The parish church: Inside


Last week we were talking chiefly about the outside of a church.  Today we are going to talk about some of the things we find inside it.

Most churches are divided into three parts: the nave, the chancel and the sanctuary.

The nave

The nave is the body of the church where the people sit.  It comes from the Latin word navis, meaning a ship.  We get ‘navy’ from the same word.  The Early Christians liked to compare the whole Church of God to a great ship sailing over “the waves of this troublesome world” on her way to “the land of everlasting life”; and so their own particular church, in which they used to meet for worship, reminded them also of a ship as it narrowed towards the east like a ship narrows towards its bows.


In the nave near one of the doors you will find the font.  It is placed near the entrance as a sign that through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, which is administered at the font, we enter the Family of God’s Church.  The font is usually the oldest part of a church, sometimes older than the rest of the building.  This is because in olden days, when a church was pulled down and a new and larger one erected in its place, they liked to keep the old font and set it up in the new church.

Arcade of pillars and arches

I said just now that the church usually narrows towards the east end, and the effect of this is to lead one’s eye along its length to the altar, which is the most important part of the church.  The arcade of pillars and arches, which separates the nave itself from the aisles at the side, acts in the same way, just as an avenue of trees leads you to look along it to the other end.

Lectern and pulpit

At the front of the nave there is the lectern from which the Bible is read.  On the other side you will see the pulpit from which the Christian Faith is taught.  It is interesting to note that, although of course sermons are preached at other times, the only service at which a sermon is actually ordered by the Prayer Book is the Eucharist.  This is because the Eucharist is the chief service of the Church at which the greatest number of people are present.  The lectern and the pulpit, placed as they are on either side of the way leading up to the altar, where worship is offered to God,  remind us that we are taught about God so that we may worship him better.  Our first purpose in going to church is not to listen to sermons or readings from the Bible, important though they are, but to honour God by offering him our worship.

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