Elements of Worship

St. John Lutheran Church in Libby, Montana

The Nave

The Nave

St. John Lutheran Church has been designed in the traditional cruciform style, so that the nave and chancel areas resemble the lines of a cross. The altar faces the east, looking forward to the sunrise which symbolizes the coming of our Lord and the great day of the Resurrection. The timber frame design is constructed to symbolize an ancient wooden ship, and those who worship sit in the nave (Latin for navy). This represents the ark of our salvation.

The Chancel

The Chancel

This view shows the chancel area with the pulpit to the viewer’s right, the baptismal font is in the center, and the lectern is to the viewer’s left.  Out of sight, to the viewer’s left, is the choir loft, and to the viewer’s right is the pipe organ.

The Baptismal Font

Baptismal Font As the church is called the bride of Christ, the baptismal font is sometimes referred to as the womb of the church, for this is where we are born into God’s Kingdom. The font has 8 sides symbolizing the 8 day theology of renewed life which goes all the way back to the Lord’s command that the Jews should circumcise male children 8 days after birth. The font has 3 candles representing the Trinity and a medallion engraved with a Chi Rho symbolizing our Lord Jesus. The baptismal font rests in the center of the chancel areas as a constant reminder to those who enter the sanctuary and come to communion of how they were born into the church. The central location of the font is also a constant reminder of the life we have been given freely by God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ.

The narrow grape vines (seen more clearly in other photographs) on either side of the center panel of the reredos symbolize the parable of our Lord, wherein He stated, “I am the Vine, ye are the branches.” The clusters of grapes symbolize the fruit which the true Christian produces in his life as a result of his close association with Christ.

Approaching the Altar

Approaching the Altar

As the viewer approaches the altar, the beautiful rojo alicante marble can be seen clearly. In the foreground, the rail is seen. The open rail at the entrance to the sanctuary suggests to the worshipper his privilege as a member of the universal priesthood of all believers, that he has direct access to the throne of God and can approach God immediately through the merits of Christ. The decoration in metal at the communion rail recalls the leaf of the ball flower, which was used quite extensively in the carvings of English cathedrals. On either side of the altar stand the candelabras, or office lights, which are lit to signify that the pastor is officiating in his office, as a called and ordained servant of God.

The carving in the center of the canopy over the altar is the rose conventionalized, symbolizing Messianic hope, love and our Lord. The same symbol is used also in the pulpit carving. The other two small motifs, on each side of the canopy, are the pomegranate, symbol of the unity of the Church, and the olive, symbol of the grace of our Lord.

The Reredos

The Reredos The reredos is a highly decorative oak wall behind the altar, rising about 18 feet from the sanctuary floor. This decorative center panel of the reredos shown here has the peacocks as the main motif. The peacock is a symbol of immortality, which is one of the popular symbols of early Christian times. There is an ancient legend that states the peacock’s flesh was incorruptible. In like manner, our Lord’s body did not see corruption but was raised up and glorified on the third day. The peacock symbol is very common in the catacombs and in Byzantine Church art.

The narrow grape vines (seen more clearly in other photographs) on either side of the center panel of the reredos symbolize the parable of our Lord, wherein He stated, “I am the Vine, ye are the branches.” The clusters of grapes symbolize the fruit which the true Christian produces in his life as a result of his close association with Christ.

Stained Glass Window at Altar

Stained Glass Window at Altar ~ Resurrection

This stained glass window to the right of the altar allows light to shine on the altar.
It is a classic cross bathed in beams of heavenly light over lilies.
It symbolizes Christ’s resurrection from the dead (Easter).

The Altar

The Altar The church was built on the property so that the altar faces east, toward the rising sun, symbolizing Christ’s resurrection, and the eternal hope of the church, waiting for our Lord to return. The area behind the rail is symbolic of the ancient church’s Holy of Holies where God dwells, and the altar, built of rock, is Christ, the rock of our salvation. The symbols vertically displayed at intervals on the grape vine panels discussed previously, represent events in the life of our Savior. Beginning on the left side from the bottom and then down the ride side from the top: The Christmas Rose symbolizing the Nativity, the Escallop Shell symbolizing our Lord’s Baptism, the Five-pointed Star symbolizing His Epiphany by which He proved Himself the Savior of also the Gentiles, the Ciborium symbolizing our Lord’s Last Supper, the Cross symbolizing His crucifixion, and the Pomegranate, bursting open, a symbol of His resurrection.

In the Center is the gold cross. The center medallion symbolizes our Savior as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, and is super-imposed over the monogram Chi Rho, the first two letters and an abbreviation of the ancient Greek word for Christ---XPICTOC. On either side of the cross are the sacramental lights which are lit when the Lord’s Supper is being celebrated. They are symbolic of our Lord, the Light of the world, and of His two natures, the Divine and Human. Because it is the symbol of God’s presence, all worshippers direct their eyes, as well as their prayers and praises, toward the altar.

The altar and lectern are adorned with traditional liturgical-colored paraments to correspond to the various seasons of the church year. In Advent and Lent they are violet symbolizing the majesty of Christ in His humility, suggesting penitence and inviting meditation. In Christmas and Easter seasons and on Trinity Sunday, they are white, the color of light, denoting holiness, glory, joy, purity and innocence. During the Trinity season they are green, symbolic of hope, life and the growing Christian life, which is the fruit of God’s grace. On Pentecost, Confirmation Day and Saints’ Day they are red, signifying love, zeal, fire, glory, blood and sacrifice. On Good Friday and on Days of Humiliation and Prayer they are black, symbolizing deep mourning and penitence. These colored paraments are covered with a white fair linen cloth, suggesting that Christ’s righteousness covers all and also symbolizing the winding sheet used in the burial of our Lord’s body. Similarly colored paraments are found on the pulpit and lectern, from which the Word of God is preached and read.

Stained Glass Windows

Stained Glass Windows

These are a new addition to our church (2007). These windows adorn the back of the church, above the narthex. They are four panels depicting the life of Christ. From left to right, the windows show the birth of Christ, His ministry, His crucifixion and death, and His resurrection.
View from the chancel

View from Chancel

This is the view from the chancel area, looking toward the back of the church. The new stained glass windows are visible, as well as the beautiful beam structure built to resemble the framework of a ship.
The Crucifix

The Crucifix

The hanging crucifix at the altar is mahogany.
It reminds us that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself through the suffering and death of Christ.