One of the historical origins of the Presbyterian Church is the Reformed Church in Geneva Switzerland, begun in the middle of the 16th century by John Calvin and the Genevan Elders. On the crest of the hill in the old city of Geneva stands, to this day, the Church of Saint Peter, a massive stone edifice constructed by the Roman Catholics. Inside one can view all the apses and alcoves where the Roman Catholics had placed paintings and statues of saints for veneration. At the front of the sanctuary is a high vaulted ceiling which had been adorned with angels and a crucifix-still de rigeur in Roman Catholic sanctuaries worldwide.
But when the Roman Catholics were ousted from Geneva, Calvin and the Genevan Elders stripped St Peter's bare of all images and adornments. Since that time the sanctuary has presented only the stolid grey of cut stone to the entering worshiper: no votives, no statues, no gilding.
In October of this year I helped officiate at the wedding of a member of our congregation, Jordan, and his bride. They chose to celebrate the wedding at her home church, St James Roman Catholic Church in Johnson City, New York.
The sanctuary of St James is decadent, perhaps opulent (though I say this having seen much more wealth on the walls of Italian basilicas). I had a thought so frequently quoted that it's almost embarrassing to write again here: What if all the money that had gone into this sanctuary had gone into serving the poor and the needy?
Let's be clear: the sanctuary of Nineveh Pres has stained glass windows, chandeliers, embroidered paraments, and a brass cross and candlesticks. Unlike the Moravians, with whom I spent more than a few of my Sundays growing up, American Presbyterians do not believe in complete austerity of decor. There is a sense, in all but the most rigorous of iconoclast traditions, that our worship space should present something beautiful for God.
I wonder if, even in our humble sanctuary in Nineveh, the smallest sum spent on physical adornment is not a distraction from the work that is the Lord's pride and joy.