Lectern at Shadyside Presbyterian Church
The lectern, compared to the pulpit, font and communion table, sometimes seems to have a secondary status. This may be because its purpose is misunderstood and diluted. From the lectern we receive the grace of hearing God’s Word read. In many churches, much of worship (other than preaching and the sacraments) is conducted from the lectern. This is fine, as long as we do not lose sight of the sacramental nature of four main worship components.
View of chancel at Shadyside Church - lectern toward right
In the Reformed tradition, our worship is in Word and Sacrament – as is true in some other traditions, as well. The Sacraments are the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. We have, also, the Word proclaimed (preaching) and the Word read (scripture). Since the Reformation, so much emphasis has been placed on preaching that scripture reading may be perceived as merely preliminary to proclamation. There is, however, a distinct and inherent grace imparted during the active hearing of the Word read.
A properly chaste Presbyterian lectern at Bower Hill Community Church with restrained ornament
A high view of the importance of a lectern is neither universal nor a continuous element of worship through Church history. Today, many advocate a “table of the Word” from which scripture is both read and preached. This is common in Roman Catholic Churches. In 1964, even the influential author on Protestant worship, James F. White wrote,
A Table of the Word or Ambo at St. Francis de Sales Parish a Roman Catholic Church in Toronto
There is no
indication whether the
Ambo extending from chancel in an early basilica church
A clearly distinct lectern came into use in the middle ages, particularly in churches intended for use by monastic orders. Worship in such places took place chiefly within the chancel. The portion of the chancel at liturgical West (toward the church entrance), called the choir, was occupied by “minor clergy.” On the chancel centerline within the choir, a lectern served to read the scripture lessons.
After the Reformation, many experiments with the shape and arrangement of the worship space were tried. In some cases, such an emphasis was placed on preaching and the pulpit that the lectern was omitted. Meetinghouses sometimes made a finer functional distinction and employed the so-called “triple decker.” A hierarchy of elevation placed the pulpit at the top, a lectern in the middle for reading scripture and a desk on the bottom for conducting other worship elements.
nineteenth century, the Cambridge-Camden Society called for a return to
medieval architecture and worship. The
use of a lectern was one aspect they advocated.
This was favored also in the “second wave” Gothic Revival, led
by Ralph Adams Cram. In his
The Gospel and Epistle sides are the left and right, respectively, as the congregation faces the chancel. Never reticent, Cram proscribes and prescribes the form of the altar:
Cram’s recommendation for the lectern on the Epistle side became nearly a standard of church architecture in Protestant churches through at least the first half of the twentieth century. As the auditorium worship space regained ascendance, especially in Evangelical churches, the lectern (and eventually the pulpit) disappeared.
was meticulous in his use of Christian symbolism. The ample symbolic
carving on Shadyside's lectern is the design of his former employee,
Charles Marcus Osborn. The reading desk is supported by the four
winged creatures representing the Gospel writers. The pedestal is
formed by three intertwined columns, symbolic of the Trinity.
Between the columns we find the rose and thistle, emblematic of Christ and
humanity. On the reading desk a book is carved: the Bible, God's
Word. The legend "Lux In Tenebris" means light in the
Cram was meticulous in his use of Christian symbolism. The ample symbolic carving on Shadyside's lectern is the design of his former employee, Charles Marcus Osborn. The reading desk is supported by the four winged creatures representing the Gospel writers. The pedestal is formed by three intertwined columns, symbolic of the Trinity. Between the columns we find the rose and thistle, emblematic of Christ and humanity. On the reading desk a book is carved: the Bible, God's Word. The legend "Lux In Tenebris" means light in the darkness.
In this church, where the Word proclaimed, the Word read and the Word made visible in the sacraments are crucial in worship, the lectern is substantial, meaningful and beautiful; as is the Word.