There is no immutable law specifying how churches should be built and what they should look like. The Scriptures don’t tell us. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion don’t tell us. Canon Law doesn’t tell us. Tradition and custom tell us some things, but by no means all. In other words, the field is rather open when we undertake to build a church.
However, common sense, tradition and forms of Anglican worship give us some guidance. First of all, we are told to worship God in the beauty of holiness. Christ said God’s house is a “house of prayer”. Therefore, so far as in us lies, we should make the Lord’s house one that encourages an atmosphere of prayer, reverence, holiness. It should be as beautiful as our means and our imagination allow.
Any of us who have seen a great Gothic cathedral or even a small gem of a Gothic Church, know how such a structure helps create a sense of mystery, of majesty, of reverence, of holiness and of beauty. There was a time when that was the accepted style for churches. This is no longer true and there is no rule limiting the style of architecture. It may be Gothic or modern, a white-clapboard meetinghouse, a Georgian structure, with a spire or without a spire. It need only be as beautiful and as suitable for the worship of God as we can make it.
On the interior, tradition and Anglican usage dictate some standards. The central focus should always be the altar, because we are an altar-centered people and our primary worship is that of Holy Communion with its “continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ”, as the Offices of Instruction put it. The altar is also traditionally placed at the “east” wall of the church, if the geographic layout so permits; that way the worshiper may face towards the east where the Holy Land is. In order to heighten the focus on the altar, Anglican churches should have a center aisle so that from the moment of entry into the church, one is directly aware of the altar with a cross or crucifix upon or over it.
Preaching, as the proclamation and exposition of the Gospel, is vitally important, even indispensable, in Anglicanism. The pulpit, somewhat raised (and sometimes quite elevated) is most commonly placed on the left, or Gospel, side (as one faces the altar). This makes liturgical sense, because the sermon should expound, teach and make clear the application of the Gospel of the Lord. A separate lectern is provided on the other side of the church for the readings of the Scriptures.
The baptismal font is variously placed, but most usually is near one of the entrances to the building, because Baptism signifies a person’s entry into the life of Christ’s Church.
Stained glass windows have long been customary in churches for a number of reasons. They provide beauty and color, can illustrate an event in the life of Christ or the Church, and also prevent this distraction of the eye and mind of the worshipper (which can occur if the eye can take in the world outside through clear windows.
A bell is a happy and useful accompaniment to the whole architectural ensemble. It summons the worshippers to the services. It can peal out on occasions of extraordinary good news, both secular and spiritual. And it can respectfully mark the passing of members of the flock of the congregation.
All these are, in a sense, details, but no unimportant ones, to bear in mind in planning a new building for the worship and praise of almighty God. The most essential point to remember, however, is that we are bound, as we love God and His Son, to make every effort and sacrifice to insure a “House of Prayer” that is beautiful, suitable to the Anglican liturgy, reverent and holy in feeling. Our church is our initial and permanent offering of love and praise to God. It must be the best we can make it.