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Parts of a Church 

Churches sometimes use old fashioned and unusual words. Some of our young people made this collection of words used to describe parts of the church. Some of them are better known than others.

Aisle: generally these are the passages at the side of the main part of the church (the nave) although there is often also a central aisle, as there is in our church. That central aisle is usually the one that brides walk down.

Altar: an area in the middle of the chancel which is the centre of worship. In some churches it may be very ornate, but in Methodist churches such as ours it is common for it to comprise just a communion table. You can see a large cross on our communion table and often there are two very grand-looking chairs either side of it.

Chancel: the area of the church which includes the altar. Often (as in our church) this is also where the choir sits when there is one. It is sometimes separated from the rest of the church by a screen or, as in our church by a rail which is referred to as an altar rail. In our church the chancel is raised three steps above the rest of the church so people can see what is happening, and it is also where the organist sits.

Crossing: the area where the central part of the church (the nave) and the crosswise part of the church (the transept) meet, generally in front of the chancel. Where a church has a tower, as our church does, this often stands above the crossing.

Font: a container for the water used in baptism in churches like ours where baptism is not usually by immersion. In our church the font is wooden and is in the chancel, but older churches often have a large stone font that is at the other end of the church from the altar.

Gallery: an upper level in the church. Some churches have a gallery where their choir sits. Our church has a gallery over the top of the narthex (or lobby of the church), which is sometimes called the balcony. This is reached via a curved flight of steps which you can find if you turn right after coming through the front door. Access to the gallery is restricted. It used to have three rows of extra seating but at the moment it is home to the controls for the sound system and screens.

Lectern: one of the places in the chancel where speakers stand, the lectern is often a bit less grand than the other (the pulpit) and it is traditionally on the right from the congregation’s perspective. That is also the case in our church.

Narthex: the entrance or lobby area of a church, usually at the far end of the nave from the chancel. In our church it is at the top of the entrance steps inside the big front door.

Nave: the central body of a church where the congregation sits. 

Pew: a traditional bench seat used in a church. Our church had smart wooden pews installed in the 1930s, most of which we still use, though now with cushions that make then more comfortable. The pews have been replaced with chairs in the front few rows of the nave and in the crossing to give us a bit more flexibility.


Pulpit: one of the places in the chancel where speakers can stand, the pulpit is often more grand than the other (the lectern) and is traditionally to the left from the congregation’s perspective. In our church the speaker goes up a few steps from the chancel to get into the pulpit.

Sanctuary: traditionally this is the name given to the area around the altar in a church, so it is effectively the same as the chancel, but in some churches this is the name given to the whole of the worship area in church.

Transept: the part of a traditional cross-shaped church like ours which lies crosswise to the main body of the church (the nave). In our church the part of the transept to the right of the altar has some chairs and also houses the creche, and the one on the left has the piano.

Vestry: a room used to store robes and as a sort of office for preparation of services. In our church the vestry is off the transept to the left of the altar, by the pulpit.

Our list is based on things that you can find in our church, but there are lots of sites which describe other features that you might find in different churches. This is one that we found easy to understand:  

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