Abri Nelson on How Seeing Her Family’s Church Consecrate a New Sanctuary Reminded Her of God’s Providence

Image: Craig Thoburn / TFCA

Abri Nelson is a freelance writer and high school English and journalism teacher in Northern Virginia.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

I held back tears as the bishop knocked on the doors of the new sanctuary of the Falls Church Anglican (TCFA) for the first time last Sunday.

“Lift up your heads, O you gates, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in,” said The Rt. Rev. John Guernsey, quoting Psalm 24 (ESV). The congregation replied, “Who is the King of glory? It is the Lord, strong and mighty, even the Lord, mighty in battle. The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory.”

The prominent Northern Virginia church, now part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), had lost its 250-year-old historic church property after a long, high-profile legal dispute with the Episcopal Church that spanned 2006–2012.

Guernsey, bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, stepped through those doors into the church’s new building, a stripped, white, Gothic-style church, with light pouring through ceiling-high windows on either side.

By the time the service began—the first of two consecration services that would draw 2,000 people total—the sanctuary was packed to standing room only. Even folding chairs placed in the aisles had been filled.

Guernsey and recently installed rector Samuel Ferguson invited the congregation to participate in the blessing of the new space, with special prayers for the musical instruments, communion table, baptismal font, pulpit, and even the sound system. With every step, the congregation prayed responsively and sang in praise to God for bringing them home.

My family started attending TFCA in 2006, when I was in college, and my mom has worked for the church since 2011. I am now a member of a sister Anglican parish in the area, Church of the Ascension, and I’ve watched TFCA move from space to space over the past several years.

TFCA has worshiped in seven different locations and been hosted by Baptist, evangelical, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic churches and schools, creating true ecumenical partnerships. Many ACNA parishes—including my congregation and about half of TFCA’s other church plant “daughter congregations”—have not settled in a church building of their own, matching a growing trend of churches sharing building space.

From the pulpit last Sunday, Ferguson spoke about trusting in God’s providence through the changing chapters of our lives as he recalled the church’s “tabernacling” period over the past seven years.

“We are God’s living stones whom he is shaping and configuring into his holy temple,” he said. “You can imagine it is one thing to build a beautiful building out of bricks and mortar. It is altogether another thing to build a unified and holy people. We are far harder to work with.”

While this is true, having a physical space for ministry does alleviate organizational pressure on the congregation and provides a central location for ministries to flourish. Having a building allows a congregation to be rooted, growing deep in the life of the surrounding community.

“To be candid, church buildings do matter. They serve as missionary outposts in the communities that church congregations seek to minister amongst,” wrote Jeffrey Walton, Anglican program director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. “While the buildings themselves are not ‘the church,’ they establish a physical presence in a community. For Anglicans and other Christians in historic, liturgical traditions, setting is important.”

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Source: Christianity Today