Dedication and Consecration of a Church, The
The BCP provides a form for the Dedication and Consecration of a Church (pp. 567-574). The bishop presides at this service. The church may be consecrated at any time after it is ready for regular use as a place of worship. The building does not have to be debt-free or owned (see BCP, p. 575). All participants typically assemble near the church before the service begins. They process to the main door of the church after prayers by the bishop. Sacred vessels, ornaments, and decorations may be carried into the building in the procession. Blueprints, keys, and tools used in building the church may also be carried in procession (BCP, p. 575). The bishop uses the pastoral staff to mark the threshold with the sign of the cross. Sections of the prayer for the consecration of the church are said by the bishop, by a warden or other representative of the congregation, and by the rector or minister in charge. The bishop then dedicates the font, the lectern, and (or) the pulpit. After the liturgy of the word, with sermon or address, other pastoral offices (possibly including Blessing of Oil for the Sick or Commitment to Christian Service), the Nicene Creed, and the prayers of the people, the bishop consecrates the altar. After the altar is consecrated, bells may be rung. Members of the congregation vest the altar, place the vessels on it, and light the candles (BCP, p. 574). The service continues with the eucharist. Appropriate portions of this form may be used or adapted to dedicate parts of a building or furnishings that have been added or renovated, or to dedicate a chapel or oratory in another building.
The consecration of a church building was traditionally associated with its first use. This connection was broken by a canon enacted in 1868. It required the building and its ground to be fully paid for and free of debt or legal encumbrances when consecrated. The 1979 BCP once again connects first use of the church building and consecration. As a practical reality, depending on the bishop's schedule, the service of consecration may not be the very first service in the new building.
The BCP provides an order of service for use when a church or chapel has long been used for worship without formal consecration by a bishop. This form provides an opportunity for the congregation to reaffirm its commitment to mission and ministry. This order is especially appropriate on occasions such as recognition of the congregation as an independent parish, a major anniversary, or paying off a debt. It recognizes that the church building has already been consecrated by prayerful use.
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.