Episco-Fact #100
July 12, 2018

Francisco-fact: Why does St. Francis have a moveable baptismal font?

Our moveable font is an artifact of another change that was incorporated into St. Francis to satisfy another liturgical desire, an organ.

St. Francis has a tradition of appreciating music and it became a desire to move from piano led to organ led. In that tradition, and I expect because of the excitement generated by having a real pipe organ, St. Francis moved the baptismal font out of the architect's designated area, reassigned it to use by the choir, and detached the baptismal font from a prominent place in our worship space.

All worship space decisions are compromises. Some churches emphasize the visual aspects of their space and aural experience is secondary. Modern sound systems have helped some Churches overcome this handicap, but the experience is never quite optimal. Some churches emphasize preaching, and all other things, including the Holy Table are diminished in comparison. There is a church in Newport Rhode Island with a two-story pulpit, a huge sounding board, and the Holy Table hidden in back of all of it. Which part of the service does one think the builders found important.

St. Francis developed its space around the large window behind the altar table. Embedded in that window, which gives the congregation a visual connection to God's creation, and therefore, a theological sympathy with St. Francis, is a Cross subtly highlighted by slightly darker windows than the rest. All other symbols of worship, the altar table, the lecterns, and the tabernacle are subtle and understated. In the original plan, there was open space where our experience might influence our shaping of the internal architecture: no organ, no choir seating, no pews. The rest developed later.

It does seem sad that in adding a rich sense of music to St. Francis' worship, that we orphaned the symbol of our entry into the church to a status of being undercover.

This Sunday, we will place the font in the center aisle, a wonderful visual, but practically speaking, a space not large enough to contain the font and to have access to the altar rail. It is also an awkward placement in the Great Fifty Days of Easter, for the same reason.

Currently, the Vestry is reviewing a plan which would replace the Baptismal Font in the original Baptistry, in front of the Atrium Window where the choir now sits. That may involve moving both the organ and the choir, and the Vestry's current sense would be to move the organ and the choir to the front left corner of the sanctuary. The Vestry is evaluating the cost and the impact on the space. But the need to move the furniture I order to replace the rug gives us an interesting opportunity to make this transition.

Will this move be a change, yes. Will it be compromise, yes. But it is a compromise which tries to encompass the original design of the sanctuary, highlights the centrality of Baptism to the Episcopal Church, and incorporates our commitment to well offered sacred music.