Non Nobis Domine
ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY Anglican CHURCH
Father Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for The Dedication of the New Church, February 19, 1995
"Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake. Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God?” Ps 115
“And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former: and in this place will I give peace.” Haggai 2:7-9
IT IS A HYMN OF THE ANCIENT CHURCH as it was of the Jewish people: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name give glory.” Psalm 115. It would indeed be a great temptation for us to seek or to give glory to men as we look at the works of their hands today. This beautiful building, its graceful lines, its stout ceiling, the precious adornments of its altar, the packed-out seating: so overwhelming is it that we may seek a person, an organization, some other human entity where we might bestow praise and honor. This is natural, but it is wrong. Let me tell you what’s happened here.
A little more than three and a half years ago (June 1991) I was given the word by our Bishop (Morse) that Chico was looking for a new rector. My time in Sacramento was drawing to a close, and I felt it was God’s will to accept a call here to St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church. Upon setting foot in Chico, my wife Giti began telling me she was hearing from God. She said that He was going to give us this old building for our church. At that time there were maybe 25 or 30 people meeting at St. Augustine’s in the lazy summer Sunday mornings, and they were experiencing a short-fall in their finances yearly. Surely, it would take a major miracle to see us take over an operating restaurant and bar complex, renovate it into a Church, and survive. On August 4, 1991, Giti and I came here to see just how much of a miracle it might take.
We dined in the alcove there, at the back of the building, in a Chinese mahogany and brass enclosure (which is still in the building, and for sale if you like). We asked to see Bill Pang, the restaurant’s owner. Giti’s heart was convicted and convinced that we should find out if Bill knew Christ, and if so, might he give us the building for a church. We met, and he told us of his financial situation, which was bleak. He was bankrupt, and the bank was foreclosing on his interest. He, therefore, had no power to give the building away, but he would sell it to us for $1.2 million. That would just get him out of debt. Giti asked him her other question, and he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, and that strangely the difficulties he had encountered in this building, including two accidents that caused brain damage to him and to his wife, Amy, and total financial ruin and disgrace, had brought him closer to God and made him a better Christian. We prayed with him and left.
As we began talking about this possibility, to buy a building in foreclosure by a bank that did not want a building in Chico, we met with many different attitudes. The consensus was that it was impossible. That was a true and fair assessment. Leaving God out of the equation, no one could predict what happened next. The building went on sale for $950,000.
After two years of waiting, the San Francisco listing agent was dropped by the bank, and a local agent began showing it at $695,000. Still a ridiculous sum for us to consider. But as interest began to be shown, we began to see a picture developing: a willing agent, and a bank becoming desperate. Then the University stepped in. A year ago (winter 1994), Chico State bought this building for $520,000. That is, they drew papers. But a contingency that the building successfully pass stringent California School Earthquake codes kept them from closing the deal. In the meantime, the people of St. Augustine’s and all of Chico began to react against yet another building taken over for drinking, and this building worst of all. God spoke into this situation, and showed us that the time was now. We called the newspaper and let them know that we too were interested in buying the property. Public interest grew as a little-known church came out of the woodwork to claim a beloved church building back for the worship of God.
“Save the Church,” we called the campaign, and several people took interested roles in its promotion. Signs were posted in downtown windows, bumper stickers printed at Media Screenprint, editorials showing up in the Enterprise Record, and even a cartoon with mice discussing being church mice or eating Chinese food was printed in the News and Review. In a few short months, we had raised over $180,000 in pledged support of the idea, and we bid on the property. We thought that offering $450,000 was a good bargainingposition. We were therefore flabbergasted when the Bank of the Orient came back with an acceptance of the figure, asking that we close escrow in 60 days.
On September 22, 1994, we closed escrow, only lacking about $50,000 of the total purchase price. We obtained a mortgage, and began the arduous task of disassembling Bill Pang’s dream restaurant. The building had stood empty for 3 years, and so much stuff was here (including those mice), it is hard to describe what we had to go through to get it empty enough even to begin to build. What I had envisioned as the mere removal of restaurant decor, patching and painting, and starting (church services) on Thanksgiving Day, began to develop into a major job of reconstruction. We tore out lath and plaster walls, ripped up flooring, pulled windows apart, and restored rotted wood, dilapidated bricks, heating vents, and dangerous electrical installations. We hauled off 300 cubic yards of debris.
At the same time several of our members joined me in an effort to reclaim some of the value of the building’s contents, and we sold hundreds of restaurant kitchen and dining room items. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about equipment for Chinese cooking. And the money came in, and we kept going.
Miracle upon miracle, we witnessed the hand of God keeping the project alive as expenses swept upward. We spent about twice the original estimate to get to where we are today, and how we survived I don't know, except to say, “Non nobis, Domine.” “Not unto us, O Lord, Not unto us but to Thy Name be the Glory.” A donation here, a sale of kitchen equipment there, an item given to further the work, an old wedding ring, a stock issue, volunteer labor, free paint. And I should mention here, as I will later, we had a wonderful work crew. These Christian men and women worked their hearts out for this church. They treated it more like a ministry than a job, and the results of that love is evident in every feature you see.
Of course, it is not finished. Tomorrow the wooden floors will be sanded, stained and refinished. Next week our 19th century T. C. Lewis tracker pipe organ comes and will be assembled back here. Lighting still needs to be installed, and carpeting, and some day even pews. The hand railings are just being finished. And there are a hundred odds and ends. That is only Phase One. In the next Phases we will complete the office areas, and then Augie’s Coffee Houseand the downstairs for our Church School. We are really only about 60% complete with the project.
We have spent about $150,000. And we are just that much in debt.
But with that, let us consider where we have come, and how it is that we are here at all. Could I, or my wife, or any human agency do what we have done? The University couldn’t do it. Other churches, while interested, couldn’t do it, because God had other plans. Your Vestry, brave as they have been, could not pull it off, nor could the combined efforts of every one of us. The City doesn’t have the power, nor any other governmental office, because God had chosen us for this time to stretch us and build us and to glorify His Name.
Not unto us, O Lord. I would love to congratulate every worker from this pulpit, the craftsmen whose hands fashioned this sanctuary. But I would be missing the point. God did this. He had to: no one could have done it but God. And because it is evident that a small church was helped to accomplish what no one else could do, God is being glorified in Chico this morning. By your presence here you are signifying that God has done a great thing. And we are all encouraged by His mercy and His might. Every day I meet someone who is personally blessed that we are doing this. It’s like a personal favor that we’ve done for them alone. People from other churches, people without church backgrounds at all have expressed their gratitude for this project.
After hearing for a generation that Christianity is no longer the soul of Western man, and that we live in a Post Christian Era, we have arrived at a crossroads in human history. We begin to see down the slippery slope that stretches before us, a slope leading down from civilization, from order and peace, into violence, chaos and darkness. Mankind and his science without God is a formula for horror, not for solving all of the world’s problems, as it once had promised. We are seeing the bankruptcy of humanism in the ruins of South Central Los Angeles, in the discord still maiming children in the former Soviet Union, in the killing of unborn children in the US, and in lethal injections for the old. Mankind without God is a madman. A universe without meaning or purpose that lies beyond our own subjective dreams or perverted ideals is a universe gone crazy, and in that scenario life has no meaning or value or even freedom. Death awaits us all, just the same. The people of this age of mankind have had their eyelids seared off in the newsreels of senseless and animalistic hedonism. They want something more, they need a God who is better than they are.
Such a need is proof itself that He exists, for to whom might we feel we are answerable if no such Person planted this divine dissatisfaction in our hearts? The renovation of a sanctuary such as this one touches the deepest need in a generation starved for an experience of God, an experience that removes them from this sin-sick world for a moment, an experience of forgiveness, an experience of peace, an experience of awe. We have the antidote to the 20th century here in this church, built in 1904 for the worship of God in the Anglican tradition. In 1995, we dedicate it again to the worship of God in the Anglican tradition, and ourselves to the spread of His Kingdom.
And after we have done with pondering the building He has given us, let us not forget that we do not worship this space, this treasure though it is. We worship the God of heaven, Who has deigned to inhabit this space for our sake, and for the sake of generations to come. We are His Church, living stones in the walls of His Holy Temple, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Therefore, let this building remind you not of the efforts which drove nails and painted walls, but let this building remind you of the renovation of your eternal souls because of the Blood of Christ. And remember to give the Glory unto His Name.
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name be the glory. Non Nobis, Domine. We thank and bless and worship and adore this Our God who on this day has come back into His Temple, this church, these people, this city: to establish His Name among the heathen once again, and to bring all who will receive His Son to Himself for ever. PFH+