Church of the Epiphany, Gloucester, East Ottawa Deanery


Worship Is The Thing

A funny thing happened to the architecture of Anglican churches in the 1960s. It got religion. Or, to put it another way, people began thinking about the purpose of church and how the design of a worship space reflected that purpose—thinking that resulted in what we see here in the Church of the Epiphany, Gloucester, built half a century later.

Epiphany emerged from the amalgamation of two parishes, the Church of Saint Christopher in Gloucester, and Saint Paul’s Church, Overbrook. These two emerged in the 1960s, either at the same time or just a little after an Ontario conference on church architecture was being held in Toronto in 1961.

At the conference, Edward Frey from the department of church architecture of the United Lutheran Church in America challenged the traditional way in which building committees arranged for the design of churches. “For them it is a settled matter that the interior of the building should be longer than it is wide, filled with the familiar furnishings so arranged as to conform to the stereotyped image of the meeting house or the medieval cathedral,” he asserted.  “The building and the idea of the building are all pervasive and this must not be because the building is not the thing. Worship is the thing.”

Frey noted that an important aspect of the liturgical awakening taking place in contemporary Christian society was the rediscovery of the laity. Worship in church was not a solo activity of the priest or minister, but rather the essential and active participation of the “whole people of God.” To encourage such participation, the architecture and furnishings of new churches should encourage people to participate fully in public worship rather than be forced into the passive role of mere observers.

The same year as this conference, Victor Fiddes published with Ryerson Press at Toronto The Architectural Requirements of Protestant Worship. In his survey history Fiddes, like Frey, urged a return to worship in the round such as the early Christians had practiced in their house churches before the toleration granted to Christians by the emperor Constantine had prompted the church to merge its worship practices with those of established pagan religions. Principally, Frey and Fiddes argued for locating a communion table in the middle of a circle of worshippers.

Back in Gloucester, both St. Christopher’s and Saint Paul’s claimed to be innovative in physically arranging worship. Take Saint Christopher’s for example.  Lacking the funds to build a church, they settled for building a functional parish hall, making use of stacking chairs rather than pews, but laid out for worship facing a free-standing altar at one end. As for Saint Paul’s, the new house of worship they built at the end of the decade had the altar in the centre, as Frey and Fiddes recommended. The only problem was no immediate prospect of growth.

With prodding from the Diocese, the two small churches amalgamated as Church of the Epiphany, and their new worship space opened in 2003. Not only was the altar in the centre, but baptisms took place there too in a cruciform immersion tank seen here in the foreground. The only connection with traditional local church architecture was the octagonal shape of the worship space. The only colour in that space was provided by the red chairs grouped in a circle.

The Diocesan Archives collects parish registers, vestry reports, service registers, minutes of groups and committees, financial documents, property records (including cemeteries and architectural plans), insurance policies, letters, pew bulletins, photographs and paintings, scrapbooks, parish newsletters and unusual records. 


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