A few weeks ago, a friend posted to facebook wondering about the “possessive ‘s” that we tend to add to our church’s names. The subtext being, don’t we all belong to Christ? Energetic discussion followed, complete with a helpful grammatical explanation of the broader usage of, for example, “the Church of St Andrew” or “St Andrew’s” that doesn’t have to mean that the church belongs to Andrew.
Most of the Christ Churches I know, on the other hand, don’t use the apostrophe. Freaky.
Anyway, it got me thinking about how, why and what it mean for us to have dedicated our churches in the names of various saints. That train of thought was driven further by the coincidence this week of our own patronal feast at St Andrew’s. Andrew’s feast is tomorrow, but our midweek Eucharist is always Tuesday, so we’re celebrating St Andrew today. After all, feastdays were made for the church, not the church for feastdays (to coin a paraphrase).
But to return, why do churches name themselves for saints? We know that Jesus Christ is the head of our church, our destination and our faith. Churches named for Christ, or the Good Shepherd, or Our Redeemer, then, have it easy (in that respect). If we are named for St Andrew, though, or dedicated to his memory, always secondary to our calling as a church of Christ, we invoke something of his example; we evoke a kinship to him; we identify with his story.
I’ll explore a little more of Andrew’s example to us, a little more of his story in the next two days, but here’s what one person has written about him:
“Andrew gave Christ, and life, to others simply by giving others to Christ.”*
And here’s Jesus’ word to Andrew and the other disciples from today’s (first Tuesday in Advent) Eucharistic readings:
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23b-24)
I wonder if anyone reading has a patron saint of their own, perhaps chosen by their parents and godparents at their baptism, or by themselves at Confirmation or another rite of passage. If so, I wonder how your patron saint’s story opens your eyes to see what you might not otherwise have seen, or your ears to hear what you might not otherwise have heard. I’d love to hear your stories.
* Sam Portaro, Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts, revised ed. (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 2001), 4