When I lived in Christchurch, New Zealand in the Summer of 2019, the church I attended was Saint Peter’s in Beckenham (a suburb). In many ways, this church was a way for me to feel connected to something familiar while living on the opposite side of the world. Many aspects of Sacramental churches that were discussed also apply to this church which demonstrates regardless of location, there are still many common structural similarities in all churches.
Churches are inherently involved in movement. They direct one’s eyes upwards. One thing I now notice about St Peter’s Church is a statue of St. Peter as a focal point for those entering the building. It is not an inherently large building, enough to fit 600 people snuggly, but a rather small church. Right from the beginning, the church calls us to look heavenward upon a Saint to adore God. Immediately heading inside, while following a short corridor to your right is the entrance to the back of the church and a baptismal font. Similar to the building layout of a typical Basilica, this church has two middle rows and on the sides are two small side chapels. On the right is a small alcove with candles, icons of the holy family, and a kneeler. Here, we see a devotion to the Holy Family, but this does not detract from the Church itself as this church fits most in line with a communal church. “The presence of God is not assured by things or symbols, but by the Christian people” (Kieckhefer 54). Here, the main emphasis is for the community to be brought together. Before the beginning of every mass, the priest called upon the congregation to “great your brothers and sisters a good morning.” This was said in a thick New Zealand accent which is by far one of the most memorable masses I went to my very first time. This further calls upon themes of a communal church because the emphasis is about being Christ for one another. As the Church, and a part of the Body of Christ, we are called to glorify God through the liturgy, together, with full and active participation. Even during the prayers of the faithful, there is attention to community. Different members of the congregation (age, sex, race, etc.) would read a prayer in their native language. Typically, there would be around five different languages in addition to the English and Maori (native New Zealand language).
Additionally, near the right side This is where the instrumentalists and the piano would set up for the masses I attended. On the left side, is a sort of “play area” for children. A box of children’s instruments invites all children to use these to have during the liturgy to both entertain and participate. This calls upon the idea to respond fully to God. The space of the church fully echoes with the sound of tiny children beating drums. As a liturgical space, the music rises, ebbs and flows, and resounds which brings us a more concrete way to see the invisible during mass. We can become closer to God through this music. Children, with their innocence and youthful glee remind us of the goodness of God and in community with each other to celebrate the Eucharist. Behind these pews near the instrument box, the wall is mostly stone, with strips of stained glass without any images, pure color radiating into the church. I notice now the way the shadows and light reflect directly onto the altar. It provides a sense of beauty as the color radiates into the Church which calls to mind the beauty of creation.
The altar is very simple. A large crucifix stands behind this altar and a screen is set up immediately to the right. Our eyes are naturally drawn to this large crucifix and it serves as the center of attention in this Church encouraging us to glorify God and celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. This screen acts as an aid in our adoration. It is simply used to display the readings and hymns since there are no booklets in the pews in an effort to live sustainably. This again, emphasizes the communal aspect of the liturgy and the focus is not the screen itself, but the communal participation to help us fully engage in celebration. As a last note, one thing I noticed as well was that the “Our Father” was said in the native Maori language during a time I attended and although I could not pronounce or read the words, seeing them depicted on the screen helped me to embrace a new cultural tradition and still feel as an active participant in the mass. This church helped me find a home away from home and now I can see many of the church elements in a new way.