On Tuesday I had the opportunity to travel for business to Wichita, Kan., to interview two sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ. I am publishing that story a week from Sunday, and will have more here afterward. But, while I was in Wichita, about two hours north of our home in Enid, Okla., I stopped in to St. James Episcopal Church to pray Noon Prayers and meditate.
I seldom get the chance to travel anymore, but whenever I do, I love to stop in to see some of the community’s houses of worship, particularly Episcopal, Catholic and Orthodox sanctuaries, where I can visit the Blessed Sacrament. After finishing my appointment with the sisters (really looking forward to sharing their story with you all!) I was pleased to find this beautiful church barely five miles away, and bearing the name of the saint for which I was named.
My GPS managed to get me there without getting lost, and I was pleased to find the main doors unlocked shortly before noon. Inside, I found the most important attribute for any church that wants to attract and retain congregants: parishioners who were welcoming, friendly and eager to show off their church. I was welcomed without hesitation, and shown to both the chapel and sanctuary.
After being given a brief tour, I was left alone, to pray in peace as long as I wished (they have a Noonday Prayer service on Wednesdays, like my home parish at St. Matthew’s, but not on Tuesdays). My host apologized for not knowing where to turn on the lights, but I assured them I prefer to pray with the lights dim, or in this case, just the natural light from their many beautiful stained glass windows.
I’ll apologize in advance for the quality of the photos. It was almost completely dark inside, and a very bright, sunny day outside, making it almost impossible to get good shots on my phone without the detail of the stained glass being washed out.
I chose to meditate and pray for a while to start in the Chapel of the Innocents. The chapel was dark and comforting, with wicker chairs. Freestanding columbarium niches lined each wall, giving the space a serenely somber atmosphere. In the back of each chair were a Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal — immediate ties to home, and to any Episcopal Church in the country. Above the altar in the chapel was a beautiful painting of the Madonna and Child with an adoring angel.
Above the altar are a carved Celtic cross and stained glass triptych of Jesus and the little children from Matthew 19:14 — Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
I stayed there for little more than 20 minutes — just long enough to pray my chaplet for the day, pray the noon office and meditate for a few minutes in the presence of the faithful in the niches. As always, this routine recharged me, and left me feeling very much at peace. Then, on to the main sanctuary, where I found beautiful flagstone floors and 24 stained glass panels, eight sets of three, lining both sides of the nave.
Again, I apologize for the photos being washed out, but I still wanted to share the ornate detail of these windows, which trace the full story of Jesus’ life and ministry, from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion and Jesus being place in the tomb.
From the life and ministry of Jesus, the story in stained glass continues to another beautiful triptych above the high altar, depicting Jesus with Mary Magdalene and the angel outside the tomb, recalling the Paschal greeting: “The Lord is Risen; The Lord is Risen Indeed!”
I went on to the choir loft and to the altar rail. This is where I’ve always felt closest to God in any church; kneeling at the rail, where so many others have come to find peace and strength in the Holy Eucharist.
The altar rail at St. Andrew’s School, in Delaware, is where I first really grew in faith in the Church, during high school. I would slip into the chapel when no-one else was around, with the lights out — much like the conditions at St. James during my visit — and just sit in peace at the altar rail, resting with and listening for God. As I’ve grown in my faith and love of the Church, and in my adoration for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the altar rail has also grown as a place of importance for me. I stop there as often as I can, often only for a few seconds, to adore and reflect on Christ’s presence in my life.
This day at St. James, I approached the altar rail and knelt. It was the first time I ever had been there, but I instantly felt every bit as home as I do at the altar rail in my home parish. The Eucharist was there. Christ was there. The same Body of Christ gathered at the rail, bound by the same ancient prayers and eternal faith, to adore and partake in the same Body and Blood. I was home.
After meditating briefly, praying extemporaneously, and then offering my usual group of prayers — Our Father, Hail Mary, Hail Joseph, Prayer of St. Francis, and Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel — I rose, and withdrew, looking forward to my next visit, to this or the next altar rail.
Finally, completing the story in the sanctuary’s stained glass, a large triptych of Christus Rex, Christ the King, sent me on my way with three lines from the Te Deum, the hymn “Thee, O God, We Praise”:
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
Thank you to the generous parishioners of St. James for allowing me time and space to worship, to adore, to meditate and enjoy your beautiful church. If any reading this ever need the same, join us at St. Matthew’s in Enid.