressing, so no eye contact should be made at this point!)

Collect for the host(s) …

If the worship space is owned and used by another group, it is appropriate and gracious to acknowledge them in prayer at this point, for they hold legal authority over that space.  My congregation has begun leasing a room at a local Jewish Synagogue, so this is what we prayed for them:

Collect for the Jews
O Lord God of Abraham, look upon your everlasting covenant and hear our prayers which we offer unto you for your ancient people: that acknowledging the light of your Truth, which is Christ, they may come unto you; through him who is the true Messiah, Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Collect for Mission Churches
O Lord Jesus Christ, good Shepherd of the sheep, who came to seek and to save those who were lost: We beseech you to be present in your power with this Mission of your Church. Show forth your compassion to the helpless, enlighten the ignorant, aid those in peril, and bring home the wanderers in safety to your fold; O Christ who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Finally, it’s good to conclude with a prayer that points the congregation forward, beyond the sealing and dedication of the space, to the mission that takes place beyond the confines of the worship space.

The liturgy continues with the Acclamation or Opening Hymn.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm a Priest in the Anglican Diocese in New England interested in spiritual formation, theology, and the growth of God's Kingdom.
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