By H. Boone Porter
To treat a special occasion, feast, or season in a unique way provides a great opportunity for worship. At the same time, as we have repeatedly suggested in this column, it requires preparation.
One aspect of preparation is the obtaining of physical equipment. The range of what can be done (and done well) is vastly widened if one has the necessary materials and utensils. If a good inventory of such items is on hand in the early fall, the parish is prepared for many possibilities during the months ahead.
Most churches have a closet or other storage space for such Sunday school equipment as cardboard, colored paper, glue, thumbtacks, etc. Such a supply can be considerably enlarged for teen-age and adult use. Whenever materials are purchased for making posters, banners, or special decorations, a little bit extra of each item can be obtained. Colored felt large sheets of cardboard, string, wire, and a few pieces of assorted lumber can be very helpful at some future time.
Most churches will have such basic tools as a hammer, saw, pliers, screwdriver, and assorted nails, screws, and hooks. Handy additions are a metal edged yardstick and a carpenter’s coiled metal measuring tape. An out-sized pair of heavy scissors, with eight-inch blades, is a joy and delight to anyone making posters, banners, or stage-settings for a play or pageant.
It is often desirable to be able to suspend some special decoration or seasonal symbol at a high level in the church. Your columnist recommends a hoisting hook permanently available at a suitable point in the Eastern part of the church. This can be installed easily and inexpensively on a Saturday morning by two able-bodied men with a ladder and a boy or two to help. Most churches have an arch or large beam above the entrance to the chancel. The necessary gear can be mounted on the east side of the arch or beam so as to be virtually invisible to the congregation when out of use. We recommend arranging the hoist as in the diagram. (To tie the hook to a single end of rope appears easier, but when there is weight on it, rope tends to revolve first one way and then another: the suspended object will never be straight for very long.) Very strong light nylon line will be found to be more satisfactory than clothesline. After leaving the pulley (as at left of diagram), the line can be led through a series of screw-eyes down the wall. A cleat can be fixed to the wall for making the line fast when it is in use, or for coiling it up when not in use. Such a cleat should be above the reach of little hands. The hoist we have described can be used to suspend an advent wreath a yard or two aboe human height, or an Epiphany star near the roof, or at a moderate height a representation of a dove for the feast of our Lord’s Baptism, Whitsunday, and confirmation.
Two or three small movable platforms can be a great help for special events. They can be used to make a high place for a creche at Christmas, or for readers of the Passion in Holy Week, or for the Paschal Candle. They can be used to extended the footpace at the font if there are numerous baptismal candidates, or to extend the kneeling space in front of the altar for confirmation. They are always handy too for theatrical or other events in the parish house.
For a small church with narrow aisles and limited space in the sanctuary, we suggest platforms about three feet long and two feet wide. For a larger church they may be five feet long and three or four feet wide — but not so large that they are a problem to move. They should be the height of one step in the chancel (usually about six inches), so that they can be used to extend a step at the same level. Such platforms can be easily made in a parishioner’s workshop. They should be stoutly nailed together so that there is no danger of collapse under the weight of several people. The platforms may be varnished or painted to match church woodwork, or may be covered with carpeting. On festive occasions, a small oriental rug may be the most handsome covering.
Many churches have extra candlesticks, flower vases, and other miscellaneous items of furnishing which can be used to advantage at special times. If your church has nothing extra in this line, keep your eyes peeled. It is amazing what one can sometimes pick up at auctions or rummage sales! Or some skilled parishioner may enjoy making some things of this sort — but the need should be clearly defined before anyone starts work. (Your columnist knows a church which has a beautiful ceramic chalice — unfortunately so shaped that one cannot comfortably drink from it.) And then there is borrowing. Some people will be glad to lend a rug, vase, or candlebrum to a church if they are assured it will be taken good care of and returned at a specific time. Things should not be borrowed if such assurance cannot be given.
Years ago, very few Episcopal churches ever considered using incense. Today, many churches use it at the Easter Vigil and a few other special occasions. The traditional Christian use of incense requires a very special hardware: namely a thurible or incense pot and a “boat” or incense container with spoon. Of course, one must have a sufficient amount of incense itself, and the special charcoal sold for this purpose in church supply shops. In congregations not experienced in these arcane matters, the clergy, servers, and altar guild should undertake a complete trial run with incense before using it publicly on a solemn occasion. It is not really so difficult — but a little practice helps.
The Rev. Dr. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977-1990. This article was first published in our August 7,1977 issue.