St Johns West Front Church of EnglandSt John's Church, Ainsdale

Church Tour - Altar, Font & Pulpit

The Altar, Font and Pulpit provide different focal points for different services. The Altar is the focal point of the Eucharist or Holy Communion. The Pulpit is the focus of the Offices (services that draw on a monastic tradition such as Matins and Evensong), while the Font is the focus of the service of initiation, baptism.

Baptism and Holy Communion are Sacraments, "an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace". Roman Catholics recognise seven sacraments:

After the Reformation the Church of England, searching for a settlement which could accommodate Catholics and Protestants (Elizabeth I's Via Media) declared in Article XXV that "there are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord. Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign of ceremony ordained or God."

The Protestant tradition puts a great emphasis on the sermon as it explains God's word. For the Protestants the authority of the Bible was paramount, thus denying Papal authority, and the test of any belief or ritual was what the Bible said about it. This was the major cause of the Protestant Reformation that began on October 31, 1517 when Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Church at Wittenberg. This emphasis resulted in the translation of the Bible into the vernacular (the language of the people) and the services also began to be conducted in the vernacular (rather than Latin) and this enabled the laity to understand their faith, especially with the increase of literacy in the following centuries.

There still remains a difference in emphasis between the Protestant and Catholic traditions, whereby the Catholics put greater emphasis on the Sacraments and the Protestants place greater emphasis on the Word. Within the Church of England, there are those who are more Protestant in their outlook (Evangelicals, or the Low Church) and those who are more Catholic (Anglo-Catholics, of the High Church) while most Anglicans fall somewhere in between. This can be seen as one of the strengths of the Anglican Communion, an ability to include people of a wide range of views, although this can cause tensions.

The Altar

Altar FrontIn some traditions it is known as the Communion Table as Altar was and perhaps still is seen as too Roman Catholic. At St John's the main service on a Sunday is the Eucharist. At the Eucharist we obey Christ's command at the Last Supper to "to do this in remembrance of me". Different traditions explain the significance of this act and what happens in it in different ways. Click the picture to see a larger version (67k).

The colour of the Altar frontal varies with the Church's Seasons. It is Green in the picture above because the photograph was taken on one of the Sundays after Pentecost.

Season Liturgical Colour
Advent Purple or Blue
Christmas White or Gold
Epiphany White or Gold
Sundays after Epiphany White
Sundays before Lent Green
Lent Purple or Blue
Holy Week Red
Good Friday Red, Sackcloth or bare
Easter White or Gold
Sundays after Easter White
Ascension White or Gold
Pentecost Red
Trinity until Advent Green
Other Major Festivals White or Red

The Pulpit

Pulpit ThumbnailThe current pulpit dates from 1950 and is dedicated to Peter Collier (who had been a sidesperson in the 1920's) and his mother Betty. It replaced a smaller pulpit that was taken to pieces and turned into a chest in which to keep the altar frontals, it still stands in the passage between the choir vestry and the nave. Click on the picture to see a larger version (92k)

The figures on the pulpit include St Peter holding the keys to the gates of heaven.

The fall on the pulpit (the cloth hanging from the lectern) is here green with the letters IHS but it alters with the Church seasons.

The Font

FontBaptism is the initiation rite into Christianity. The Church of England baptises babies "on the understanding that they are brought up as Christians within the family of the Church. As they grow up, they need the help and encouragement of that family, so that they learn to be faithful in public worship and private prayer, to live by trust in God, and come to confirmation". Older children and adults, of course, profess their own faith. Some denominations however believe that only people who can make the profession of faith for themselves should be baptised.

Margaret Marsh presented the marble font at the back of church in 1934 but it is no longer used for baptisms. Nowadays a small portable font stands at the front of the nave that is moved into the chancel for baptism services which take place once a month. This means that the congregation has a better view of proceedings than they would if the font at the back was used. The reason the font was placed at the back is that baptism is the entrance rite of Christianity, the spiritual entry to the Church, so the font was placed near to the physical entry to the church building. This font often contains flowers (as the picture shows) and at Christmas the crib is placed on top of it. Click on the picture to see a larger version (26k)

Page Last Updated: December 1, 2002

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