Episco-Fact #39
March 26, 2017

I hear people telling me to look for places in the church, but I have no idea the places they are telling me to go. Can you tell me what the church spaces are?

Much like the vocabulary we use around the Altar Table, labels for places in the church have been adopted from language traditions that go back to the beginnings of "Church" buildings. The linguistic journey for the word church is a whole winding road of its own. The Church, in truth, is the people who are of the Lord (i.e. Jesus) which in Greek is Kyrios. The building of the people of the Lord are also of the Lord, therefore are kyriak-ós/-ē/-ón,meaning "belonging, or pertaining, to a Kyrios" ("Lord"). Neither the Germanic tribes nor the early English speakers were noted for getting the Greek pronunciations correct, so some transformation of "Kyrios" became "Church."

On to details about Church architecture, at least as far as it pertains to St. Francis. We will orient ourselves from the front door to the Windows facing onto the "Green Room," our local designation for the canopy of trees just beyond our worship space:

  • Doors: Even the red ones are still called doors and I do not know how they escaped an arcane religious designation.
  • Narthex: The Foyer or front hall, in Maine, the mud room (every house can really use one especially since mud season lasts from March until August).
  • Nave: The place where all the congregation sit. It's where the pews are.
  • The Choir: The space between the Nave and the Sanctuary where choirs traditionally sat, hence its name, or theirs. Ours is small and on the extreme edges at the front of the nave where our Lay Eucharistic Ministers sit.
  • Altar Rail: The wooden barrier between the Nave and the Sanctuary where people kneel to receive communion. This was a Protestant addition and marked off the area between the spiritual specialists (I.e. Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and their servers) and the hoi paloi (the congregants).
  • Sanctuary: The area behind the altar rail, where the altar table is positioned for blessing the bread and wine. This word, in some cases has come to mean the whole area where worship takes place, especially in traditions which are not Eucharistically centered and the distinctions we have between sacred space and even more sacred space is extraneous.
  • Altar Table: The wooden structure on which the bread and wine are consecrated. An altar would be stone and contain a holy relic.
  • Pulpit: The area of the church from which a sermon is preached and sacred texts are read.
  • Ambo: apulpitorlecternin a church sanctuary (the official term for Catholic pulpits). We have two. I have focused on proclaiming the word from one. It is a symbol of the unity of our inspiration. (Note: Podium is not mentioned. The is an English confusion—ultimately why we get words like church—Podiums are objects we stand on, often having a lectern upon which our notes are held.)


The Rev. David Lucey