By Father Ted

The very first time I set foot in Roper Hall was sometime around January 2008. A college friend of mine, who was singing in the Transfiguration Choir at the time, invited me to a potluck dinner with (what was then called) the Gay and Lesbian Ministry, GLM. Most of the potluck dinners for that ministry were in people’s homes, but this one had a short Eucharist in the nave beforehand. If memory serves, I brought corn muffins.

The next time I went into Roper Hall was after the Easter Vigil, also in 2008. I arrived about five minutes before the service was supposed to start, and by that time the church was packed to the gills. I ended up sitting behind a pillar towards the back. But, of course, the Easter Vigil at the Fig is magnificent, no matter where you sit. I wasn’t expecting the party that followed, the Break-the-Fast-Feast, but a few members of neXtgen spotted me, and invited me to their corner of the conference room where they had squirreled away a few bottles of champagne.  

Later that year, I got to know Roper Hall in a different way, this time as a member of The Way. Every Tuesday night, 30-40 of us gathered at round tables in small discussion groups to talk about the assigned readings from Mark’s gospel or some other book. Afterward there was a presentation on some aspect of the Christian faith and life. There was always something to eat and a bottle of wine or two to share.

If we surveyed the congregation, I’d be willing to bet that many of you would remember your first event in Roper Hall. For some of you, it was at the building’s dedication. Perhaps it’s where you had your wedding reception, or maybe it’s where you ended up winning more items than you anticipated at the EMF Fish Fry and Silent Auction. It has hosted more meals, classes, and parties than anyone can count. It was even home to a theatre company, back in the day. The room is generous, functional, flexible, and accommodating which makes it the perfect complement to the nave and sanctuary. Within the walls of those two rooms, the church and Roper, we live out much of our mission and ministry, and are empowered to serve our neighbors in the world.

But the fact that Roper Hall is a good complement, does not imply that it is the best substitute. When it comes to liturgical worship, using traditional elements and rites of the Western church, it falls short in a few ways. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, because most fellowship halls were not built to be worship spaces.

One of the challenges that we tried to overcome is Roper Hall’s lack of a devotional focus. Most churches have one, whether it is a carved reredos, or a magnificent stained-glass window, or even a plain, wooden cross. Good church architecture lifts your heart and your gaze toward that focus. In our church, it is the triptych, which is hung from the reredos, the monolithic pillar of brick that extends all the way to the ceiling. Roper Hall does not seem to have such a focus. Of course, this is not a problem for a fellowship hall, because when you’re at a party, the focus is the people. So we turned the problem into an opportunity and created the devotional focus in the center of the room, with the altar on a raised platform, surrounded by the people. And since we are worshiping “in the round” whenever you are facing the altar, you are also facing your brothers and sisters on the other side of the room. The result is a much more intimate experience, one that reflects the heavenly vision of the saints worshipping around the throne of God.

In the next few weeks, I will share more of my thoughts about the design of our worship space in Roper Hall with you. I have enjoyed hearing people’s reactions to the setup, and I look forward to gathering with you in Roper again this weekend.

 

Father Ted+

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