What does it mean to consecrate something? At the Holy Table, the priest, along with the assent of the people, consecrates the bread and wine and after that somehow mysteriously they hold the presence of Jesus Christ where before they were merely Taylor Cream Sherry and paper-like wafers of bread. The priest is the presider, but it is God who does the actual transforming. Perhaps that is similar to consecrating the new Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary. The old chapel went up in flames five Octobers ago. Since then a new one has been built and yesterday there was a big celebration of consecration with Episcopal and Anglican dignitaries who came from all over the world. The new chapel has already been in use for several months by the seminary and the parish that shares it, Immanuel Church on the Hill. So what happened yesterday that consecrated it?

When a church building is consecrated it is a public service of dedication. The service began dramatically with Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefforts Schori, knocking her bishop’s staff three times on the closed front doors. Her voice boomed over the PA system, “Let the doors be opened.” The doors were opened and as she crossed the threshold, she marked it with the sign of the cross. From there, different bishops blessed pivotal places or objects in the new worship space.  The baptismal font, the processional cross, the organ, and the ambo (the pulpit) all were set apart, blessed, and dedicated to the glory of God.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby preached a stirring sermon during which he reminded us that the building must serve the people, not the other way around. Then the altar was blessed and set for communion. The chapel holds 450 people and outside another 350 were worshipping in a tent, watching the service on screens. All of us were fed by the sustaining presence of Christ in the bread and wine. All of us were inspired by the glorious music. All of us were charged to “Go Ye Into All The World And Preach The Gospel!” These words from the end of the Mark Gospel hung over the altar in the old chapel, and have been painted in gold above the western doors in the new chapel; words meant not just for seminarians, but for all of us who claim Jesus Christ as our sure foundation.VTS may have built a beautiful chapel and put on a powerful service of consecration, but it is God who does the transforming.