New Altar and Artwork Light Up St. Peter’s Church in Washington

The white walls behind the altar at St. Peter’s Church in Washington are now enlivened by a larger-than-life painting of Christ handing Peter the keys to the kingdom. The Country Parish also added a new ambon, more seating, and a new altar, which was dedicated by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge during Mass on September 13.

Prior to the renovation, the sanctuary area was very small and the platform below was unstable, said Pastor Father Kevin J. Beres. “If one of the altar boys (who) weighed even 40 pounds started to cross, the candles on the altar would start to flicker,” he said.

Bob Klaus, a parishioner who does odd jobs around the church with other volunteers, agreed the space was too small. “If the flower ladies got carried away at Easter, the father had to tiptoe through the tulips to distribute communion,” he said. “The altar was also very small. If there were more than two candlesticks, you would have no more real estate.

Strong Oaks Workshop carpenters built the new altar and ambo. The old altar is now the tabernacle’s altar of rest. Parishioner and artist Henry Wingate painted the altarpiece. Parishioner Jill Storey sewed the altar linen. Peter Edivan served as architect and Scott Long as contractor. While working, parishioners worshiped on Sundays at the Washington Fire Station.

Additionally, the parish rebuilt the foyer to provide additional seating above the vestibule. They opened up the transepts to allow for a larger sanctuary, more room around the baptismal font, and more seating for the choir and worshippers. “There are just a lot of improvements in the layout of the church,” Klaus said. “We put in more insulation (and) replaced the old makeshift doors with newer ones. In general, this will make it a much nicer place to celebrate mass.

In his homily, Bishop Burbidge went through the rite of dedication. “We begin to sing the litanies of the saints and we will place the relics (in the altar). It’s a reminder that as we make this journey across the earth, we never have to do it alone,” he said. “We do this accompanied by the saints who have gone before us, whose example we strive to imitate and whose help we call upon.

“Then we say the dedication prayer,” he said. “I believe the Lord invites you to rededicate yourself to Him, making sure that your relationship with the Lord is your highest priority.” After anointing the altar with sacred chrism and burning incense on the altar, candles are placed on the altar and lit. “(The light of the candles symbolizes) the truth that we celebrate at this Mass and at every Mass – that by his cross and resurrection, Jesus conquered the darkness of sin, suffering and even death itself”, did he declare.

After the mass, the participants gathered in the parish hall for a reception. Parishioner Myla Beasley, who sat in the pews with her 6-year-old daughter Lucia while her sons served at the altar, said she thought the renovations were beautiful. “It’s so different from what it looked like before. Lucia said she couldn’t even remember what it looked like before,” she said.

Bernadette O’Heir, a parishioner since 1992, helped ceremonially dress the altar with two other women. “I love the altar, I love that the altar rails are back in place,” she said. “Painting just makes your eyes look skyward.”

Martha J. Finley