SERMON: How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

SERMON: How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley

by Andrew McKearney on 29 September 2019.

Our sense of vocation as a church, which we often outline on the front of the Notice Sheet in six brief statements, includes this building that has been entrusted to us. I’ve been responsible for many church buildings in my ministry, but this one has not only an architectural significance but also a spiritual depth that makes it different.

When I was talking to a musician after they’d played in this church they were trying to articulate what it felt like to play here. They initially said how welcoming the building seemed to be to the music, but then went on to say that it felt more than a simple welcome; that somehow they were ‘brought home’. Conversations with many who come here during the week would support this sense of God’s presence here.

This is a holy place.

The Diocese of Norwich, which I think has the greatest concentration of medieval church buildings in Europe, commissioned a study to identify which of the many church buildings it had, had such a quality of holiness that, like it or not, the church had to take responsibility for them – they were not just a physical or aesthetic responsibility for the church but also a spiritual given.

That’s why this building is part of our vocation – it’s a spiritual given; a place where God’s presence is made known; a place where people seek after God and find God; a place where we are ‘brought home’, as that musician put it.

Care for this building has, therefore, to be on a number of levels.

There’s the aesthetic. Nothing can be done in this remarkable building without attending to the aesthetics. How is this going to look? How will it fit in the surroundings? Is it of sufficient quality?

Then there’s the practical. People need to get in and out safely, up and down steps securely, storage found for the font cover when not in use.

Take the example of the recent conservation of the exterior stonework – that’s a combination of both the practical and the aesthetic.

But there’s a further dimension too.

Every day visitors come, spiritual seekers come, and there aren’t always people here to welcome and help interpretthis church building. So we try to help people interpret their experience of God here – the Christian faith from which it stems and the life of the church to which it leads.

There is a living faith for today!

And here art can has a particular role to play, going to depths that words struggle to reach.

The aumbry that Nicholas Mynheer designed has a theological and a spiritual depth – it takes you somewhere – towards Christ.

The stained glass window that Roger Wagner designed again has a theological and a symbolic depth – it conveys the Christian faith – it takes you towards Christ.

And the font cover, designed by Nicholas and Roger working together, does the same. It’s a bold piece of art proclaiming the risen Christ and his work in our lives. The first thing that catches your eye as you come into church is the lettering round the edge:

​‘If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation – 

​the old has passed away, behold the new is born.’

Whether we come here as visitors, concertgoers, seekers or worshippers, this building invites us to reflect on our lives.

Part of our calling is to help this building speak its purpose; to work with God in the way he draws people to this place and meets them here – bringing them home.

After spending some time at Bethel, we heard Jacob say:

​‘Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know


That has been people’s experience here too:

​‘Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know


So in addition to the important aesthetic and practical aspects of caring for this house of prayer, there’s the spiritual dimension too.

To invite people to say with Jacob:

​‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than

​the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’