Last November, we were in Orlando for a wedding, and we decided to worship at St. Andrew’s PCA, home of R. C. Sproul. It was an interesting experience all around, and I’ve been meaning to blog about it ever since.
As we walked in from the parking lot, it was clear that the ‘Chapel’ would be better named a ‘Cathedral’, with traditional European architecture (east-west orientation, bell tower, giant vaulted ceiling supported by flying buttresses, cross-shaped floor plan, etc.), sharing a lovely green plot of a few acres with a pond and Ligionier Ministries. I was planning, if the opportunity should arise, a greeting to Dr. Sproul from Escondido OPC, Westminster Seminary, and the Cambridge School (which has received a lot of mentorship from the Geneva School which came out of Sproul’s church). As it happened, the day we visited was the same day a minister was ordained or received or installed or something in one of the other churches that are somehow in a cluster (sub-presbytery?) with St Andrews, and a deacon or greeter explained that Dr. Sproul was not out talking with guests as usual, because of duties related to that church business. Also, there was a note in the bulletin that, under doctor’s orders, Dr. Sproul is not allowed to shake hands. I guess he’s really pretty old by now, and that seems a good precaution to safeguard his health.
So the most striking element of the cathedral is the art. The St. Andrew’s website describes everything (and there is a handout available with the same information). Immediately upon entering the foyer, there is a Torah scroll in a glass case (from a scriptorium in Yemen that has been active since biblical times). All around the foyer are mounted 6 large (and I mean huge, like at least 6’x8′) paintings of scenes from the life and work of Christ. Unfortunately, I can’t find any pictures of them online, but they are by Richard Serrin, “one of the greatest religious painters of the twentieth century.” I’m no art critic, but I was not particularly impressed. I have no problem with images of Christ (outside the sanctuary), and these were certainly not Kincade-cheesy, but I didn’t get an impression of awe-inspiring mastery from them.
Inside the sanctuary, there are a number of remarkable stained-glass windows. It would have helped if I had found and read the handout first, because I was distracted and confused for the whole service about why, directly behind the pulpit, there were giant stained-glass windows of a lion, a man, and a bull (see picture below). Turns out, in that alcove there are actually 5 windows, symbolically representing the four gospel writers, and presenting Paul as a man, each holding a Book of their contributions to the New Testament. Apart from being just plain distracting, I don’t see how they can be reconciled with historical, confessional Reformed views on images in churches. (To hear Sproul on images, try here at 18:20, or here at 45:00) The large stained glass windows to the sides seem more appropriate, being mostly mosaicked color, surrounding Christological symbols of a throne, and a crown&scepter.
Enough about the facility (except to note that, oddly, there were two uniformed, armed Sanford policemen guarding(?) the foyer), let me pass on to the service, or as much as I can remember after 5 months. The prelude consisted essentially of an oboe concerto, with a tiny chamber orchestra up there (lovely, but a bit secular for my taste). The organ and hymns were wonderful. There was I believe a responsive psalm reading and a confession of the Apostle’s or Nicene creed.
The most memorable aspect of the sermon was that R.C. mounted the podium and announced that in his studies he had accidentally skipped right over the passage that had just been read, and prepared for the next pericope. After relating a hilarious mashup of two gospel parables, he dove right into the assigned passage, al fresco as it were. The sermon was as good as I would have expected from Sproul. Unfortunately, the St. Andrews website doesn’t seem to present a complete index of recorded sermons by date, so I can’t look up exactly what the sermon was, and refresh my memory beyond that.