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FCCO Symbols Described and Catalogued
1966 Mrs. Schwarz, Womens' League
The following is a composite of four “talk tours” of the Entrance, Narthex, and Sanctuary of the First Congregational Church of Oakland, California which were presented over the years beginning in 1946.
Bequests, memorials and other generous gifts from members made possible through their concern and desire to enhance the beauty and usefulness of their Church. Much of what we will see here today was provided by them.
The names of these dedicated members will not be included in today's commentary. However, reference to the copy of The Brief History of the Church, is on file in the Church office will provide this information.
It might be of interest to recall here that shortly after the completion of this building an article appeared in the “top” architectural magazine of the country featuring a story with illustrations of the three most outstanding church buildings in the United States. Our Church was featured as one of these three. Our church architect, John Galen Howard, was given due credit.
STRENGTH AND GLADNESS
ARE IN THIS PLACE
1860 – 1924
This is inscribed on the cornerstone of our Church and this is the introduction to the topic of todays tour and commentary
Looking up from the base of the steps before the entrance of our Church we may see the FACADE, depicting Jesus and his twelve disciples. This is an original by the son of the architect of our Church.
Mounting the steps, we will enter one of the THREE massive double doors. Here I will call your attention to the SIMBOL OF THE TRINITY which you will see in various forms through this tour. Three is the symbol of the TRINITY — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Open doors leading into a House of Worship are symbols of the hospitality and sharing of reverence and respect for the Church.
The church door itself may remind one of Jesus who said, “I am the door” (John 10:9) When a door is divided, as are our double front doors, references are again made to the two natures of Christ. The large open doors welcome everyone, v bidding all to advance into the Church to worship, learn and serve. '
Step over to the left and look closely at the bronze plaque against that wall. Though it is not a “religious symbol” it’s most definitely symbolic of true brotherly love and sharing which our membership should be gratefully aware. There is a duplicate of this plaque on the wall of the narthex of the Temple Sinai.
For two years while this building was under construction, we were without a place to hold our services. Temple Sinai, located nearby on 26th and Webster Streets, invited us to use their auditorium for Sunday services, without charge. Other services are held on Saturdays and Friday evenings.
Be sure to read this and be reminded of the true meaning of “fellowship of kindred soda is like to that above.”
Next observe that there are three double, /swinging doors 1 leading into the Sanctuary from the Narthex. At the top of each is a glass (window) showing the Latin Cross symbolic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Looking to the left and right we admire the stately dignity of the large marble columns, or pillars.
Pillars are symbolic of the unity and support of the Church. We often refer to an especially able and serving member of the church as he, or she, is a pillar of the church. I see some of you are here, now.
At the top of each pillar we see the design of the vine and branch, reminding us that Jesus said “I am the vines and you are the branches.”
We may also see the carving of the thorn on the tops of the pillars, symbolic of the suffering of our Lord.
The arches between the pillars are said to be symbols or the beneficence of God and the hospitality of the Christian faith. Here we see the rounded form of arches, suggestive of dependability. Many churches feature the Gothic form, high and pointed suggesting aspiration.
As mentioned earlier, everywhere we see groups of three, the design symbolizing the Trinity. Note the windows on the sides walls are in groups of three.
Looking at the ends of each pew we see carved the design of the quatrefoil representing the four evangelists, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.
New look up to the center of the wood paneling of the ceiling. Here is the sign of the Greek Cross. This cross is second only to the Latin Cross with the multitude of adaptations of over four hundred other crosses, though of course not all of these are Christian crosses.
Some of you have asked about the many beautiful stained glass windows all about us in the Sanctuary. A separate program may be scheduled for these. Such a program would necessitate at least an hour to do them Justice. I shall mention Just two today. [Click here for stained glass artist Willimena Ogetrop's page.]
From where we stand, if not Just move about so that you may look back and to our then left. There is the magnificent re-production of the Sistine Madonna by Sanzio Raphael.
The Sistine Madonna by Raphael is one or the great masterpieces pictured (over sixty of them) in my copy of Cynthia Pearl Maus' The World's Great Madonnas — and my favorite.
To add a light touch to today's commentary I want you to pause and study this masterpiece and note below on the left the venerable Pope Sixtus and on the right Sr. Barbara who is smiling down at the two cherubs. It is reported that Raphael's model for these two were neighborhood children, who frequently watched him from the window sill below and from the unholy expressions in their eyes made cherubic comments. However, by giving them wings Raphael made angels of them.
Now having come to the area below the pulpit platform we see the Baptismal Font. This marble font and stand was a gift from forty-four (44) persons who had been christened, or who had children who had been christened in the church.
Our baptismal font is six sided, significant symbolically with the six sided Creator’s Star, the symbol of creation.
Two flags are displayed at the far corners of this area. To the left is the flag of the United States of America to which we proudly pledge our allegiance. To the right is the Christian Flag, or Church Flag. This flag signifies Christianity in its entirety the faith, worship, tradition, responsibilities and all of the other blessings.
The cross on the top of the standard of this flag symbolizes the love of God for man. The blue background speaks of the faithfulness and sincerity of the Savior, who was obedient unto death. The white portion of the flag is symbolic of purity, innocence and peace and also bears witness to the purity and sinlessness of the Founder of the Faith and man's joy in contemplating God's initiative in redeeming the world.
If you wish you may be seated in the front pews just off the middle aisle because the remainder of this commentary will cover features which can be easily seen from there.
We are just below the Altar, or Pulpit, platform, and the center of this is the Communion Table. On this table during all services except when communion is celebrated, there are two candlesticks and candles. These are symbolic of the two natures of Jesus, the spiritual and the human.
Between these will be the open Bible, symbolizing that the Bible is accessible throughout the world for all people everywhere, at all times.
To the left and the right, toward the back are two tall standard candelabra each supporting seven candles which are lighted before each service. Seven candles meta reminders of the seven-tongued flame based on the story of the Pentecost as it is recorded in the second chapter of Acts 2:1-4.
To our left on the Altar platform, we see the Pulpit. From the pulpit the word of God is preached, as recorded in the Bible and is interpreted through his sermon to the congregation.
Hanging from the pulpit is an antependa (a hanging for the front of an altar, pulpit, or lectern), a single tapestry or other fabric on which is shown in design and color the changing, seasonal, or calendar celebrations of the church. The minister s messages are designed to conform to these in text, or theme. Thus it is that from the Pulpit the word of God as found in the Bible is delivered.
To our right the Lecturn, from this are two narrow antependia with designs and colors corresponding to those hanging from the single, larger, antependia displayed in front of the pulpit.
It is from the Lecturn that an assisting minister or lay person reads the lesson for the day and makes whatever announcements relative to the calendar for the week and or whatever other activities involve the participation of the members of the church.
Please note the chairs placed at either ends of the Communion table. These were brought to this building when we moved from 12th and Clay Streets. You will see that the designs of three arches are at the tops of the backs and that under the arms of the two arm chairs showing the symbols of the quatrefoil reminding us of the four evangelists ~ Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.
On either side of this area are large carved screens or panels behind which are located the larger pipes of the organ. Please note the designs on these panels which show five circles, one above the other. Look closely and you will see that there is no beginning and no ending of the lines making these circles.
The circles, or rings, have been universally accepted as the symbols for eternity and never ending existence, the everlasting God “Who was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
Also note that these circles are made up of twelve sections, or open spaces, which are curved at the outer rim and come in to a solid center. The number twelve is symbolic of the twelve apostles. In a more extended meaning it is also used to represent the entire church.
Along the sides of these panels, between the circles are triangles, ten triangles in each panel. The number ten is also used as a symbol for the Ten Commandments.
Under the screens inside the chancel, in back of the choir seats are carved wooden supports with the design of palm branches. These symbolize the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.
“others put down branches from the trees (palms) and strewn them in the way.”
- Mathew 2: 8
The Organ often referred to “The king of instruments”. Under the skilled performance of the organist, an important portion of the service is provided - adding to the beauty and support of the message from the pulpit.
At the time our present organ was being installed and the chancel choir area re-constructed, the lay committee in charge of this operation asked our minister Dr. Clarence Riedenbach, if he had any suggestions or ideas to offer. Never one to enter into plans and operations which had been designated to the committee in charge he did offer one re quest. He asked that a large Latin Cross be installed, located where it could be seen by everyone in the Sanctuary.
This was done. In front of the beautiful red velvet dossal, where all may it, is the gold plated aluminum Latin Cross. It Was constructed of aluminum because that metal is lighter in weight and more durable than other materials.
This window is the focal point behind and above the chancel. An original design created by one of the members of our church with the assistance of our 'architect who provided for its installation from the beginning of the plans of the structure and strengthening of the wall space'.
It was not installed until several years after the church was completed.
It is, first of all, likened to a huge wheel with its sturdy outer rim, the supporting spokes and the strong hub at the center. A wheel which is ever turning, ever expanding the reach of Christianity, the progress of the Church.
Again we see the triangles, against the rim, by the outer ends of the spokes. There are ten open spaces. The number ten as mentioned before symbolic of the Ten Commandments. '
Each of these panels of stained glass has at the top on Easter lily and down each side of the stems are three leaves. Here again the Trinity.
The center has a flower, a five-pedaled red rose. The number five is symbolic of the wounds of Christ and red the symbol of blood associated with His suffering on the cross. The green of the leaves reminds us of the symbol of hope.
Surely the beauty and the spiritual significance of the reminders of our Christian Heritage. to be seen in our Sanctuary are lessons to be studied and treasured with reverence and know “The Strength and Gladness are in this place”.
s/ Lucy B. Schwarz
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