Traditional versus ... Growth?

by Rie Linton

The website posted an article on August 17, 2013 written by David Murrow entitled “Why Traditional Churches Should Stick With Traditional Worship”. The article was very well-written and talked about a church that attempts to be inclusive to all varieties of those worshipping. Once a month it has a more contemporary service and the music is “Praise” anthems accompanied by a guitar.

The writer mentioned that most in the congregation do not know these hymns and few sing along, even with the aid of a giant screen that lowers with the words on it. The writer also said the guitarist did not keep a steady rhythm. Interestingly, one of his compliments about this church [which is not his home parish but is a parish in the town where he and his wife live] was that “the people are friendly, but not overly so”.

Mr. Murrow distinguishes between the praise anthems and hymns so perhaps I should first point out that any song sung during the church service can qualify as a hymn. The national church has directives and each diocesan bishop employs these as he or she sees fit but basically, if a song has been approved to be a part of the Eucharist, it qualifies as a hymn. Apparently the writer is one of the few who attends a church where the entire congregation sings. I can assure him that this is not the norm. Also, rhythms change so the accompanist follows the music and contemporary music has syncopation.

Perhaps I should state at this juncture that Gregorian chants are one of my most favorite forms of music. I also do a mean calligraphy copy of some of the earliest printed music so I am not one to want every Eucharist to be a U2charist. That said, I did arrange and direct one of the first folk masses performed in Province IV way back in the early part of the 1970’s. As a youth minister, the youth group wanted to do something for the parish and they wanted to do a folk mass. Most were neither musicians nor singers but their sincerity and faith made the service a beautiful experience for all.

The writer of this piece compares a church to a radio station and encourages the church to stay within its “genre”, to “do what you do best”. He concludes by stating: “What has this got to do with men? Guys appreciate a quality worship service — but they are not very forgiving of anything hokey or half-baked.”

Liturgical composer and acclaimed folk mass historian Ken Canedo traces the roots of the folk mass back to Gregorian chant, although it received the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church with Vatican II. It began in the Roman Catholic Church and slowly grew in popularity and acceptance. Gospel songs became upbeat and rearranged as churches opened their doors to all of God’s children, not a select few of a particular color or social status or neighborhood.

The writer asked “What has this got to do with men?” Fortunately for mankind, the worship service is not about perfection nor is it only for men. The focus isn’t even humankind. The Eucharist is about God and connecting with Him, recognizing the history and elements of our faith and denominational doctrine. It is a time of meditation, confession, supplication, appreciation, and connection.

Hebrews 12: 1-2 compares a spiritual life to running a race. One gets nowhere in a race by standing still or doing the same thing over and over again. Amos and Malachi also address the issue of stagnant churches and stagnant believers. We are all very lucky that God is open to change and forgiving, since many of our daily attempts at living can end up “hokey or half-baked”.

Where would we be today if medicine had decided not to try new things, new procedures, and new cures? How comfortable would we be in our churches if we had none of the advantages of the Industrial Revolution? How many people would come to coffee hour if you had to brew it over an open fire because there was no electricity? I have worshipped in historic churches dating back to the 1730’s. They are lovely with their box pews, etc. They are also chilly, drafty, and the candles needed for light are a great fire hazard.

When we resist learning new things, we limit ourselves. When we limit ourselves, we limit God. No one is born knowing the Nicene Creed or Lord's Prayer. We had to learn it to love it. When we learn to appreciate the language and music of all God's children, then we will love our neighbors as ourselves. Religion may be traditional but we are called to be contemporary in living our faith. It’s called growth.

Rie Linton is a professional musician and conductor, writer, graphic artist, community family values educator and child advocate, a lifelong Episcopalian who has served as Girls Friendly leader, EYC advisor, church school director/teacher, ECW officer, church musician, EfM journeyer, and member of the Order of Daughters of the King. She hosts the blog n2myhead, is currently developing a curriculum on Diversity and lives in Huntsville, AL.

Singing the Lord's Song

by Donald Schell

What is it we’re really doing together in church?

Actually what do we think we’re doing together in any human community or collaborating group?

How do we find our God-given humanity in community?

And what’s the natural connection between church activity, especially in worship, and other human activity?

Through forty years of priesthood, I’ve found these questions keep getting bigger and more interesting. Some church colleagues seem to hear a judgment or skepticism I don’t intend when I ask these questions.

In fact though, I’m grateful the questions don’t ask themselves from an alienated skepticism. They show up with a mostly enjoyable, usually patient, not-knowing, a Godly Play sort of wondering. My wondering continues to renew my hope. My only impatience is to see on regularly on the watch for human creativity, courage, and compassion wherever they shows up, and when we glimpse this Trinity, wherever we catch its movement, to sniff the air for a trace of the Spirit of Jesus.

With a bit of intuition, a handful of hunches, and my small bundle of discoveries, following the questions’ energy feels as exhilarating and anxious (and as charged with wild energy and human hope) as chasing after tracking dogs who’ve found a scent of a child lost in the woods.

But this story doesn’t begin in the woods. Early one recent morning my wife and I drove up the Interstate to join our daughter walking from her house to the community center pushing her daughter, our eleven month grand-daughter Hannah in her stroller.

At exactly 10 we arrived at the center. Apparently the building had once been an elementary school, but the long deserted hall felt far too quiet for a school. There was no one in sight, and no voices except bulletin boards announcements of yoga classes, support groups, art classes, various kinds of lessons, and community interest notices.

Then our daughter opened an unpromising classroom door on a startling blur of adults and small children shaping themselves into a large human circle on the carpeted floor. The cinderblock walls resonated with parents’ and children’s voices. Their circle almost touched the walls of the square room, but as we slipped off our shoes, and unsnapped Hannah to lift her out of the stroller, moms scooted to make places for us in the circle just as Jenny, the Music Together teacher, began a rhythm.

Ellen and I smiled at each other seeing our granddaughter’s bright, expectant eyes. This is what we’d come for. Everyone joined Jenny, the teacher, slapping our thighs and then the floor in front of us in time. As we slapped, we all also followed Jenny rocking side-to-side or forward and back.

No, wait. If I smooth over this part of the story, we’ll lose something important. As soon I wrote “everyone” and “we all,” what I was remembering was the children, mostly younger, who happily watched or wandered (walking or crawling) within the circle. Most of us were slapping the floor and our thighs, but somehow song and movements, watching and wandering made a single whole.

Building on a rhythm we were making together, Jenny shifted seamlessly to the greeting song that Maria and Mateo’s mother and grandmother and all the regulars knew. Ellen and I learned the song quickly and joined easily. Jenny called out the children’s names so our song greeted them one by one, and after we’d sung a greeting to each child, Jenny led us singing a generic welcome to the mothers, to the dad, to the two grandmas, and to the grandpa (me).

Jenny modeled another gesture and song, and we followed her. Our singing and movement unfolded with few spoken directions or none. Intermittently the smaller crawling and walking children participated singing and clapping or moving with us. Sometimes they stopped to look and listen.

I thought frequently about peripheral vision, how we use our peripheral vision to sense the presence of those around us, guiding ourselves to caution or trust. I watched myself watching the group, relishing my recent learning that the rods of our peripheral vision are over a thousand times more sensitive to movement than our central vision. I watched the group, even the wandering little ones, watching each other in peripheral vision, taking in the movement and feeling of the leader and the circle. We were collaborating, not only by following Jenny’s lead, but with that eye and ear consensus you can spot watching and listening to an a cappella group or a string quartet.
Jenny laid a basket of egg-shaped shakers in the center of the circle. Grownups and children crawled and toddled out to share them around the circle, leaving any additional shakers clumped here and there inside our perimeter. Jenny started us singing, “Mary wore a red dress, all day long.” The few of us who didn’t know it learned the song quickly by ear. Jenny led us playing at different rhythm patterns and gestures with the shaker eggs. Then she asked parents to call out a favorite activity of their child. Pairing children’s names in paired verses around the circle we sang favorite activities like “Maya eats bananas” and “Seth loves funny jokes” to our tune, “Mary wore a red dress.”

And Hannah meanwhile had crawled to the middle of the circle where the basket had been.

Our daughter had told us that Jenny (like all Music Together teachers) asked that visitors participate because having all the adults model participation was intentional in the learning process. In 1995 just after St. Gregory’s San Francisco moved into our new church, we had two Music Together morning classes like this in our worship space each week. I’d glimpsed them at work when I had reason to go into the church, but I’d kept my head down, not wanting to interrupt. The memory I carry from those glimpses is sight rather than sound - young mothers and small children seated in a circle in our big rotunda, altar space, and even seated, kneeling or cross-legged how they moved together to mark a rhythm. That was my memory - the peripheral glance and unfocused seeing of a circle just like this one. Oh, I also remember a small feeling of regret that Music Together wasn’t something we’d known to do with our children. So this time, I’m grateful that our daughter’s doing it with Hannah.

In the fifteen years or more since I’d known Music Together as our church’s tenant I’d been looking for ways to develop congregational and community music making, especially singing together. As we were developing Music that Makes Community, we kept asking ourselves:

- How can we free people to sing who didn’t know that they could?
- What gives people the courage to own their voices and a shared song?
- What moves people to improvise and create and share a new song?

Over those years I had (and continue to have) the privilege of working with skilled musicians to recover and share the wisdom and practices of traditional oral transmission music making. Over that decade and a half occasionally someone would mention Music Together. Then recently I’d watched my friend Emily Scott leading workshops on making oral transmission, paperless music with children. Emily is the founding pastor of St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn and before that had been my founding program director for our Music that Makes Community project. As she was beginning St. Lydia’s, Emily supported herself as director for children’s music at First Presbyterian Church New York City. For that work she’d combined practices we’d developed together with what she’d learned from subsequent training in Music Together. Recently Emily had suggested I take a good look at Music Together to learn from their practice, so our daughter’s invitation to visit Hannah’s class came at a great moment.

Woops, we just left Hannah in another moment. No regrets about my digression, except that I just now left Hannah in the middle of the circle with egg-shaped rattles in every direction. So –

- what happened as we continued singing and keeping time with our shakers was that Hannah crawled to one shaker, picked it up, spun herself from crawling to sitting, picked up second egg in her other hand, dropped both, crawled again to another shaker and then another, and then settled in front of her grandmother, took a shaker in each hand, fixed her eyes on Jenny, and began to shake her eggs to match the simple rhythm of the group. I felt, as grandparents can, like I was falling in love with this small person. I loved that she’d felt, and seen, and heard the invitation in the music. I loved that she’d taken a shaker in each hand. I was astonished at the ordinary human brilliance that allowed her to keep time with us. And I was touched to the heart by the peaceful, rapt look on her face watching Jenny lead us.

Was this a musical moment? A human moment? I’d say it was emphatically both a musical moment and a human moment. And there’s more.
Peter Brook, the great theater director said, “ A holy theater not only presents the invisible but also offers conditions to make its perception possible.”

Obviously the Music Together class wasn’t theater, but it was moment that offered conditions to make seeing the invisible possible, so I’d venture to call it a holy moment.

The movement, the gestures, and the music Jenny was guiding us through brought us and Hannah to that moment, so if not theater, were these classic building blocks of ritual making a liturgy? Again, the simple answer would be, “of course it wasn’t liturgy.” But the simple answer misses something of God’s unsolicited presence in our simplest shared rituals.

The Russian priest and liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann said, “Worship is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.”

What is the deep reality of the world? The “conditions that make perception possible” the “vantage point” we’d arrived at showed something unexpected at the very heart and center of our world. Not the inevitable threats and troubles that fill the news, not the self-doubt and self-protection that diminish and sometimes paralyze us, not the monstrous deformity of envy and malice that destroy others, but a little child leading us by finding her place in the circle of humanity.

Jesus took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:36-37.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Ash Wednesday: Repentance on the Street

by Sara Miles

Since 2010, I’ve been part of a growing movement around the country that observes Ash Wednesday by carrying ashes to the streets and offering them to neighbors on the sidewalks, at bus stops, in fast-food restaurants, taquerias, beauty salons and parks. My new book, City of God, tells the story of one such Ash Wednesday in San Francisco’s Mission District, where I’ve lived for the last twenty years.

I’m planning to be out in the streets again this Ash Wednesday: there’s something compelling, albeit nerve-wracking, about the practice. “I don’t even know what this is,” a woman who offered ashes alongside me last year said, amazed, “but I could do this forever.” Perhaps it’s the intimacy of touching strangers by the hundreds and gazing into their faces: an old Guatemalan lady eating French fries, two eight year-old boys on tricycles, an African-American girl with braids, a big white guy in a windbreaker with a scar on his cheek; hipsters; well-dressed commuters; a Mexican grandfather bent over his cane; a gaggle of girls in tight jeans; a weepy woman, a drunk man, a teenager wearing gang colors….in one afternoon you get to glimpse, close-up, something of the incredible variety of the whole people of God.

Or perhaps it’s the power of the words, repeated over and over: Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return. There’s something shocking and powerful about speaking the truth aloud in public this way, and about the deep hunger all kinds of people have to hear it. Will Hocker, a priest and chaplain, told me that he sometimes gets asked for ashes by those who aren’t conversant in Christian ritual. “I think they sort of realize it’s an invitation to acknowledge limits. To bow down in public and say, ‘I’m not in charge; I’m not going to live forever.’ Will says people may not be interested in church, but they are “really, really interested in doing that.”

Doing liturgy outside of church buildings is an opportunity to look at faith in a new way, stripped of familiar scaffolding and props. Rosa Lee Harden, a priest who participated in our first offering of ashes in the Mission, said, “As a clergyperson, you tend to know what’s going to happen inside your church…sometimes it gets hard to see the life in the ritual. In the street, the Holy Spirit is working overtime. There’s just no way to be jaded; it’s all new.”

But I think it’s a mistake to focus on offering ashes in the streets as a way for parishes to be innovative, or for self-conscious Christians like me to feel daring, or as a cool new liturgical trick that’s going to save or fix or change the Church, making it more “modern” or “relevant.” What I’ve found through the practice is just another way to repentance.

In both secular and religious worlds, whenever “feelings” are elevated to a kind of quasi-spiritual importance, repentance seems klunky and old-fashioned. But repentance isn’t an emotional or a psychological state of mind, and it’s not about feeling sorry––certainly not about just saying you’re sorry. It means, as my rector Paul Fromberg says, “putting on your big-girl panties,” and turning toward God, actually changing. Not pouring ashes on your head in a fit of self-loathing, but allowing Jesus to gently spit into a handkerchief and scrub off your face, so that you can face your own desire, and God’s desire, for conversion, new life.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,” God demands, in the verses from Isaiah we read on Ash Wednesday, “one day for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked to clothe him, and not turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

I hate this. Like everyone else, I want to change—but I also badly want to stay the same. I’d like to repent, but mostly I don’t. Getting past sin’s screeching feedback loop requires paying attention to God and other people, and often I don’t want to make the effort. Say I’ve been mean, or lazy, or selfish: unless I’m forced into actual relationships I just become meaner, less able to get up, less interested in thinking about anyone else. Say I’ve been drifting into nostalgia, comfort, insularity–––the same sins I self-righteously assign to the Church––my whole world becomes so very small that there’s no point in trying anything different.

And so stepping out into the streets of the city on Ash Wednesday, as one more human made of dust, is a way to get shaken free, slapped upside the head by grace. Jammed body to body against the neighbors who irritate me, the friends I’m too busy for, the strangers I’ve failed to notice; speaking the truth aloud about our common mortality in a violent, class-stratified city; glimpsing the inextinguishable desire for connection amid the din of commerce–– all this allows me to see again what treasures sin has kept me from, what’s truly precious in God’s eyes.

On the dirty sidewalks, in the dollar stores and taquerias and schoolyards of my neighborhood, it’s just a little bit harder for me to turn away from other real human beings, my own flesh and blood. It’s just a little easier for me to turn to them with compassion instead of indifference. When I experience how deep and broad and hilarious and holy this city truly is, and yearn to toss my sinful life into the mix, repentance becomes possible. And so on Ash Wednesday in the street I learn to love, even a little bit, what God loves so much: this whole screwed-up world, and the people God made to be his own.

Sara Miles is Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, and the author of City of God: Faith in the Streets

Epiphany: Lost Holy Day?

by Eric Bonetti


In secular usage, the word refers to a sudden flash of understanding, or awareness. In The Episcopal Church, as in other western churches, Epiphany refers to the feast of the visitation of the Magi, typically celebrated on the Sunday closest to January 6, or on January 6 itself.

But do we fully appreciate the significance of Epiphany? Is it something more than the hallmark of the last day of Christmastide, a minor feast tacked on to the greater celebration of the nativity?

I suspect that, all too often, we do fail to appreciate the full importance of Epiphany.

In Orthodoxy, the holiday is usually referred to as the Feast of the Theophany. Emphasizing the manifestation of Jesus' divinity in his baptism, versus the manifestation of the Magi, the date may vary by 13 days, depending on whether the church follows the Julian or Gregorian calendars.

Tellingly, the Theophany Feast is considered one of the great feasts of Orthodoxy, third in rank only to Easter and Pentecost. Churches often have two Blessings of the Waters, once on the eve of the feast in the church's baptismal font, and a second time, more splendidly, on the feast itself, when clergy bless the "living waters" of a nearby river or stream. The holy water is then carried to houses in the parish by clergy, who sprinkle it as an act of blessing.

Theophany is further celebrated by an eight-day after-feast, which touches on the circumcision and temptation of Christ, and provides a liturgical link to Lent.

In the western churches, Epiphany emphasizes less the manifestation of Jesus' divinity, and more the visit of the Magi. Traditionally, the priest blesses the Epiphany water, frankincense, chalk and gold. The chalk is then used to mark the letters, "C, M, B" over the doors of homes and churches, representing the traditional names of the three kings, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. These names correspond with the phrase, "Christus mansionem benedicat," which is Latin for, "May Christ Bless This House."

Historically, Epiphany also was the day when Roman Catholic priests announced the date of Easter to parishioners, who, lacking written calendars, might otherwise lose track of this great holy day. This tradition is, to this day, reflected in the Missal, which provides chants used to announce the coming date of Easter.

In today's The Episcopal Church, Epiphany often is little more than the end of Christmas, a "holding pattern" until Lent and the run-up to the great celebration of Easter. Gone are the blessing of the waters, the blessing of homes within the parish, or the other great traditions that mark this feast day.

Yes, there often is reference to the Three Kings and, via hymnody, the miracle at Cana, but that is all too often it. If anything, the season serves as a welcome respite from the hectic weeks before Christmas--a time not of celebration, but of catching one's breath and regrouping.

Yet, in Colonial Virginia, Anglicans considered Epiphany a propitious time for weddings, for rejoicing, dancing and celebration.

In my parish, there seems to be a trend towards the Colonial view of Epiphany. In recent years, couples increasingly marry in the days between Christmas and Epiphany, when the church is resplendent with banks of poinsettias, evergreens, and dozens and dozens of candles, glorious against the massive stonework of the church. On these days, the cold winds may howl outside the church, but inside the wonderful sights and sounds of Christmas offer warmth and hospitality.

But what about Epiphany as a feast with personal meaning? What does it mean to us as Christians, and Episcopalians?

For me, Epiphany represents both the glory of Christmas, and something unique in the liturgical calendar, namely the first time we see people proactively respond to the Gospel message.

True, Mary and Joseph, when confronted with the unsettling news of the virgin birth, go along. But one gets that sense that the virgin birth is an event that sort of plops down, unexpectedly, into the lives of the Holy Family, who respond by saying, "Uh, okay....if you say so....I guess."

Yet in the Epiphany, we see something surprising, almost shocking. The magi -- perhaps three, perhaps more or less -- witness something astonishing, compelling. A star appears in the sky, and they somehow know that it presages an event of staggering importance.

At a time when travel is tedious and often dangerous, the Magi set off, unsure of where exactly they are going, why they are going, how they will get there, or even what they will do when they get there. Yet they know something wonderful and splendid is happening, and they honor that magnificent event, both through their actions, and through their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

It is this response to the call of the divine that resonates for me--a willingness to set off for parts unknown, to accomplish goals unknown--and above all to hear and respond to the call of the divine. The Magi do this at considerable inconvenience and risk to themselves, and the seem to do so joyfully, not reluctantly.

How often do we really respond to the call of the divine? Do we bear the modern equivalent of gold, frankincense, and myrrh when we discern the divine in our lives? The Magi set off in wonderment, joy, and awe, yet we say we are too tired to go to church on Sunday. The comparisons are both extensive and telling, and humbling, too.

My hope is that we, much like the Magi will come to have the same hope, faith, and confidence in the divine when we see it at work in the world around us. Perhaps, if we reach this point, we will truly appreciate the majesty and awe of the great feast of Epiphany and celebrate it with the sense of awe and wonder experienced by the Magi.

Eric Bonetti is a former nonprofit professional with extensive change management experience. He now works as a realtor.

Star of wonder, star of night

by Maria Evans

O star of wonder, star of night,
star with royal beauty bright;
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light!.--Refrain, "We Three Kings of Orient Are"

John Henry Hopkins, Jr., forever altered how we view Epiphany and the Magi when he wrote "We Three Kings" in 1857, because his carol created a theology to go with it.

What we understand about the Magi is pretty sketchy, at least in terms of guidance from the Gospels. We essentially know there were Magi, but really, we presume there were three because only three gifts are mentioned. There could have been many more. It's only by tradition that we know them as Balthazar, Melichor, and Caspar (or Gaspar, in some renditions)--derived from a Greek manuscript probably written in Alexandria around 500 A.D. But it was the then-Deacon Hopkins who gave them voice for the first time, and a theology to accompany their gifts..."Gold I bring to crown him again," (the ruler of Christ's Kingdom)..."Incense owns a deity nigh," (the Son of God)...and myrrh's "bitter perfume" symbolizing the Crucifixion. Thanks to Hopkins, we have connected Gaspar to gold, Melchior to frankincense, and Balthazar to myrrh.John_Henry_Hopkins_Jr_full_size.jpg

Likewise, parts of Hopkins' life seem shrouded in mystery. He was the son of the Bishop of Vermont. His father later became the 8th Presiding Bishop. In a time when the role of deacons was less uniformly understood, he chose to be a deacon for 22 years, only accepting Holy Orders to the priesthood upon the urging of his bishop. He composed music, taught music at the General Theological Seminary, wrote poetry, and designed stained glass windows. Two U.S. censuses show him living with the family of a friend. About the only in-depth view we have of him comes from a biography written shortly after his death by The Rev. Charles F. Sweet, "A champion of the cross, being the life of John Henry Hopkins, S.T.D." It reads in that rather flowery way that Victorian biographies tend to read, so it's hard to interpret. He never married; although we can never know for sure, one can't help but wonder if, in another time, he'd be considered or assumed part of God's Rainbow Tribe.

Yet this man that we only seem to know superficially, left a legacy by giving depth and breath and voice to the most important figures in the Epiphany story--through a song, that, in some ways sounds older than it is. Had we been asked to recite all we know about the Magi from rote, it would not have the attraction, nor the joy. Almost all of us can sing at least one verse of "We Three Kings" (and maybe even the childhood parody, "We three kings of Orient are, tryin' to smoke a rubber cigar. It was loaded and it exploded, that's how we got this far.") I've never seen a person sing "We Three Kings," who didn't start moving their head from side to side, or a smile not cross their face. It seems that even singing the hymn creates a mini-Epiphany in itself.

Epiphany is a season of wonder and discovery--to travel in search of something or someone we're looking for, and our only way of recognizing Christ in it is, "We'll know it when we see it." It's a pretty inefficient and sometimes confusing and tiring way to go about things--sometimes it even comes with danger should our search be fruitful, choosing to go home another way--but when we discover Christ in it, our weariness almost instantly turns to joy. What are the songs that give depth and breath and voice to your own journeys to discover Christ, when the road is not well-mapped?

More on Hopkins and drawing from Trinity Wall Street

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

In praise of excessive effort for Easter and Christmas visitors

by Donald Schell

From our very first Lent in 1979 when St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco only had about a dozen members we poured heroic, unreasonable effort into producing a liturgically rich, inviting Easter Vigil. And then we put word out to friends. Clergy and laity from congregations that didn’t do a vigil came. Parishioners’ friends who wouldn’t think of going to a regular church service came because their friend had a part in the service or had helped decorate the worship space with flowers and fabrics. From that painfully short-handed beginning we found pleasure in sharing the huge work of creating a powerful, highly participatory Easter Vigil for a larger circle than our Sunday-by-Sunday congregation.

After the first year, we also saw we had to make huge organizational and planning effort for the next year or we wouldn’t be able to build and sustain a vigil tradition.
With each succeeding year we learned by deliberate reflection after the Vigil (gathering input from all participant leaders) and year by year refined our planning, task definitions, and ways of working together. The work on Easter Vigil gradually transformed our effectiveness year round for the specific ways we learned –

- how to mobilize volunteers early,
- how to form and sustain a unified vision,
- how to share out responsibility,
- how to develop responsive and redundant channels of communication among work groups,

In producing our biggest annual liturgical event as we learned to welcome and fully include strangers and old friends, we also developed skills and a culture around building community, sharing authority, and working together.

Within four or five years as our little congregation reached forty people a Sunday, we were hosting a two and a half hour long Easter Vigil for a hundred and fifty. Our unreasonable investment of ourselves in producing the Vigil made something radiant, timeless and transforming. And we pushed our own edge on sharing leadership - key players included liturgical deacons and lay assistants, the choir, a welcoming team, those handling childcare in/during the liturgy, food preparers, our all volunteer catering staff, readers and their coaches, flower and light arrangers and planners, special supplies procurers, and more.

About five years after our first Easter Vigil, we began to build a Christmas Pageant tradition. The congregation’s happy memories and general good feelings for the annual Easter excess (and all the creativity it unleashed, learning it brought us, and satisfaction in sharing something beautiful and holy with our visitors) set our course.
Though the production process grew directly from our work on the Vigil, the Christmas Eve Eucharist, from the beginning the Christmas Eve Pageant and Eucharist drew on a different liturgical inspiration from our Easter Vigil.

For our Vigil, we borrowed extensively from the traditions of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, adding our own new music setting of ancient Christian texts and trying to build practice from the best hints we could gather of earliest church and early Byzantine practices. The vigil was a swirl of light in darkness that grew and grew as the evening progressed from the one light emerging into a dark church to light the many hand candles adults and children held expectantly, through patient listening to many scriptures punctuated with deep silence and congregational song, until the congregation bore their candlelight in procession outdoors and around the church led by incense and many Ethiopian crosses, pounding on the great doors that opened majestically as the congregation danced and drummed into the church singing “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life.” Before the Eucharistic Prayer and after we’d received communion, we taught and danced carols, sung hymns, especially to the great texts that John Mason Neale wrote from the Great Easter Canon of John of Damascus.

The Easter Vigil was born from Russian stock. Our Christmas Pageant tradition looked West and at classic Anglican ancestry. Our starting vision was the medieval shepherds plays in the cycles of Mystery Plays, and we grafted our version of a shepherd’s play back into the liturgy.

In 1985 when we began preparations for our first Christmas Eve Pageant Liturgy, were other congregations remaking a Christmas liturgy that way? We didn’t know of any. None of us had yet seen the Pageant serve as the first half of a principal liturgy.

What united our congregation’s Christmas and Easter efforts held in common was that a huge proportion of the congregation joyfully joined wholeheartedly into an excessive effort to make something beautiful together for God and for our visitors, and that we kept learning in new ways that the unreasonable investment of time had, in the end, Thirty years later, both continue to thrive. The congregation has grown to a typical Sunday attendance in the 150-200 range, and 350 or so people attend Easter Vigil and Christmas Eve liturgies. And from the regular congregation’s perspective, adults and children who have never had a leadership responsibility find a place to invest their creative gifts. People work hard side by side. New friendships are formed in the congregation. We have production conflicts and work them through. We have that satisfaction that only comes from doing something worth doing generously and whole-heartedly with others.

In my twenty-six years as a founder and rector at St. Gregory’s, I directed or co-directed the Pageant about twenty times. My wife usually took a producer/stage manager role. I had the privilege of co-directing with professional actors, one of whom became a very good friend. As a pastor, I found particular joy in taking on the new role of director and addressing the children in the congregation as “our actors” and helping them see that we were entrusting them with telling their family, friends, and visiting strangers the story people longed to hear. We pushed them to learn their lines and coached them to use BIG (not “loud”) voices so the church would resonate with lines they were learning and learning to speak from the heart.

When I started working full-time for All Saints Company in 2006, we offered our first Christmas Pageant workshop, bringing together pageant planners from congregations around the San Francisco Bay Area. From the beginning we noticed two kinds of producer/directors, people who were delighted to imagine what they’d be starting in a few months, and people who deer-in-the-headlights terrified and wondering why they’d consented to produce their parish’s pageant. It was a productive mix of experience and expectations because we wanted to share new possibilities in making a pageant and invite everyone (including frightened beginners) into the deep experience of working together and caring for each other that a pageant can offer a congregation.
We’ve offered the pageant workshop annually since then, sometimes twice a year. This September must have been about our tenth daylong pageant workshop. This year ten people from four congregations responded to the invitation we put out to our diocese and beyond. We were

two full-time lay professionals from two of our diocese’s most richly resourced congregations,
one professional actor (with whom I frequently co-directed the pageants),
one priest and Christian educator who was a professional dancer before she was ordained,
a Brazilian priest who pastors a bi-lingual Latino and English congregation with very, very limited resources and a number of undocumented adult members who are working two or more jobs,
the deacon from that congregation,
an adult from their English-language liturgy,
two Latino youth from their Spanish language liturgy, and
my wife and me.

We set to work at 9 a.m. and worked until 4 p.m. Our day began with singing and then we took time to listen as each of us told our own stories of Christmas Pageants we’d been in or seen and what other Christmas traditions we remembered from growing up (and from our old home in other countries). We laughed and groaned and fell silent and smiled at the great mix of joyful and awkward and occasionally painful stories we shared.

Then we sketched a common hope and vision from hearing everyone’s reasons for making a pageant in their congregation.

Our Brazilian colleague and the others from his congregation described how much they’d discovered of the Mexican (and other Spanish-speaking Latin American) traditions of Las Posadas and La Pastorela. Last year after our workshop he’d asked them if they wanted to do a Posadas, and they were overjoyed and insisted on the whole nine days with the complete ritual (songs, door to door, gathering each night) for every night. After that their Christmas Eve Pageant was improvised on Christmas Eve with everyone in the congregation taking a part.

One of the Latino young people talked about how much Christmas reminded her of the border that separated herself and her mother from her father and other sister in Mexico.

Our professional actor talked about English Christmas-time Pantomimes and the old tradition of the Mystery plays in her native England.

Again working together, we discovered how much of the story we held among us by brainstorming the elements of the Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke and then together making a narrative outline for how we were going to tell the story that day. We listed scenes and characters and assigned ourselves roles and for the next thirty minutes or so, we improvised a pageant with no audience but the Holy Spirit.
And before lunch, we did “table readings” of scenes from a couple of different scripts (including a bi-lingual one) and talked about what kind of script or pageant would fit our congregation and who we’d seek to play what parts.

After lunch we taught the group some actors’ body and vocal warm-ups we’d used at St. Gregory’s with our inter-generational cast. We talked together about pitfalls and remembered production snafus we’d seen and pastoral dilemmas that we’d experienced in productions and how to resolve them, and we helped one another imagine solutions to dilemmas it looked like any of us might face producing this year’s pageant.

We shared experience about the logistics of scheduling rehearsals like planning to begin the schedule with rehearsals for just the bigger speaking parts and as Christmas drew nearer, to plan subsequent rehearsals to include smaller speaking parts until a final rehearsal would include large choirs of angels and herds of sheep (prepares leaders to fold in even more at the last minute). And we talked about enrolling parents’ full support for children’s participation and about steady, efficient communication with cast and production team.

Then our theater company for the day chose another scene from Matthew, the Magi showing up in Herod’s Court, a we’d not included in our improvised pageant. Everyone (including first-time actors) was eager to explore a tense and conflicted scene through improvisation.

And we finished the day as we’d begun it, singing together.

Together we’d made note of things we’d done together in the workshop that we planned to take home and try with our own congregation. We had encouraged and inspired one another.

By now we know what these producers of fifteen to twenty minute liturgical dramas will hear in response from people in their congregation –

– I’ve discovered that I have creativity to offer.
- This has transformed our families (or our congregation’s) experience of Christmas.
- We’ve never seen our children and our adults working together like this.

Sometimes it’s important in a congregation’s life to be economical in the investment of people’s time. Sometimes it’s valuable to do things simply. Sometimes cutting the effort and stress is the most faithful decision. But sometimes, the big effort, the excessive investment of energy, finding the people who are willing and able to invest themselves in a collaborative project for hours in order to make an inviting offering to God and God’s people (including a lot of strangers) surprises us by the grace it offers and the fresh energy and joy that gathers around it. Sometimes excessive effort is formational and transformational. Sometimes it builds the community and prepares us for Gospel welcome as nothing else can.

After the first year it gets easier and easier to gather committed volunteers. But the bigger discovery is in the grace of this making. In planning, in rehearsals and finally on Christmas Eve, all the relationship work they’ll done, all the effort to get children to sustain focus on the onstage interaction and to share what they were doing with a full church, all the effort to give the actors confidence in their voices and trust that the congregation hopes for something simple and true and powerful from them, it will work. And as it works, the congregation will experience the Incarnational miracle firsthand. As Angelus Silesius wrote in the seventeenth century, “If in your heart you make a manger for his birth, then God will once again become a child on earth.”

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Another Triduum? Día de los Muertos, All Saints, All Souls

by Patricia Millard

A triduum is a three day period of liturgical observance. The triduum we are most familiar is the Paschal Triduum which begins on Maundy Thursday and culminates in the Great Vigil of Easter.

Interestingly, over the past few years another “triduum” has been evolving within the liturgical practice of the Episcopal Church. This triduum begins (not necessarily a chronological order here!) with a deepening appreciation of the many cultural celebrations that connect us, as human beings, with the remembrance of our ancestors, with our deceased loved ones, and with a sense of lineage and community. And perhaps because so many of us in the “modern” world may feel that we have lost our roots and no longer maintain a sense of connection across generations, there may be a special poignancy in re-entering this space via cultural and spiritual traditions different from our own.

Día de los Muertos, literally, the Day of the Dead, continues to evolve. It is not only a window into Mexican culture, but has become part of the broader religious and spiritual landscape of the United States. Within the Episcopal Church, Día de los Muertos has become something of a cultural bridge. More and more, it is becoming “normal” for Episcopal churches to make space for traditional Mexican altars concurrent with the celebration of All Saints’ Sunday, another way through which we strive to grow in our capacity to live authentically as a welcoming and diverse church.

Within the Anglican liturgical calendar, Día de los Muertos resonates in many ways with All Souls’ Day, which technically would be observed on November 2nd. Fascinating, to me, how these traditions come together in ways both old and new!

photo%202b.jpgLast week, as our Spanish-language community assembled a Día de los Muertos altar at St. Catherine’s (and many of the objects are my own, so now you know that though I got rid of all my Christmas stuff when I moved to the coast, I held on to my Día de los Muertos box!). Anyway, once again I experienced that deep sense of community, the telling of stories across generations, letting the altar come together as a statement of life, and yes, faith - faith that we are remembered by those who come after us, faith that we are connected, faith that we are alive!

During the homily, I invited the community to go deeper. What is the source of that deep connection we experience as we create our altar? As we may visit cemeteries and clean the graves? (Or mourn the fact that we are too far away from our communities of origin to be able to do this?)

And that is where “holy Triduum” comes in. The “source” is Christ, Eucharist, Resurrection! The colors and flowers, the photos, the food... the moment we take those altars and place them in a church, we are immediately invited to remember the Eternal Life we have in Christ. Día de los Muertos, in its fullness, is another Easter Procession. We begin with the color of the cempazuchitl, the Mexican marigold, and end with Easter white that is all colors and perfect light. We begin with a deep love of connections, community, roots, and are invited to remember that the fullness of the Christian faith that indeed transcends culture is that eternal life we have in Christ!

This Sunday, I invite you to experience all of this: All Saints’, All Souls’, Día de los Muertos... these are not exactly “three days”, although in Mexico there is certainly a sense of observing this time over a several day period. But still, the movement is an invitation into Easter, the holding of ALL of our lives, past, present and future, within the eternal Now that we point to both in Eucharist - abundant, eternal life in Christ.  

The Rev. Patricia Millard is the Vicar at St. Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church and the Associate for Spanish Language Ministry at Kaleidoscope Institute.

The angry priest or the boorish photographer?

by Andrew Gerns

Nearly everyone has experienced the insensitive photographer. Especially if you’ve ever presided at a wedding or a baptism.

My favorite moment came when I was doing a baptism and as the infant-candidate, the parents and sponsors gathered with me around the font, and after I invited all the children in the room to come forward and join us there, I looked up to see nearly every single adult friend and family member holding up a camera, video camera or phone.

My first thought was “I wish I had a picture of this…!”

Here was an image of how we have come to mediate our experience of the world: through a screen. We see only what we record.

But there have been times when things were more annoying. When a photographer
searches for the perfect shot but is completely unconscious of his or her context, they end up just getting in the way.

I once did a wedding where, just as the wedding party was gathered around the couple, a guy with a video camera was prowling around the group like a tiger getting reaction shots of not only the bride and groom but each member of the wedding party. I could see faces of each member of the wedding party as they reacted to the lens. The act of recording the moment had become the moment.

I was lucky. The mother of the bride, using nothing more than “The Look,” firmly directed the guy to “Sit! Stay!”

So when a video went viral showing an Episcopal priest telling a videographer, who had been shooting over his shoulder, to leave, I was sympathetic. First of all, it is clear from the video that the wedding was not in a church but at a park or catering facility, so he was doing a sacred rite at a secular location. This can be awkward because the priest tends to be seen as nothing more than 'hired help.'

When he said that the ceremony was not about the pictures but “about God,” I knew what he was saying: that this is a sacred moment, and the videographers were stealing from that by their intrusion. So part of me cheered a bit because the videographer earned the admonition.

On the other hand, the only image we have is of “The Angry Priest,” and the meme is the ruined wedding. That has become “The Story.”

The on-line comments appear to split 50-50. I have seen blog posts taking both sides. Interestingly, while there are lot of people mad at the priest for tossing out the cameraman and ruining the couple's wedding, no one appears to be mad at the cameraman for posting the altercation on YouTube and defining forever how the wedding is remembered.

Mark Twain once said “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” These days, when electrons are cheap and when everyone can be both a producer and publisher of content, it will not do to make a frontal assault against a culture that mediates experience through the screen. All it does is makes us look angry.

Although this never occurs to us when we are tripping over an over-zealous shutterbug, the truth is that we can’t be angry at the photographer one day and then the next bemoan that our message is not getting out. We can’t have it both ways.

Christians are in the story-telling business. And our story is Good News! We want to use these tools to communicate. As a parish priest, I love having pics and videos of worship because, well done, they tell people what we do and who we are. That means we can't snarl at photographers while expecting to use their product.

So I try to negotiate and educate. Sometimes it even works.

During the process of wedding and baptismal preparation, I direct the couple or family to tell their guests to limit their photography so that everyone can give their full attention to the moment. They should tell their friends that there will be one or two official photographers and that there will be pictures of the liturgy available later from them via e-mail, Facebook, Pinterest or some other form.

For weddings, I also have the couple give me the names of the photographers and I call them and invite them to the rehearsal as well as the wedding. This helps the photographer understand the blocking and timing, it also helps me clarify expectations and solve any unique problems. And it gives the photographer a wealth of candids.

Additionally, I have developed a list of photographers that we recommend, just as we do florists. They know our space and how we work and will make life easier for the couple.

And lastly, I ask both official and unofficial photographers to send me the pictures and grant the church the right to use them for our own communications.

All of this still doesn't prevent an intrusive photographer from happening. Just two weeks ago I did a wedding where the bride’s son, all 6'4" of him, was trying to catch the action on a pocket video camera. It was a small church and his large frame was going to block everyone's view. Of course, everyone was looking at him and not what was happening. Also, the official photographer--who was doing as I asked-- did not appreciate that she was being limited while this unpaid visitor was doing as he pleased. I did not stop the liturgy, but I did walk over to him (and, yes, still in full view of the group) at the first “break” in the action and quietly asked him to step aside and park himself in a spot where he could still take the pictures of his mother and not distract people from witnessing and blessing her marriage.

In a world where we more and more mediate experience through screens, one of the things we can do as a church is remind people that the best photographs, films and videos describe, highlight and interpret a much bigger world. The idea is to both communicate and take us back to a moment in time that is bigger than our perceptions and means more to us than we even realized in the moment. In other words, what photography does is very much like what liturgy does.

Both can connect us, aid in interpreting our experience, and help us makes memory.

Both liturgy and media help us know, tell and live our story.

But bad photography (and unconscious photographers) can like bad liturgy (and unconscious celebrants) get in the way. This is what happened in the video when it went viral: the conversation became about “The Angry Priest vs. The Boorish Photographers” when we should have been celebrating the couple’s marriage.

Photographic technology is so accessible that we forget all the work that goes into a good production. Similarly, a good liturgy should look easy because all the practice has paid off. One of the pastoral challenges of our day is to bring the two together in ways that allow us to see more deeply into the world God has placed us in and contribute to the ongoing story of God’s unfolding, creative love.

The Rev. Canon Andrew Gerns is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, Pennsylvania, President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Bethlehem, and a member of the newsteam of the Episcopal Café.

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Last print version of the Book of Common Prayer

by George Clifford

Part 1

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the last printed version of the prayer book that The Episcopal Church (TEC) will ever publish. Three rationales support that prognostication. First, a growing majority of TEC congregations struggle financially. They often lack the funds to meet their current expenses, much less purchase new prayer books. Second, e-books are rapidly overtaking traditional printed books in popularity. Some Episcopalians already participate in worship by following the service on a tablet, smartphone, or other electronic device instead of printed books or a leaflet. Third, TEC is so theologically, liturgically, and linguistically diverse that developing sufficient support for any prayer book revision seems problematic. Instead, the number and variety of liturgies authorized for trial will almost certainly continue to proliferate.

Lamenting or applauding the shift from printed to electronic media is unproductive. The change is occurring both rapidly and irreversibly. However, the increasing reliance on electronic versions of the liturgy represents a troubling and growing challenge to TEC's identity as a church united by common prayer rather than common belief. Unlike printed prayer books, altering an electronic version of the liturgy to suit local needs, preferences, or theology is very easy, costs little or nothing, and already happens. Furthermore, this ongoing move toward multiple liturgical forms, some locally adapted, even when authorized by proper ecclesiastical authority, is a centrifugal force pulling TEC away from its historic connectional ethos toward a congregational ethos.

Many Episcopalians value, as do I, our tradition of unity rooted in common prayer rather than common belief. Is the demise of common prayer inevitable? If not, how do we preserve common prayer with the shift toward electronic versions of our liturgy and our growing congregational ethos? Perhaps more basically, how do we maintain our unity in view of these changes?

In 2012, the 77th General Convention established a Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) to "create a plan for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration." If tinkering at the margins or making other simple fixes to reform structures, governance, and administration could reinvigorate the denomination, then TEC (or another of the many denominations experiencing similar declines in attendance, participation, and giving) would probably have already taken those steps.

TEC needs a radical makeover, not incremental reform. Radically reimagining TEC –holding on to the essentials of our identity, letting go of anachronistic non-essentials, and embracing new forms and styles appropriate for the early twenty-first century – has the potential to reinvent and reinvigorate TEC while also charting a path toward preserving unity rooted in common prayer.

TREC, at their July 2013 meeting, enumerated five key themes for restructuring (their report is available here):

Incarnational view of human life
The arts, liturgy, and mystery
Continuity and change
Social engagement and prophetic dissent

Those themes represent a good description of who Episcopalians have been and want to be. However, those themes afford no assurance that TREC's reimagining of the Church will lead to the substantial changes TEC needs if it is to reinvent and reinvigorate itself (with God's help, we pray!) as a twenty-first century missional force.

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886 and 1888 emphasized the importance of Church unity and outlined the terms on which Anglicans seek unity. The Quadrilateral includes two principles essential for a radical reimagining of The Episcopal Church:

That in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline, or to traditional customs, this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own…
The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

In other words, TEC insists on retaining the historic episcopate but in most other matters recognizes that neither Scripture nor tradition provides a timeless, authoritative pattern of ecclesial structure or governance. Thus, the options for reimagining TEC are numerous and have few inherent limits. Perhaps the greatest barriers to radically reimagining TEC are entrenched groups and individuals who enjoy their privileged positions and powers under the status quo and our own blinders with respect to what may be possible.

Historic patterns of ecclesiastical organization have ranged from unstructured collegiality to authoritarian and from almost complete reliance on individual initiative to corporate clericalism. What pattern and style of organization best suits TEC's liturgical and theological emphases in ways that accommodate or, better yet, utilize social changes over which we have no control (e.g., electronic communication and heightened individualism) to promote the community, ministry, and mission of God's people in and through TEC?

In the second part of this essay, I suggest two proposals for a radical makeover, offering them as conversation starters intended to stretch our thinking about what is possible and not as definitive ukases.

George Clifford is an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. He retired from the Navy after serving as a chaplain for twenty-four years, has written Charting a Theological Confluence: Theology and Interfaith Relations and Forging Swords into Plows: A Twenty-First Century Christian Perspective on War, and blogs at Ethical Musings.

Funerals at home

by Heidi Haverkamp

Recently, I presided at a tiny home funeral. Twenty people gathered in the living room of a mother and son, approximately aged 90 and 60, who had died on the same day. I’ll call them Leona and Joe. They had lived together for many years, and Joe had become his mother’s caretaker as she slipped into dementia. After a series of medical emergencies, they died on the same day. A small group of family members had gathered from all over North America and we had a funeral in their living room with a small group of neighbors and friends. It was more intimate and powerful than any funeral I have been part of – in churches or funeral homes or even at graveside.

This particular home funeral happened by accident. A parishioner of mine, who I’ll call Mary, had been one of Joe and Leona’s neighbors. She loved them dearly. It seems they had no regular church home and so Mary asked if I would come visit with their grieving family. A week later, the family called me and told me they were having a sort of “memorial party” the next day and asked if I could come and offer a simple service. With so little time we couldn’t plan a traditional Episcopal funeral, with full sermon and Eucharist, but I said I would come and offer something.

The next afternoon, I went to Joe and Leona’s home and joined their friends and family. We sat around their living room, on their couches, chairs, bar stools, and even the stairwell. Their music was playing on their stereo system. There was a laptop on a side table, with a slideshow of photos of Leona, Joe, and their family over the years. Two little wood boxes with their ashes had been set in handmade wreaths of silk flowers (made by a neighbor) on the dining room table, with framed photographs assembled around.

I invited each person to share their name and how they knew Joe and Leona. I offered three burial collects from The Book of Common Prayer, then we read two psalms from Leona’s family Bible, said the Lord’s Prayer, and finally, closed with words from the Committal service. We sat close together, crammed in a room designed for half as many people, facing one another in what had been Joe and Leona’s home. As the service came to a close, meaty smells from the grill wafted in.

I’ve done many funerals, and there have been things dear to me about each one. But there was something about this funeral that I can’t get out of my mind. Perhaps it was the novelty of it, but I think it was the intimacy, familiarity, and sense of community we shared in that living room: hearing each person speak, seeing each other’s faces, sitting on the very furniture that had belonged to these two people who were now gone to be with God.

On the other hand, this small funeral, which as far as I can tell wasn’t advertised in a public obituary, likely deprived some friends and acquaintances the opportunity to grieve Leona and Joe. This is a loss, certainly. (When my step grandmother died, her children decided not to have a public funeral, a decision I respect, but it was painful for some of my cousins and me to lose the chance to grieve her publicly.) There are some funerals where capacity for large numbers of people is necessary: for large families, to be hospitable to all those who may have known and loved someone, to make room for the shock of a community at a particularly tragic death. Large funerals can be powerful, moving, and healing.

But some families in my parish have struggled with making funeral or burial plans for loved ones, or have interred ashes without a service of any kind. A small, home funeral can offer closure, hope, and celebration without the large-scale planning required for a formal, public funeral and burial. Admittedly, it’s easier to do a home funeral if the deceased has been cremated, since transporting a coffin is difficult and costly. (Although, as my Filipino parishioners have pointed out to me, hosting a wake with an embalmed body in the home is common in the Philippines, for as much as a week!) There are many reasons why a home funeral might not be feasible for some families; but on the other hand, I wonder if this sort of intimate, simple funeral would be a spiritual relief and an emotional comfort to many others.

In a society where it seems every day less and less of our lives are private, and large gatherings of people are as ordinary as the nearest mall or megachurch, smaller, pastoral liturgies that emphasize relationships and intimacy may offer a deeper experience of God’s love and promise of resurrection than funeral home services or large church funerals. Where each person can introduce themselves, where a sense of spiritual communion, even without Eucharist, can be shared, where people are rubbing elbows and hearing each other breathe, witnessing to the reality of the communion of saints and powerfully recalling the Resurrection appearance of Jesus among his grieving friends, cowering in a locked, upper room. Home funerals will not replace church funerals or funeral home services, but a small, home funeral liturgy can witness to the Resurrection in a powerful, theologically vibrant way.

The Book of Common Prayer states, “Baptized Christians are properly buried from the church. The service should be held at a time when the congregation has opportunity to be present.” As an Episcopal priest, I pay attention to the Prayer Book’s rubrics and theology of liturgy. But as weddings are held more and more often outside of churches –in homes, backyards, and other places meaningful to the bride and groom – and as churches seek to take liturgy out of the four walls of their buildings and into public spaces, funerals held in homes or other special places strike me as liturgically appropriate and powerful. In Judaism, families “sit shiva” in the person’s home, in the South, funeral receptions are often held at home, and in many cultures and in our own country’s past, the visitation of a person’s body and family has been in the home.

I invite clergy, Christians, and families everywhere to consider the small, home funeral liturgy as a theological and powerful way to remember the dead, and Christ’s promise of Resurrection.

The Rev. Heidi Haverkamp is priest and the vicar of The Episcopal Church of St. Benedict, a congregation with a diverse and Spirit-filled average Sunday attendance of about 75 in Bolingbrook, Illinois. She blogs at Vicar of BolingBrook about home, church, suburbia, and spirituality.

Why do they come for communion when not baptized?

by Jennifer Phillips

Why do they come and not receive? Why do they come and receive when not baptized?

Today a visitor appeared at the rail with hands out and I fed her not knowing who she might be- after the service she came and told me she was Jewish, a friend of someone who had recommended she visit, and hoped she hadn't offended by coming forward but she had a sense of the presence of God in the service and sermon, (which was on the Good Samaritan and the blessing brought by the hated outdsider/'unbeliever') and thought it would be right to do what others were doing around her. So I reassured her that God might draw people to the altar in many ways and she shouldn't worry, and that I'd love to sit down with her and tell her more about church and our customs and beliefs if she'd like. Who knows what grace passed to her this morning? I trust the power of Christ in the Sacrament in any case.

I have a Presbyterian wife of a member who is on chemotherapy and who comes forward for a blessing- not ready to join the church just yet, but a believer, a bit fearful of eating or drinking anything other people have handled.

I have, on the other hand, a school child whose parents are of two different faiths, in the midst of a contested divorce, and one parent has refused to let the child be baptized though she desires it (about 9) and her other parent brings her to church regularly. I giver her Communion before her baptism, knowing her great desire to be baptized, to be close to God through Jesus, and to belong fully to our church community awaiting the resolution of the parental conflict before baptizing her, since to do so may endanger custody for the member parent - and she doesn't understand all these legal parental issues.

I have a member going through a crisis of faith who comes to the rail to be blessed but in good conscience does not think himself in a state to receive the Sacrament. We are having ongoing conversations. In the meantime I am happy to touch and bless this pained person who still desires the connection of the community on a visceral level.

I have some Spanish members who come from a Catholic tradition of first Communion at 7 and bring their children to the rail with them, but haven't yet come to understand our belief and polity and practice - it will take them a little time to absorb, and in the meantime, I will bless their children.

I have a Roman Catholic spouse of a member who in her good conscience doesn't feel she can receive, yet wants to accompany her ancient spouse to the rail and kneel beside him - I bless her there; I think it would feel unkind to present the elements with the word of administration knowing she believed yet didn't feel permitted to take them.

All sorts and conditions of people are drawn to the rail for all sorts of reasons conscious and unconscious, in a great variety of states of preparedness and unpreparedness. There's always lots of teaching going on to help form people in our sacramental life, but the plain truth is that the power of God in the liturgy touches, moves, transforms, and attracts people right then, and at the rail doesn't seem a good place to question beyond "do you desire to receive the Body of Christ?"
 At the heavenly throne I'd much rather be explaining why I fed some people inappropriately than why I failed to feed some who hungered and thirsted for God and put their hands out; and I'd rather give an extra blessing with a touch to someone who is drawn forward than explain they should be satisfied with a general blessing at the end. Like grain, in full measure, poured out, spilling over into one's lap, this love and graciousness of God in the sacrament of the altar. 

The Rev. Jennifer Phillips has been the rector of St. Francis Church, Rio Rancho, NM for two years, and served a 12 year term on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. She is a past APLM Board member, and an Associate of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and a poet. She has helped author many contemporary liturgical texts now in use in the Episcopal Church.

The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysotom "Remix"

The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom—“Remix”
(An updated translation by Hugo Olaiz and John-Charles Duffy for The Episcopal Church of the Advocate)

Are you a fan of God?
Go on in to the backstage party—no pass required!
Have you been working for the Lord?
Call it a day—time for a well-deserved celebration!

A hard day’s work on an empty stomach?
Punch out—the Boss is taking us out for dinner!
If you’ve been clocked in since eight this morning—
by all means, come and eat.
If you didn’t arrive at work til ten—
that’s fine, meet us at the restaurant!
You only worked a half day after lunch?
No problem, you’re still invited.
You’ve only been at work since three?
Don’t worry about it—you come, too.
You showed up a half hour before closing?
Believe me, really, there’s no reason you shouldn’t join us.

That’s how the Lord works: There are no privileges for seniority.
New hires get the same retirement package
as those who have been with the firm for years.
The perks flow freely to everyone—
the Lord is thrilled just to have you working for him.
And he rewards your intentions, not just your accomplishments.

So join the party, everyone—the Lord’s joy is contagious!
First or last—the same bonus waits for all!
White collar or blue collar—mingle, rub elbows, dance together!
Whether you’ve been hard at work or you’ve been procrastinating—
you’re welcome to the party either way.
Whether you fasted or forgot—it doesn’t matter now, the buffet is spread.
Dig in—no one is allowed to leave hungry!
Eat your fill, everyone, at the banquet of faith.

Charge whatever you need to God’s corporate account.
Don’t worry about what you lack—the fullness of the kingdom has come among us.
Don’t beat yourself up over your failings—forgiveness has leaped out of the tomb.
Don’t be afraid of death—the death of our Savior has set us free.

He let the Grim Reaper take him—then splintered his scythe into pieces.
He plunged into the underworld—and wreaked havoc!
Hell swallowed him whole—and discovered it had eaten poison!
Isaiah put it nicely: “Poor Hell, what an unpleasant surprise
when he popped down to say hello!”

Hell is throwing a fit because it has received notice that it is being shut down.
Hell is blowing its top because it has become a laughingstock.
Hell is freaking out because its mortgage has been foreclosed.
Hell is going ballistic because it has been marked for demolition.
Hell is screaming mad because it is being hauled out of the building in handcuffs.

Hell grabbed what it thought was one more corpse—
and found itself in hand-to-hand combat with God.
Hell seized possession of earth—
and found itself face-to-face with an insurgency from heaven.
It took the bait, and failed to see the fishing line.

Where’s that creepy knife of yours now, Grim Reaper?
And you, Hell—you called the race too soon!

Christ is risen—and you, Death, are entombed!
Christ is risen—and Hell’s goons are knocked flat on their backs!
Christ is risen—and the angels are dancing in the streets!
Christ is risen—and life is walking out of prison!
Christ is risen—and all the graves are empty.
For Christ is only the first to rise;
his empty tomb is just the beginning of an abundant harvest.

Glory and power are his forever! Amen!

The Episcopal Church of the Advocate is a 21st century mission in Chapel Hill/Carrboro North Carolina

Taking Liturgy to Town

by Lisa G. Fischbeck

Holy Week at the Advocate: Carrboro NC Becomes Jerusalem

We walked together, some carrying placards, some taking turns carrying the large cedar cross. Not a large crowd, twenty-five or so. Enough to been seen as intentional, enough to attract attention. I wore my collar and black cassock, signs my ministry, signs of the Church. It was Good Friday, and we were walking the Way of the Cross through our town, Carrboro, North Carolina. For most of us, this was making church more public than usual. So we felt a little timid and a little bold at the same time. Somewhere between the fifth and sixth station, after we had passed the taqueria and before we reached the InterFaith Council building, a man rode by on his bicycle. “F*** God” He yelled, waving his fist in the air. “F*** religion.”

We walked on, changed.

Good liturgy both expresses what we believe and shapes what we believe. The people of the Church of the Advocate walking the Way of the Cross that day, came to believe more fully in a God made flesh, made vulnerable to the powers of this world. We came to understand more fully the gift of that vulnerability to us all. God with us. We understood a little better how it felt to publically claim our identity as Christians.

Launched in 2003, the Advocate is a 21st century mission of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. We are rooted in the traditions and liturgies of the Episcopal Church and the Book of Common Prayer. Born without land or building, though, we experience both the liberation and the challenge of inheriting the liturgies of the church without inheriting the usual structures in which those liturgies take place -- church walls. As such, from our beginning the Advocate has had the opportunity to ask ourselves, “Why are we doing this? What does it say? How does it form us?”

As a church without building or congregational history, it has been relatively easy for us to consider our Holy Week liturgies “from scratch” and to take them into new and different places, even into the public square. These liturgies lend themselves to being in the world. After all, that’s where they started.

Engaging in the Holy Week liturgies of the Church outside the confines of a church building profoundly allows us to re-member the experience of Jesus and his followers on the streets of Jerusalem, in the “upper room”, before the councils of church and state, and on the road to Calvary. While the Advocate’s Holy Week liturgies continue to evolve and change from year to year, we have found some meaningful patterns.

Palm Sunday
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday with the Liturgy of the Palms and procession. Remembering Jesus' “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, we gather as the people of the first century did, outdoors by the “walls of the city”, in our case, by the Carrboro Town Hall. We hear the story of Jesus, the colt, the people, the palms. And we, too, wave our branches of palm (provided) and flowers brought from our own gardens and trees (which is what the palms were for the people of 1st century Jerusalem). These vary from one year to the next – redbuds, azaleas, daffodils. This year we plan to add large bamboo stalks (while these are not native plants, bamboo is popular in local apartment complexes, and we anticipate quite a visual impact!)

From the Town Hall we process about two blocks to the entrance to the Carrboro Town Commons singing “Jesus is coming, Hosanna Glory”. I encourage people see the processional cross as the symbol of Jesus, and to try to get as close to it as they can. The Town Commons contains the town playground and playing field and the covered farmers market two days a week. When we arrive at the entrance, we “cast our palms” before the crucifer and cross, say a prayer, and enter the covered market singing a different tune -- “A Stable Lamp is Lighted”, including the fitting words: This child through David's city
shall ride in triumph by;
the palm shall strew its branches,
and every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry, though heavy, dull and dumb,
and lie within the roadway
to pave his kingdom come.

The liturgy quickly moves to the passion narrative, a liturgical jolt resulting from the unfortunate combination of Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday (which practice presumably evolved from the realization that many would not return to church again until the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Day). Too much for one liturgy, really. Nonetheless, experiencing these two narratives in one hour helps us to realize that we, too, like the people of first century Jerusalem, can quickly, and in the same public space and place, convert from cries of “Hosanna” to shouts of “Crucify Him” when walking in his way becomes to challenging or risky for us.

All who pass by are welcome to join us in our open-air cathedral. And always some, not many, but some, do. People walking with kids or dogs, people who have never been to church, people who remember the church of their childhood and are intrigued to see it being made new. Some stand on the periphery, others take a seat. (This is a “bring your own chair” event, but we always have extras on hand for the strangers who join us).

Maundy Thursday
Maundy Thursday, we gather more privately, as Jesus did with his disciples. This is far and away the favorite liturgy of the year for the congregation, as we experience the intimacy and warmth of friendship and community. Jesus and the disciples met for the Passover meal in the “upper room”, we meet together in a rustic lodge out in the country north of town, and share a Middle Eastern meal. One member of the congregation takes two days off work each year to coordinate and lovingly prepare the food. The menu varies, but always includes stuffed grape leaves, pita and humus, olives, almonds, salad with feta cheese, cider and wine. Fresh tulips decorate each table. Music is led with fiddle, flute and guitar, and the singing is robust – All Who Hunger Gather Gladly, Jesu Jesu, The Servant Song, Ubi caritas, Thuma mia.

We experience servant leadership in a variety of dimensions. Each round table of eight is tended by a member of the vestry. Apart from blessing the food, I do not preside, but rather sit among the people. Like everyone else, I have my feet washed by a member of the congregation. And each year I find it would be far easier for me to serve than to allow myself to be served. My servant leadership is to relinquish the leadership….

After the meal, there is no altar to strip, so we clear the tables and stack the chairs, first in silence, then with the musicians playing Wayfaring Stranger. We find our way to the large open porch, gather in darkness there, chant Taizé’s “Stay With Me, Watch and Pray”, then hear the words of Psalm 22. It is haunting, knowing these words, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” are the same attributed to Jesus on the cross.
We depart in silence, finding our way to our cars with flashlights, and feeling within us the tension between the warmth of the community and the cold knowledge of the events of the next day. The complexity of the Christian life, with joy and pain, made plain.

Good Friday
Good Friday we return to downtown Carrboro. At the noon hour, we gather once again at the Carrboro Town Commons, the farmers market, this time for the Good Friday liturgy -- a simple service of prayer and scripture from the Book of Common Prayer. Once again we hear the Passion narrative, third time in a week, and it begins to penetrate our hearts and our bones. The weather, of course, varies from year to year. But when it is cold an rainy, we identify with Peter, warming his hands by the fire, even as he denies he knows the Lord.

Someone brings forth the five feet tall cross, made of two pieces of cedar lashed together, and we see and feel its heft. We walk to the Carrboro Town Hall, where we last met on Palm Sunday, and begin The Way of the Cross/ Via Dolorosa with the first station: Jesus is condemned to die.

The traditional stations are maintained, yet re-written for a 21st century context (see example below), so as we walk that Way through our own town, we do so not only to remember a series of events in 1st century Palestine, but also to reflect on the state of our world, our nation, our city, and our selves. We walk through downtown, for more than a mile, past social service agencies, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, the center for conflict resolution, the police station, the local popular food coop. We realize and make known Christ’s presence in all of these places.

The Way made public brings the Gospel story to the people of the town and forms the people who walk it. We read the stations in English and in Spanish, in recognition of, and with hospitality for, our neighbors who are Spanish-speaking, many who come from countries where the Fridays in Lent are marked by a public procession of the cross. And every year strangers spontaneously join us on the Way, sometimes just for a station or two, sometimes through to the end.

Last year we added placards to our presence, in order to make known to passers by that we were applying the Gospel to today. “Occupy the Cross; Love the World“, Jesus Welcomes the Alien and the Stranger”, “Dichosos los Pobres”. Carrying these signs, we felt even more public and more vulnerable to the judgment and anti-Christian prejudice of others. We were cheered and jeered. Horns honked support and annoyance. Yet when we talked about it afterward, we agreed that we by our actions we all felt strangely empowered and formed as 21st century Christians in the world. We realized we can be open with our faith and practice.

Our Easter celebrations are not as public. But neither were the events that inspired them. According to our Gospel accounts, the resurrection took place in the dark for night with no witnesses. Still, I wonder how we might share Easter with the stranger or the passerby.

For now, though, for the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, we gather in the dark outside near the space we rent for worship on most Sundays. We experience the excitement of the resurrection, the Light of Christ in the darkness, as we light the Paschal fire, carry the Paschal candle in procession past kerosene soaked torches that burst into flame. We keep Vigil through the stories of creation and liberation, baptize by immersion outdoors in an inflatable pool, and return indoors for the Paschal Shout, lights and celebration, culminating with an alleluia and the pop of a champagne cork.

Easter Day we celebrate the discovery of the resurrection – in the daylight -- in a garden yard of a parishioner or friend, with beauty, joy, Eucharist. We’ve heard the story, now we live in the light of the resurrection. We cheer the ancient song: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb, bestowing life. And we dance.

As I wrote at the start, it is relatively easy for the Advocate to take our Holy Week liturgies into town, because the Advocate doesn’t have a building of our own, with all the traditions and expectations that would go along with it. But with the emerging buzz about taking Ash Wednesday practices to the streets with “Ashes to Go”, I wonder if other congregations might consider the ways that Holy Week liturgies lend themselves to spaces and places beyond our doors, connecting us by experience with our 1st century ancestors in the faith and with the 21st century world in which we live. Expressing our faith and forming it in ways we can only now begin to imagine.

Fifth Station: The Cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene
Tres Amigos Tienda y Taquería

A reading from the Gospel according to Mark

Then they led him out to crucify him. They compelled a passerby, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene. (Mark 15:20b-21)

Silent Reflection


With Jesus tired and weak, and having fallen once already, it was clear to the soldiers escorting him that he might not be able to carry the cross himself the whole way. It was beneath their station as Romans to carry the cross—not in their job description. Just at that moment, their eyes landed on someone—someone who could bring no complaint and who could cause them no trouble—a foreigner from Cyrene, in what is now Libya.
Simon’s case is in so many ways nothing new—just another person harrassed and oppressed because of his origin, his accent, his skin color—a stranger in a strange land, without help, without rights, without recourse. It happens still today, in our country, in our state, in our cities. It has long been the case that immigrants perform the hardest, lowest-paying, most dangerous jobs, jobs that most people will not take. As we stand in front of Tres Amigos, let us remember all those who are vulnerable and oppressed because of their race, ethnicity, or immigration status.

Silent Reflection

Photos here.

The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck is the founding Vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a 21st century mission in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, North Carolina.

A blizzard of challenges: church on Facebook

by Alex Dyer

A wise person once told me, “Most of life is not what happens to you, but how you respond to what happens to you.” With that in mind, imagine just before the weekend a massive blizzard descends and drops nearly three feet of snow in one evening. Even in New Haven, Connecticut, this is a very rare event.

Every priest leading a congregation is forced to make the difficult decision whether to cancel church or march on as usual. Unsure whether we could even plow the sidewalks by Sunday and a travel ban in effect throughout the city and state, perhaps there is another way. Perhaps there is a via media, or should I say via social media.

When presented with unique circumstances, one must come up with unique solutions. I began to think about having a church service via Facebook. It was not a perfect solution, but it was worth a shot. I sent the word out via our email lists and held the service at our normal time, 10:30 AM on Sunday.

One of the local reporters, who I am Facebook friends with (always a good idea to get to know your local press) picked up the story and wrote a piece on the virtual service. It became a form of “e-vangelism” as well. Now it was no longer a simple service for our own parishioners. The pressure was now on to make it something special, and the clock was ticking.

I pre-recorded my sermon for Sunday on a video. I decided to wear my clerical collar because I am an Episcopalian after all (since no one could see from the waist down, I must confess I was also in pajama pants). I led the liturgy of the Word, as that was most familiar to people. I gathered all the pieces for the service. I collected hymns via Youtube and had all the readings typed up and ready to go.

I invited people to join me on the church Facebook page, and I posted the words of the service via our status updates. Before the service began, I invited people to comment and like the hymns. I was shocked how quickly community started to form. I was also shocked how much work it was to lead a service this way.

I found that you are flying blind and have no idea how quickly or slowly to move through the service. It is always tough for me to preach to a camera with nobody else in the room. Despite these obstacles, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive.

Religion and social media have had an interesting relationship. Churches seek to build genuine, deep, rich communities, and social media can present many challenges to this community building. There have been critics ever since the conception of social media. Facebook, Twitter and all other forms of social media are tools; they are not perfect, but they also serve a purpose by connecting people.

I was amazed at how the Holy Spirit was active. One parishioner commented that this idea led her to call an elderly parishioner and say Morning Prayer together since she was not on Facebook. It led another parishioner to begin to think of new ways we can use technology to get our worship services out there to people who cannot make it to church. We had people from Texas, New Hampshire and Nebraska join us for our virtual church service.

It would have been easy to take a Sunday off because of the snow. Believe me, the thought crossed my mind. I am so glad that I did not go that route and was able to see the Holy Spirit move in new and exciting ways. I know in my own life, I do not always take risks as much as I should. The Church is facing a blizzard of challenges in today’s society, and perhaps God is calling us all to be more creative and take more risks. Challenging circumstances are inevitable. How are we going to respond to them?

The Rev Alex Dyer is the Priest-in-charge of St. Paul and St. James Episcopal Church, New Haven, CT

Faith on the streets

An interactive exercise for Café readers: Sara Miles' new book, City of God, looks at faith on the streets. As Ash Wednesday approaches please share your own experiences with liturgy in public places.

by Sara Miles

…This was my neighborhood. And it was God’s. How had I managed to not see God for so long, when he’d been sending out signals for twenty years as unsubtly as a popsicle vendor ringing the bells on his pushcart and screeching paleeeeetas every time I ventured outdoors?

I thought about the plaza at 24th and Mission, where we were going to hold our Ash Wednesday service. The plaza was smack in the center of the Mission and held a special attraction for the most hardcore Christian zealots. I’d more or less ignored them for over a decade. Then after my own unexpected conversion to the faith I listened with new ears, and found myself mortified by the ferocity of their message: Repent… sinner… Zion…everlasting fire...

On the southeast corner of the plaza, a MacDonalds daubed with graffiti sold all-American industrial “tacos” to Mexican families. ...

There was a gaggle of old Nicaraguan men to the northwest, parked on milk crates on the sidewalk, arguing pointlessly about exile politics. A more or less Catholic religious-goods store, its windows clogged with rosaries and medallions and ugly plaster statues of Guadalupe and St. Joseph, was behind them. Open only intermittently, its dingy back counter held candles and powders and a business-like priestess who promised luck, money, revenge, love, protection from the evil eye. ....

Oblivious, a few Jehovah’s Witnesses positioned themselves across from the musicians: plain middle-aged women in glasses and long skirts, silently holding up copies of the Spanish-language Watchtower that nobody ever took. ...

The really serious evangelicals were clustered on the northeast side of the plaza, next to the guys hustling bus transfers. Repent, burn, alleluia, amen, repent. And this was where we were headed: ground zero for prophecies shouted out through crappy little amps, accompanied by tambourines and clapping and the occasional psychotic preacher howling about hell so relentlessly that the transit cops would finally have to tell him to go home.

“Oh my God, Sara,” Martha had groaned, that first year I told her where I was planning to be on Ash Wednesday. “Are you really going over to the plaza in, like, full church drag?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Well, you know, just a few of us, just a little service. Sort of. Ashes. I mean, look, what can I say, I’ve gone over the edge.”

I tried to sound nonchalant, but ever since the idea of celebrating Ash Wednesday in the street had seized me, the line between respectable Episcopal churchgoer and lunatic evangelist had been rapidly eroding. I hadn’t told Martha we were planning to kneel on the sidewalk and pray.

Because there was no line, really. There was no boundary but the very thin layers of skin between my thumb and a stranger’s forehead, made slippery with the shared truth of our mortality. And those ashes, like all blessings, were going to dirty us both up, unleashing a power that flowed back and forth, creating space for the good news to spring up new between us.

Those of us in cassocks on Ash Wednesday, those shouting repentance at rush hour through their amps, were hardly “bringing church to the streets.” If the Mission meant anything, it was about how church––not the buildings, not the tax-exempt legal entities, but the complex, contradictory, earthy, passionate and mutually indwelling body of Christ––was already living there. ....

Read more here and add your experiences in the comments.

Changing the world through liturgy

by Linda Ryan

In one of my Education for Ministry (EfM) groups we’ve been asked to think about liturgy and its place in our lives and ministries. I've found that I really know a lot less about it than I thought I did, and am less able to articulate what it is and what I believe about it as well.

I’ve been involved in the church for many years and in two denominations. I would have said that the church of my childhood was not “liturgical” while the Episcopal church is highly so, and I would have been wrong. What I have begun to realize is that liturgy is not merely a formal style of religion, although that can be a form of it, but rather the way people worship which differs from denomination to denomination and sometimes from church to church within a single denomination. Liturgy is about people: work, community, service and worship. The word itself is a combination of two Greek words meaning “people” and “work”, combining the two to mean either work for or by the people.

I mostly think of liturgy within the church, the rites and rituals done in community or even individually. I was surprised when discussing liturgy with an American Baptist friend some years ago. I mentioned that ours was a “liturgical” church, thinking of liturgy as the order and method of worship as we do in the Episcopal church, but she corrected me. “We are a liturgical church too.” What it boiled down to was that worship was done in a particular order and way, whether one used something like the Book of Common Prayer or not equals liturgy. Both churches used hymns, prayer, readings, a sermon and something invitational – whether an invitation to accept Jesus as a personal savior or an invitation to join in the Eucharistic meal. I can even participate in a liturgy when I read compline or join in prayers and conversation like we do in our EfM groups.

Liturgies cover all manner of things, cyclical ones like Easter, Christmas, the church seasons and the daily prayers from the BCP. They can also cover what are called crisis liturgies, those liturgies that mark a change in state or status of an individual, group or nation. When I think of crisis liturgies, I think of those that were done after 9/11, Blue Christmas liturgies or anointing when someone is in extremis and facing death. There are liturgies for traumatic events and liturgies for joyous ones. I don’t normally think of baptisms, weddings, ordinations, consecrations, confirmations or matriculations as crises, but they do mark changes in state or status. There are inward changes and outward changes, but all represent and mark milestones in the life of a person, group, church, nation or world.

Crisis liturgies have come to be very important to me, specifically the liturgy of healing. About three weeks after I received a diagnosis of breast cancer, I attended my annual EfM mentor training for recertification. It was good to see folks I hadn’t seen for a year and who I’d gotten to know over the past four years of training sessions. I was still rather foggy-headed about the diagnosis and it was never too far from my mind but I didn’t tell anyone in the group until we started to plan for the final Eucharist of the seminar. I spoke to the trainer privately, asking if it were possible to incorporate a service of healing in the liturgy, but to do it without drawing attention to my situation as I wasn’t totally comfortable with asking for prayers or speaking about the diagnosis. To make a long story short, it was incorporated and everyone was anointed by the trainer before we each gave each other the bread and the cup of communion. It was a powerful experience, one which finally allowed me to thank the group and to be open about my new state as a cancer patient. It certainly was a crisis liturgy in my mind, even though I didn’t really remember that it would be classified as such. I experienced a second one a couple of weeks later in an online mentor training seminar, and it was even more powerful. It was certainly an experiment, and even though the formula of the liturgy was fairly familiar (with a few changes), the idea of doing an anointing in a venue that is usually perceived as impersonal, somewhat anonymous and certainly remote was novel. I don’t know how it happened, but honestly, what I felt during that liturgy was almost indescribable. And the effects lasted for several days. Again, a crisis liturgy definitely had the effect of changing my state of mind and acceptance of my state, thanks to my fellow mentors and their brainstorming, willingness and creativity in adapting a familiar liturgy to work in an unusual setting.

Liturgy seems to be about doing things as well as changing status or state. It is a definite yet sometimes fluid way of doing worship, but it is also about building community among those gathered together to participate in a common activity and for the common good. This form of liturgy isn’t limited to worship but rather is more like putting worship to work to accomplish something other than a good feeling after an hour or so on Sunday morning or occasionally helping at a food bank or homeless shelter.

To carry the work of liturgy into the world sometimes takes creativity as well. There are stories of the imposition of ashes on public transit station platforms, prayers and anointing on public sidewalks, and ecumenical services held involving groups who normally would not meet together for an event surrounded by a religious aura. People seem surprised that those liturgies have an impact on just ordinary people who might not have darkened a church door for some time. But then, what if the idea of liturgy were expanded to encompass all the work of the people – working for environmental health, good stewardship of the earth and its resources, humane treatment for both animals and human beings, equality in the workplace as well as in the home and church, promoting the safety and welfare of our children, affordable and available health care for all, especially the elderly and those with infirmities, and a whole list of other things that would fall under what could be called a liturgy of kingdom work, making the kingdom of God here on this earth and in our lifetimes.

Liturgy confined behind church doors benefits those who are also behind church doors. Liturgy done for a greater good in a larger arena benefits many, many more. Liturgy, the work of the people, needs to come out of the church and into the world, and the only way that can be done is with the intention of the people to change things, to make things better for all people and, above all, to build God’s kingdom. I need to consider for myself what liturgy I can take into the world and how I can make even a very small contribution to the kingdom work. That, I believe, will be a work of change – and for the better for all concerned.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter

My backyard baptism

by M. Thomas Shaw

On my day off, when I am in West Newbury, I go to a little gym in a storefront in a shopping center for my morning workout. While some of the trainers know I am connected to the church, none of them have ever seen me in my monastic habit or a clerical collar and everyone calls me Tom. Two of the trainers are evangelical Christians and one is what I would call a seeker.

Early in the summer Ryan, the one I call a seeker, became a dad for the first time. He and his partner, Laura, had a beautiful little girl. On his first day back at the gym after his daughter’s birth, we were all congratulating him and I added, “So what about a baptism?” He replied that he would get back to me after he talked to Laura. The next time I was in the gym Ryan told me they were up for it, and we scheduled a time for me to go to their house, meet Laura and her three children from a previous marriage and arrange for a baptism.

Wednesday evening, the time we had agreed on, 5:55 p.m., dressed casually, no prayerbook or Bible, I pulled up in front of their house. There were a number of cars in the drive. Curious, I thought to myself. I wondered if it was a two-family house or if they lived with parents. Then it dawned on me. It’s a party. They have invited family and friends. Ryan and Laura misunderstood me, and they think tonight is the baptism.

Sure enough, as Ryan greeted me at the door and introduced me to Laura’s parents, his parents, the kids, and I could see all the food on the dining room table, it was clear they thought tonight was the baptism. I needed to make a quick decision. Just do it, I told myself, and forget about preparation and a church and all the things I thought we would be talking about.

They showed me where they thought the baptism should be in the backyard, someone got a bowl and a table and we were all set. The family gathered around and I asked who the godparents were. The baby’s four-year-old brother and seven- and eight-year-old sisters, I was told. Improvise, I thought to myself, and so I asked the kids what it meant to be godparents. They told me that if something happened to their mother and Ryan, they would be in charge of Isabel. That’s a start, I thought, and I tried to explain what else was involved in being a godparent.

No one, it became clear, not kids, parents or grandparents, were connected to any church. I talked a little about what we were about to do and what I thought it meant for them and for Isabel. We prayed together, and then we baptized that beautiful little girl. Later, as we ate dinner, there was time to get to know one another, for them to talk of their religious experiences in the past and for all of us to share more about our faith.

I had the best time that night. And all the way home I laughed at myself. It was clear to me how much I relied on all the props of the church and a language that not a lot of people understood. I shook my head at myself about how inarticulate I was in front of kids who didn’t go to Sunday school, and parents and grandparents, good people, who don’t make many of the assumptions I do.

As I pulled into my driveway I thought, in a way, I was the one who was baptized that night. I was embarrassed by my inadequacy, but glad. I felt God had brought me to a new place. Has anything ever happened to you like that, where you have felt you didn’t have the words to explain the importance of your relationship with God or what the church has to give?

The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Masschusetts. Used with permission from the Bishop's Reflections.

The Sewanee Compromise: trouble in the offing?

by Eric Bonetti

While many have applauded the decision by Sewanee to allow the blessing of same-gender relationships in the chapel, the details of the decision may prove troublesome in the not-so-distant future. How so?

The issue lies with the school’s decision to grant a couple’s home bishop or bishops a veto over the decision of campus clergy to bless the couple’s union, at least if they plan to use the school’s chapel. In short, the whole premise of the Sewanee Compromise is this: Want to do something potentially controversial? If so, you now have two or more bishops to whom you report—your home bishop, and the bishop or bishops of the couple seeking your blessing. And any one of them can exercise a veto over your actions, at least if you plan to use the Sewanee chapel.

This is a dangerous precedent, one not approved by general convention, and one that risks incentivizing cross-border raids.

We hope, of course, that American and Canadian bishops will work collaboratively to resolve differences. But we know that some will not.

And what happens if one of the bishops comes from another province? Is Sewanee saying that it will permit a veto by one of the Nigerian bishops? If so, by whose authority has Sewanee allowed cross-province involvement in such decisions?

Similarly, is Sewanee prepared to offer the same “courtesy” to clergy from other faiths? For example, may an Orthodox rabbi prevent a heterosexual couple from marrying if one of the spouses is Orthodox? Or lives in Israel, where restrictions exist on inter-faith marriages? One hopes that our sisters and brothers of other faiths will be accorded the same prerogatives.

On a larger scale, the Sewanee Compromise provides impetus to a troubling move away from the “broad tent” of historic Anglicanism. No longer are we content to maintain uniformity of communion, while avoiding uniformity of belief. Our traditional approach of welcoming Anglo-Catholics, evangelicals, and virtually every other shade of religious belief has fallen prey to a de facto belief that we must cease and desist if our views or practices differ from those of others.

Perhaps most telling are the stated concerns of Vice Chancellor John M. McCardell about “forum shopping” among couples whose bishops oppose blessing same-gender relationships. Neither local law nor local canons impose residency restrictions for same-gender couples who wish to get married in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington or several other jurisdictions, yet he is worried that Tennessee, which does not recognize same-gender marriages, will open the floodgates?

Under the circumstances, it seems unlikely that travel agents will soon be running a Sewanee-based, “Get Your Relationship Blessed and Get Two Nights’ Free Lodging” weekend special any time soon. But then, given the school’s efforts to increase its endowment, perhaps the idea is worth a second look.

Eric Bonetti lives in Northern Virginia. He is executive director of a small non-profit that provides affordable housing to persons in need and is a member of Grace Episcopal in Alexandria, VA. He is a frequent commenter on Episcopal Café.

Christmas Pageant: Gabriel

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ - Luke 1:26-37 NRSV

Advent, being a time of preparation, uses the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary as a sort of kickoff to the season. Even in churches where Advent isn't celebrated, Gabriel's visit is part of every single children's pageant that conflates the annunciation and birth stories with angels, shepherds and wise men all together. It was no different in the church in which I grew up. The annual Christmas pageant, given on a Sunday night a week or two before Christmas (so all the kids could participate, including the ones who would be off to visit relatives during Christmas itself), was sort of a highlight.

Kids didn't often get to be more than general people-in-the-pews and so the Christmas pageant was one chance to really strut their stuff, in a manner of speaking. Of course, there was competition; every girl wanted to be Mary and every boy Joseph. Nobody in their fairly right mind would entrust kids with a real infant, so somebody had to provide a very baby-like doll to be Jesus. The roles of the innkeeper, the head shepherd and one king were usually reserved for the kids who wouldn't freeze up when they had to say something and the rest of the kids were divided by gender into the remaining roles of shepherds and kings (boys) and angels (girls). One of the really BIG roles was that of Gabriel who probably had as much to say as any of the other characters, only Gabriel had only one long (for a kid) speech. It was a plum of a role, and for more years than I can count, I was it.

It didn't hurt that I had blond hair that could be curled under in a page boy hairdo for the occasion (the only time of year I wore it that way) like the medieval European paintings showed, and it didn't hurt that I didn't mind talking in church -- audibly this time instead of just providing a whispered buzz in the back pew like usual. The hardest part of the whole role was keeping my arm raised in the air the whole time I was on stage. Still, you have to make some sacrifices for your art, so they say.

Mama had made me a costume, a white robe with gold tinsel around the neckband, crossed over my chest and wrapped around my waist. I even had a halo of tinsel wrapped on a sort of rigged headgear made from what I remember as something that used to be a coat hanger. The big deal was, though, that I had wings, official looking wings. Substantial, silver tinsel-edged wings that were tied on the same way as the tinsel on my costume (and which the tinsel covered very nicely) and looked rather impressive, I thought. And I had those wings all year. They lived in what we called the feed room of our garage behind the house where we stored dog food and Mama's jellies, jams and pickles. They lay there with the pickles and preserves, waiting for the next year and the next performance. No other kid in York County, I'm sure, had a pair of wings in their garage. Sometimes it seemed like a curse, but hey, once a year I got to shine.

I knew about Gabriel's role in the annunciation, of course. I can (and did) recite the whole script to prove it. What I've learned since has made me more aware of what big wings I had tried to fill. Not just the angel of the annunciation, Gabriel was either an angel or an archangel, depending on the source of information. The name meant "Man of God" or "God's Might" or "God's Power," again depending on which source you use. Gabriel was God's messenger and has appeared in all three of the Abrahamic religions. In the Jewish scriptures, Gabriel is the angel who appeared to Daniel to interpret visions Daniel had been given but had been unable to understand. In midrash literature, Gabriel is one of the four angels standing at the four corners of God's throne and who attend God directly while other angels constantly sing praises. Gabriel is also said to have been a sponsor at the wedding of Adam and Eve and a rescuer of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace. Gabriel fights Israel's enemies while Michael is the guardian of Israel as a nation. For Muslims, Gabriel was the angel who spoke the Qur'an to Muhammad, and was one of the party who visited Abraham in his tent before going to Sodom and Gomorrah to rescue Lot. And then there is the Christian view of Gabriel as the messenger to Mary.

Maybe if I'd been more aware of all Gabriel was supposed to do and have done, I'd have approached the role a bit differently, but as a kid, it was a plum role in an annual Christmas pageant. It was a time to shine, literally and figuratively. And I was the kid with the wings in the garage.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter

On the border of the profane

By Amber Belldene

My favorite book about being a priest is Bill Countryman’s book, Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All. Bill says nearly every human being practices priesthood one time or another, when he or she stands in a liminal space between the transcendent and our mundane, gritty reality, and helps others pass between. Doctors, teachers, athletes, parents, artists—they are all priests. But, a person with a priestly vocation is called to do this liminal ministry all the time.

There are bizarre and awkward moments of ordained priesthood—when the pita bread that shows up at the altar is onion flavored, or when kids ask a shocking question at youth group. I find these moments some of the holiest, because they break open our routines and let the Spirit in. Thanks to Bill Countryman, on those occasions I like to picture myself straddling the fault line between heaven and earth, the holy and the profane.

Profane really just means “not holy,” so it’s funny that it has come to be associated with four-letter words. The unconsecrated parts of our lives aren’t obscene, but we tend to see them standing in contrast to the holy parts. Ordained people know this well, because of how people react when a person encounters something unexpected, if profoundly normal, about us.

As a priest by day and a romance novelist by night, I occasionally write four letter words, and scenes of people enacting them. It titillates some folks to hear of this avocation, but I didn’t follow my muse to titillate. I followed her because she wouldn’t leave me alone—compelling me to consume, analyze and eventually pen romance novels. Artists talk about muses, but we Christians know the true source of inspiration is Divine. And the ever-provocative Spirit kept leading me to the border between holy and profane and asking me to look at it very closely, and play hopscotch back and forth ¬¬¬across it.

As the English-speaking world learned with Fifty Shades of Grey, I am not the only woman interested in fiction that explores gender, explicit sexuality, and above all else, love. If you don’t know what I am talking about, please find out. (Let me be clear, I’m not recommending you read this book, simply that you know about it.) We can dismiss it as mommy porn, or we can ask ourselves what people are finding in a book like that and what it tells us about people’s longings (especially its huge audience of primarily young and middle aged mothers—ahem, that’s one of our mission fields). Both romantic and sexual love are Biblical metaphors for God’s love of humanity, and I wholeheartedly believe the popular passion for romance is about our human longing for God. People want love, and we Episcopalians have something radical to say about it.

As a church, we are struggling to speak about who we are and what we have to offer that other denominations don’t. I grew up in a charismatic Episcopal parish, and since then have attended every type on the spectrum. What we have in common, from our liturgies of blessing and marriage to our Eucharistic theology, is that we embrace incarnation and we reject the notion that our bodies and desires are bad. That’s not some slippery slope where we begin to think anything goes. It’s the Gospel. God became one of us, and God made us for love, of both the human and the divine varieties.

What does profane evangelism look like? For me, it involves speaking about the spiritual and liminal aspects of things like love, sex, and romance novels. Writing genre fiction is my guerrilla theological formation. I hope my novels are invitations to a spiritual and mystical worldview that may have something to do with God. But to many (or most) readers, they probably just seem like one more variation on the vampire tale.

If we’re right that people are hungry for God, and just don't know enough about our church to find us, perhaps we need to speak more about where and how God is in the profane parts of our lives. Because, the truth is, the liminal space between heaven and earth is just as likely to open up for us in the bedroom as it as around the altar, and we need to be less afraid to talk about that. Perhaps if we did, people might know they could bring their whole selves, longings and all, to the Episcopal Church, and find love.

Amber Belldene is the pen name of an Episcopal priest. Her debut novel Blood Vine will be released in December from Omnific Publishing.

The Last Word

by Torey Lightcap

In the “Pastoral Offices” section of seminary life, we were given good advice about doing funerals, especially with regard to what happens at the graveside. One of the things I remember most clearly – partly because it came at the end of class – was the following exchange.

“What are we supposed to do about all those groups like the Masons and the military or others who want to do their services at graveside the same time as the church?”

“By and large you’ll end up having to work out how to deal with these things on your own, but about these groups let me say just this: Whatever you do, let the church have the final word.”

In hindsight, it turns out to have been more than a terrible pun from a venerable teacher of liturgy. It was counsel that so far has been quite difficult to keep.

When dealing with groups that desire to present military honors (flags, “Taps,” 21-gun salutes) or Masonic rituals, I have heard the following more times than I can count: “Pastor, you just do your thing, and whenever you’re finished, let us know and we’ll step up.” It’s such a common refrain by now that I know when it’s about to be said.

So common, in fact, that it must have been equally programmed into those groups. You can see the problem. On the outside it seems like the extension of a common courtesy, but to the parties involved … well, everything means something.

The nature of the conflict is clear: we all want to have the final say in the matter – the church’s blessing, the Army’s flag, the Masons’ aprons – but we can’t all have it. By definition, that benefit befalls the one who speaks last in the order of things. The last party to speak or act completes the action at hand with the imprimatur of his or her organization.

All I know is that when I walk away from church on Sundays, the only tune I usually find myself humming is the one from whatever hymn was last sung. When I walk out of a movie theater, I’m generally giving thought to the last few minutes of the film I just saw. When I walk away from a pastoral encounter, I tend to give more weight to the last few things the other person said. Experience is cumulative; what comes after a thing gives further heft and nuance to whatever came before it. The way things are ordered happens to matter. (Imagine being told to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” just as the service starts.)

And so when we say that what we’re up to is “Christian burial,” it seems we have an obligation to ensure that that’s what it actually is: i.e., Christian, with Jesus and the mystery of the resurrection as both its center and its bookends, taking place within a recognized context that is distinctly and unmistakably an Easter day. Having the last word becomes vital – not necessarily a tussle for power, but a conversation over keeping the integrity of the thing intact.

Does that mean non-church groups aren’t Christian? By no means. But only one – the church – bears the specific imprint of Easter, and only one possesses the pastoral imperative to dispatch the liturgical actions of commending spirits to God and earthly remains to resting places. It is, therefore, difficult to envision such groups coming together in one seamless action and taking up their places in the order of things without considerable consultation. They can’t all come in with the tacit assumption that each will have the last word, but I’ll be darned if that isn’t what happens a lot of the time.

I have had – well, let’s say varying levels of success in explaining why this is important to groups that have become accustomed to having the last word. They want to know why I think I’m in charge; I explain that this is, first of all, a responsibility of the church, and that as the church’s agent in this case, I’m accountable for how it goes. It’s easy to understand that they, too, have taken vows and oaths in support of their various causes, and that if there is protocol to be followed it should be, to the letter – except where the letter of one law conflicts with the letter of another.

That’s the moment where a standard is applied and we must ask, Whose law is most important? And it may be that I’m wrong, but I’d be willing to bet Episcopal Café readers would mostly fall on the side of how the church has ordered the service in order to preserve its integrity – that the Easter acclamations and their Alleluias may be the final word. That’s the standard, at any rate, that I long to have applied in my own case.

That said, I must honestly add that this is a fight I’ve grown tired of having, and have been giving in on more and more the past few years because as I say, it involves considerable consultation you just can’t have at one minute prior to the service. (You can try it, but you’ll end up with people who will later cross the street rather than take the chance of meeting your eyes. I’ll never forget the uniformed man who all but threatened to punch me, “were we not standing in a cemetery.”)

It should come as no shock that the times I have been able to have “considerable consultation,” things went better and no one’s nose was either figuratively or literally put out of joint. These conversations weren’t about winning points. The letter of either law gave way to the spirit of a higher law. People representing organizations that wanted to be a part of a service who heard about my concerns understood them, and I understood theirs. We were able to provide for something that, while perhaps at times a little redundant, held itself together with more cooperative and understanding groups involved. Every solution was a little different.

Those substantial conversations have led me to believe that in general all these groups wish to accomplish is to honor the person who has died. That is itself an honorable desire – that we show gratitude for the life of a friend. As one who officiates at such events and takes his role as officiant with seriousness, I offer that such honor should take place within a wider context of honoring God, who is both the author of life and the conquerer of death.

The Rev. Torey Lightcap is Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Iowa and on the adjunct staff of Episcopal Café.

The Open Table: the integrity of the eucharistic community

by Stephen Edmondson

In my last two posts, I have pursued the question posed by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops exploring the Eucharistic assembly as the “quintessential gathering” of God’s people. I’ve discussed the relational character of Jesus’ grace that happens around his table, and I offered one model for understanding the Eucharistic Assembly—that it is the Body of Christ.

Now, to be Christ’s body in the world is to be Christ’s broken body, whose boundaries stand open to the outsider. We must be wary of the attempt to define our communion through the clarity of our boundaries, for these inevitably tend to exclude and become, themselves, oppressive. But does this leave the Church without any sense of clear boundary and definition? How can a Church that will allow all to enter and participate provide itself a sense of integrity? Here we come across one of the most interesting insights born from the practice of the open table—that the community of Christ’s body has integrity in the midst of these open boundaries because it is defined not by its boundaries, but by its bonds. It is the commitment and connection of the members of the Church to the heart of the Church—Christ’s embracing love—and to each other that holds the Church together.

Members of open table congregations are clear about the identities of their communities, and they show no concern that their communities will disintegrate through their practices of inclusion. Their identities are bound to the love of God that is active and manifest in sundry ways among them; it is this love that brought them to these communities in the first place. The dynamism of this active love, moving from the center of the Church—Christ’s presence in the Eucharist—and enwrapping all of the Church’s members, holds these Christian communities together. From this perspective, the inclusionary embrace of the Open Table in no way threatens the Church’s identity; it supports it as a central practice of Christ’s embracing love.

Notice the important conceptual shift that we are making here. Within much of the sociological literature of the 20th century, “communities” were defined by “boundaries,” insofar as boundaries mark the beginning and end of the communities. (See Anthony Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community (New York: Routledge, 1985), p. 12.) This logic begins with an idea of community that involves a similarity among its members and a difference from everyone else. The boundary marks this similarity and difference. With this understanding when distinctions are lost, boundaries “become anomalous and the integrity of the ‘community’ that they enclose has been severely impugned.” (Cohen, p. 20)

Concerns about the effect of opening the table on Christian community often trade on the connection between community and boundary. If boundaries are essential for communal definition and identity, then without boundaries, it is difficult if not impossible for someone to gain a sense of belonging to a community. Indeed, this concern for boundaries isn’t a theological position, but simply a sociological one that much 20th century literature would bear out.

But is this right? Are boundaries essential, even primary for conceptualizing community, or is there another direction that we could take? If the concept of boundaries was closely tied to the idea of community in the 20th century, in the first decade of this 21st century more attention has been paid to the role of relationships in community (sometimes under the vocabulary of networks or social capital). This shift forms the substance of Robert Putnam’s epochal work, Bowling Alone, which traces to breakdown in contemporary community in tandem with the dissolution of those relationships that make community possible. Putnam and much contemporary literature cannot assume a world where the potency of community allows a sociologist to consider only the question of differentiating one community from another. Rather, as the reality of community has come under fire in our atomizing world, writers have turned to the relationships from which community is formed to conceptualize its essential qualities. Zygmunt Bauman, in fact, derides the connection between the idea of community and the fact of boundaries, arguing that “community” is invoked only to give symbolic substance to the boundaries we erect in our never-ending war to protect “us” from “them”. (See Zygmunt Bauman, Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001) esp. pp. 7-20.) Bauman suggests that the hope of a way forward out of our boundary-drawing quagmire is in authentic relationships that truly recognize the other—relationships from which real community and real security could be derived.

The practice of the open table relies on an idea of community defined by its bonds, its relationships, not its boundaries. In one sense, this is again to say that it’s a liturgical theology. As Gordon Lathrop has argued, good liturgy begins with strong symbols (of Jesus) in the center—symbols that bind us to God’s love in and through the Jesus they manifest. Relying on these symbols, good liturgy also necessitates open doors (a lowered sense of boundaries) since we betray the very symbols that center us if we fence them off in order to define and protect “us” from “them”.

It entails a covenantal theology, recognizing that covenant is primarily about relationship—first our relationship with God and through that, our relationship with one another. The covenant enacted in Jesus, however, is fundamentally an open covenant—a covenant intended to break down boundaries, that compels us to reach out to the “them” outside of our communities, imploring them to recognize their status with us as God’s children. In this context, an idea of boundaries is not only inessential to the reality of Christ’s covenant—it in fact betrays it.

Clear boundaries can facilitate a clean entrance into a community, but this seems to be a lazy way to do community. A Church can be defined by the walls that surround it, or by the table that it houses. The nice thing about walls—once they are built, they need little attention as they divide the inside from the outside. With sturdy walls, we only need to make sure that we are inside the doors to “belong.” But if the church is defined by its table, then it requires constant attention for its reality to subsist. The table must be set, people seated and served, fellowship must be engaged in. Entrance into this community can be equally clear. It begins with an invitation to be seated at the table, and it culminates (in baptism) with an invitation into the kitchen to join those who serve.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Edmondson is the Rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean, VA. Before returning to parish ministry Edmondson was an associate professor of Church History at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

The Open Table: the Christian community as the body of Christ

by Stephen Edmondson

In my last post, I shared some reflections on the question of the Eucharistic assembly as the “quintessential gathering” of God’s people. More specifically, I talked about the Eucharistic assembly as a place where Jesus’ grace happens, and I explored the relational character of this grace. Implicit within this relational model of grace is an understanding of the Christian community as the body of Christ, constituted in the Eucharist. The fulcrum on which this understanding turns is Christ’s real presence to us in the Eucharist—that in this meal we have fellowship with him, and through this fellowship we are transformed. Christ’s presence and fellowship are incarnate in the Eucharistic community, so that we receive Christ in and with one another as we gather together at table. But they are incarnate there not through the virtue of the community—we’re far too familiar with the “virtues” of our communities to make that claim—but through the virtue of making Eucharist. Through this meal, we the community become a symbol of Christ blessed, broken, and shared. We become Christ’s body, through which the alienated and broken can experience God’s reconciling love

This focus on the transformation of the Christian community in the Eucharist accords with an Eastern Orthodox critique of much of the western Eucharistic debate from earlier generations. The western controversy over the what and how of Christ’s presence in the bread and wine so focuses western thought and piety on the Eucharistic elements that the transformation of the community enacted through the liturgy as a whole often were lost. Indeed, in implicit agreement with this Orthodox critique, John Calvin and Richard Hooker sought to reframe the Reformation debate over Christ’s real presence precisely through an invocation of this broader communal transformation and the reality of Christ’s presence there.

My approach to the church’s transformation differs from an Orthodox approach, however, insofar as it will emphasize the Church as the body of Christ that was blessed, broken and shared in his ministry, much as the elements are blessed, broken, and shared, rather than emphasizing the Church’s ascension in the Liturgy to Christ in the heavenly realm. Much of the power of the Orthodox Liturgy is its heavenly aspect—it’s intention to open the church to the glory of the Risen Christ to whom we have been united. But we must hold together tightly the Risen Christ with the Jesus who ministers in the Gospels, so that the Glory of this Christ is the glory of a life offered and a body broken as a means of sharing God’s love. My argument then is not intended to denude the Eucharist of its heavenly aspect, but to argue that we taste heaven most truly and fully when we meet Christ in his offer of himself at table to us, the broken and outcast.

The Church’s constitution as Christ’s body in the Eucharist is a belief shared broadly in the Eucharistic thinking of many of those who embrace an open table and many of those who do not. But working through the implications of this belief opens up more deeply how proponents of the Open Table understand Christ’s Church. The issue that emerges when we follow the logic of the church as the Eucharistic body of Christ is one of integrity, and this will have at least two dimensions, as we’ll see.

James Farwell in an article in the Spring 2004 Anglican Theological Review ( ), accepts that Jesus embodied in his ministry the unconditional welcome of God’s kingdom. He argues, however, that the logic of participation in the Eucharist, whereby we are nourished as members of Christ’s unconditionally welcoming body, demands that only those who have embraced this reality, committing themselves to this welcoming, should participate in it. Allowing those who have not committed themselves to Christ’s Kingdom vision to participate in the Eucharist belies the integrity of the mission.

Farwell’s point carries some persuasive weight, but an ironic implication of his argument leaves the Church, in its central and constitutive meal, betraying the Kingdom’s mission of unconditional welcome as a way precisely to highlight and uphold the mission. For proponents of opening the table, we are most faithful to Christ’s Kingdom not by keeping the company of its adherents pure, but by embodying in this constitutive act the unconditional welcome through which it is, in part, defined. Indeed, the practice of opening the table is essential to the identity of churches that practice the open table, apart from the welcome that they offered to strangers, for through this practice they constituted themselves as a hospitable and gracious communal body. Aidan Kavanaugh reminds us that in the liturgy, the Church is “caught in the act of being most overtly itself.” (On Liturgical Theology, p. 75) Given the vision of the gracious and welcoming Kingdom to which the Church is responsible, the Church can be itself only as it embodies in its liturgy precisely this welcome. For proponents of the open table, the integrity of the Church’s mission requires precisely that they embody Christ’s welcoming, embracing love in this, their constitutive meal.

What we must recognize is that to be Christ’s body in the world is to be Christ’s broken body, whose boundaries stand open to the outsider. We must be wary of the attempt to define our communion through the clarity of our boundaries, for these inevitably tend to exclude and become, themselves, oppressive. We must remind ourselves that the world against which the Church defines itself is not those persons, beloved of God, who stand without us; they are, with us, members of God’s family. Rather, the world against which the Church defines itself is those forces that serve to oppress and destroy God’s beloved. The Church as Christ’s body is responsible for service to these, our alienated siblings.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Edmondson is the Rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean, VA. Before returning to parish ministry Edmondson was an associate professor of Church History at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

The Open Table: Where Jesus’ Grace Happens

by Stephen Edmondson

In their report to this summer’s General Convention, the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops committed themselves to formulating “a renewed and fundamental understanding of the Eucharistic assembly and of Eucharistic celebration as the quintessential gathering of the people of God.” (Blue Book, p. 52) This understanding, they surmise might reframe the controversy over the practice of inviting all of God’s children to Jesus’ table. I’ve spent the last several years crafting one such understanding, and I’m hoping for my work to be published soon. In anticipation of this, I want to share some reflections as they bear on this question of the Eucharistic assembly as the “quintessential gathering” of God’s people.

The Eucharistic assembly is quintessentially a place where grace happens—or more specifically, where Jesus happens. Open Table congregations are acutely aware of this happening. Their practice is shaped by it. That’s why I’m wary of the tendency of those struggling with the practice of the Open Table to file it under the category of “pastoral” practices, by which they mean a practice that is sensitive to hurt feelings and raw edges or is only necessary in occasional situations like weddings or funerals. (See the article by the Bishop’s Theology Committee in the Winter 2011 Anglican Theological Review for an example of this.)

The church’s pastoral call is a deep one, but too often those who invoke the “pastoral” in this context limit the scope of the practice and diminish its power. The grace of the Eucharistic assembly is not particularly sensitive, nor is it valid only in limited occasions. It’s the grace to which Augustine testified:

You have called, You have cried out, and have pierced my deafness. You have enlightened, You have shone forth, and my blindness has vanished. I have tasted You, and am hungry for You. You have touched me, and I am on fire with the desire of Your embraces.—Confessions

It is the grace that Sara Miles experienced,
And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying “the body of Christ,” and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying “the blood of Christ,” and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me. –Take this Bread

The Eucharistic Community is quintessentially a place where Jesus and his grace happens, and we learn something about the community if we pay attention to the character of that grace. We are essentially relational people, and in our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, we are touched by the power of grace to resurrect and reform within us our essential truth—that we are persons created for God. The grace we encounter at the table is the grace of embrace that awakens us to our desire for God and to the consummation of this desire in our fellowship with God through thanksgiving. In the context of the open table, grace is understood less as an infused quality of the soul and more as a renewal of relationship. Grace is relational, just as human persons are in their essence---just as God is in God’s eternal mystery.

This relational understanding of grace first became evident to me in the descriptions of the Eucharistic liturgy offered by several parishes that practice an open table. Members of these communities placed great emphasis on the practice of circling the altar to receive the bread and wine, and everyone remains in their place around the table until the entire group had received. This practice makes a statement about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Christ, in this practice, is experienced richly and deeply in the community gathered around the meal as an integral part of the partaking of the meal. Here, the invitation to communion becomes not simply an invitation to receive the bread and the wine, and Christ with and in them, but an invitation to stand in the circle and receive Christ with, in, and through them.

This relational understanding of grace is not a simplistic reduction of grace to feeling welcome. It’s a more complex reality. First, it is the grace of reconciliation. The inclusion in the circle of grace of those who experience themselves as outsiders breaks down the barriers of rejection, fear, failure, and unworthiness that we bear from our sojourn a world alienated from God. The invitation to the Eucharist instigates reconciliation between persons and God, while it also can reconcile persons to the Christian community. Often, those who are most profoundly affected by the invitation are not the unbaptized, but those who have become alienated from the Church after experiencing it as a destructively exclusionary and judgmental community.

Second, and perhaps more significantly, the grace of communion is experienced in the practice of the open table as the grace of sanctification. The fundamentally relational quality of our humanity is a theological reality. Modern individualism, which sacrifices the relationality of communion at the altar of unencumbered freedom, has deformed persons and mistaken true freedom. Invitation to the Eucharist and inclusion in communion, then, offers the opportunity for the remaking of the individual into the “ecclesial person” that lies at the truth of our being. This truth is not fully transacted until we take the steps—baptism and membership in a Christian community—through which this fundamental relationality is integrated more fully into us. Opening the table, nonetheless, allows participants a foretaste of this transformation, even as it invites them more deeply into it.

If the Eucharistic community is the place where Jesus and his grace happen, and if that grace is fundamentally relational, then that tells us something about the community. I’ll explore that in my next post.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Edmondson is the Rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean, VA. Before returning to parish ministry Edmondson was an associate professor of Church History at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

Stations of the Cross and Carlsbad Caverns

by Maria L. Evans

"Truth is what is true, and it's not necessarily factual. Truth and fact are not the same thing. Truth does not contradict or deny facts, but it goes through and beyond facts. This is something that it is very difficult for some people to understand. Truth can be dangerous." ~Madeleine L'Engle

On a recent trip to Carlsbad Caverns, I was lucky enough to be visiting on a weekday with few visitors. My last visit there was on a Saturday in 1982, and that day the caverns were packed with visitors. The dearth of visitors allowed me to see something that I had not seen on that first visit--all the various grottos along the cavern walls. I was struck that they looked like miniature views of the main room--little dioramas nested within the walls. It was almost as if one could look at the grotto for a while, then turn around and see a larger recapitulation of the shapes and patterns of the rock formations in the grottos. It was almost as if they were trying to tell a story--the story of how this cave came to be, lived and grew over eons.

I still can recall vividly the first time I saw a diorama. It was on a childhood trip with my family to Florida, and we had stopped along the way near Chattanooga, TN, to a site that described the Battle of Lookout Mountain. There was a huge diorama in the main room with flashing lights and explosions and row upon row of soldiers in blue and gray. The diorama told the story by using lights and sound to direct one's attention to a different part of it, as the pre-recorded story of the Battle of Lookout Mountain unfolded.

We don't think about things much in terms of laying them out on a diorama. Now, we discover the unfolding of stories at tourist sites via higher tech means like IMAX theaters and computer simulations. But what I've always loved about dioramas are that they are a collection of details, and although the story is the entry point for the experience, they become personalized by the details we choose, so the experience can be different for us each time we view it, based on the details we choose. That doesn't tend to be our pattern when we watch a movie, where the more we see it, the more we wait in bated anticipation for the parts we most enjoy. "Oh, oh, here it comes! I LOVE this part!"

Most of the ways we see the world are linear and dichotomous. Either/or. Up/down. Right/wrong. Good/evil. With this tendency for duality and linearity in our thinking, stories have a distinct beginning, middle, and end, and the characters are generally either good or bad (although sometimes one has to wait till the end to see whether someone was ultimately good or bad.)

L'Engle's quote, however, invites us to see spirituality and religion in a non-dualistic way--as a diorama--thereby making the stories of the Bible "our stories." She invites us to consider the details--the facts, as the portal to truth rather than the definition.

As I looked at those grottos in the cavern walls, they started to remind me of the Stations of the Cross. Although it's one of the oldest forms of devotion used in Lent and Holy Week, it's also the one that can really bring out a visceral negative reaction in people. "It's too Roman Catholic." "I don't like the blood and gore." "There's unsubstantiated myth in it, like Veronica--there's no evidence a woman gave Jesus a cloth." "Jesus really didn't say some of the stuff in the Stations in the way it's told." "There's too much talking and not enough silence." "I'm not into Jesus' death, I'm into the Resurrection."

The visceral nature of some of those negative responses I've heard over the years reminds me how we describe our own pain, or a painful chapter in our lives. When we can finally break the silence, things tend to rush out of us in list upon list of "the very specific details of how we were hurt or harmed." This tends to be linear, and dichotomous--because we are venting in order to control. We control the facts in an attempt to control the truth.

I did not exactly grow up with the Stations as part of my religious tradition, but it was part of the religious tradition of the family of my best childhood friends. I never really got the point of the Stations until I wrote my own a couple of years ago. It was only when I wrote a set of Stations that I began to understand their purpose--that each station is a diorama that urges us to hear our stories within the story of Christ's passion. Who was our Simon of Cyrene, carrying our cross? Who has wept for us by the roadside? When have we encountered Christ in the simplest action of wiping another's face?

Perhaps, just as the cavern had written its own set of Stations of the Cavern, the Stations of the Cross invite us to see our life within the context of a series of dioramas of Christ's passion. What detail will we choose to let the story unfold around us and lead us to a fuller understanding of the truth of the Good News in Christ?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid


by Torey Lightcap

In August of this year, six people from the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa headed to Colorado for a week’s immersion at La Puente Home, a secular (but genuinely inspired) suite of social services that catches folks just as they’re about to fall through the cracks and be forgotten, and then helps them get back on their feet in a huge way. La Puente has a big job to do and has been doing it selflessly for almost thirty years – quietly saving lives, I mean – in one of the most economically devastated parts of the country, which, wouldn’t you know, is in one of the richest states in all of the First World.

In attendance were two priests (including myself), a deacon, a teenager who has occasionally served as acolyte and who is active in youth doings, and a couple engaged to be married.

No ordinary engaged couple. Rich and Lacy are quite new to the Episcopal tradition and loving it. Nothing dry or jaded about their faith or about their regard for one another or their outlook on life: each moment is lived at full-ahead-full, the two of them moving through their life together soaking up ideas like sponges, forever striving to leave the world a better place, and deeply in love with God. Everything to them is amazing.

I mean that last bit especially, and I mean it literally. Theirs is not a feigned way of seeing things. It’s just that everything is … well, believably and understandably amazing.

“How you doin’, Rich?” “Amazing.”

“How’d you sleep, Lacy?” “Amazing.”

“Dinner was average.” “Really? I thought it was amazing.”

Those three syllables in repetitive combination are catchy. In fact, I defy you to spend a week with them and not come to regard the use of the term in a different way – or at least start peppering your speech with it.

Rich and Lacy are awake to life – open, receptive, enriching, evolving. So when, as the convener of the mission trip, I proposed that we spend our free “play” day in the San Luis Valley doing amazing things, I should have been prepared for how God’s Spirit was about to blow through our lives on that very day, in a way that can be accounted as nothing short of gloriously alive and gracefully amazing.

The day started with a hike up the Great Sand Dunes. The dunes is a national park in a state full of geographic wonders, but it stands alone in beauty and novelty. A vast stretch of sand dunes deposited by eons of wind erosion coming to rest against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the dunes take visitors hours to climb and just seconds to run back down. We took pictures; we hydrated; we knocked the sand out of our shoes. Fun stuff.

Next on the agenda: a brief stop at Zapata Falls, a high, shady waterfall a few miles off the main road, then on to a swimming pool fed by a hot artesian spring. Oh Colorado; you and your natural wonders. Midwestern flatlanders can’t get enough.

We threw off our shoes and snaked into the chilly creek leading to the falls, tracking it about seventy-five yards to the south where we met a cliff wall. The nippy water cascaded in stages – fifty, then thirty feet to the rocks below, its massive churning roar echoing off the walls of the narrow canyon, rendering communication quite difficult.

Finding myself standing next to Rich and Lacy, and rather awed by the moment, I yelled to them something about how incredible it was. I was assured that it was, in fact, amazing.

“You know,” I said offhandedly, with a half of a grin, “this would be a great place to get married.”

They looked at one another, then at me. Their wheels were in full gear, clicking in unison.

“Can we?” they asked together.

“Well … I’m really only about forty percent kidding when I say that.”

They looked at one another. “Can we?” they asked again. “We were just standing here talking about it.”

I did the math. The Episcopal Church does not approve of marital rush jobs. We would have to demonstrate good faith to all parties involved, but yes, this was absolutely the right moment, and because these were the right people for this sacrament, this was absolutely the right thing to do.

I said no guarantees, but maybe I could make a few phone calls and see what’s what. Fording the creek back to where we put in, I stood on a big, slippery rock and willed Verizon to reach its snaky tentacles into the crevasse. Alas, no service.

Further out and away, then, the sound of the falls dimming. Could we reach diocesan officers in Des Moines and Denver? Not yet. I hoofed it back to the happy couple.

Members of the wedding party were tossing a Frisbee around. Could we repair to the fastest possible lunch spot and try to make phone calls from there?

Yes, we can, and did. Diocesan officers were understandable, heard us out, ticked everything off their lists to completion, and provided us with some instruction. Record the service here … will you have Eucharist? … any prior marriages or kids?

Meanwhile, a very serious conversation took place over sandwiches. It was like a lot of premarital counseling, only tightly compacted. I’d been with this couple for the past four days straight and it was crystal clear they were ready to go. Nevertheless, were there any skeletons, hesitations – anything at all? What would they do when troubles arose in their marriage? Who were their family? The betrothed were grilled on three sides by members of the clergy. They weren’t just giving lip service or pat answers.

Normally I’d initially turn from anything sacramental, like a marriage, that might have a pretense of too much urgency – the quickie confession, say. Everything slowed down for a few moments. I thought of Acts 8 and of the strange trip of Philip on the road to Gaza to see the Ethiopian eunuch and to speak of Christ. I remembered the eunuch’s burning question: There’s the water; what is to prevent me from being baptized right now? By my lights, nothing.

Then – pop! – back to the exigency of the moment. We’d need a marriage license, of course. It was getting on about three-thirty. What time does that office close?

Four-thirty! And the computers shut down before that! Into the van, into the rain, eighty miles an hour to the Alamosa County Clerk & Recorder. The bride-to-be on the phone, imploring, “Please understand we are coming to you now. I’m in the van with two priests and a deacon and an acolyte. We’re pulling into town.”

Waiting in the van. The clerk’s office gunning to get everything signed. The doors of the building already locked for the end of the day.

… Then, a hail of glee! The bride and groom running out of the building! The bride waving a piece of paper! The horn honking, the staff hugging them as they left the building, the rain having left a late-afternoon sheen on the streets of Alamosa, so that things just glowed.

Then, a hush, a sacred quiet, a bite of expectation. The endorphins having been used and sloughed away. This was truly happening.

Off to the communion kit and the stole, which would have been used tonight anyway. Gathering up prayer books. To one store for bread and another for wine.

Back in the van. On the road. Phone calls to parents and other family.

(“Grandma, I just want you to know what we’re about to do. We’re getting married up here. It’s perfect, it’s right. It’s amazing… Thank you. Thank you so much. I love you, too. I’ll call you later, okay?”)

Up the trail to Zapata Falls.

An altar of stone, vows made, a ring given, the presiding priest introducing the newly married to the birds and the rocks and gawking passers-by. Bread and wine.The happy couple

I doubled as Altar Guild and best man; the deacon read the gospel and stood next to the bride. If there really is such a thing as the Liturgical Police, they went undercover and didn’t flash their badges.

At this point I have presided at maybe fifty weddings, but never before have I felt the Spirit moving as much as in those few moments. We breathed, and listened to the rhythm of the water on the rock. Amazing.

Then out, out – sent back into service to a tired and wounded world. That night there would be a celebratory dinner at a Thai place that only had a Chinese buffet, and in the morning there would be a cake from the staff of La Puente that initially read “Congratulations, Rich and Lazy” before the typo was fixed. In between the bride and groom would sleep in separate dorms as was the established norm, not wishing to interrupt the flow of the next few days.

You know, sometimes the church’s structures and processes and endless politics get in the way of ministry, and sometimes you’re just deeply grateful for them. I venture to guess that day at Zapata Falls would not have been as fulfilling had it not been for the way The Episcopal Church nerves and prepares its ministers, or had the lot of us been overly encouraged not to risk, or had the couple expressed an overwhelming objection of any sort.

But: Risk we did – and some beautiful ministry was done, and God’s name praised as the universe was put right for a few moments. God’s Spirit had put us together; we were just awake enough to see that, and look what happened.

The Rev. Torey Lightcap is Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Iowa and on the staff of Episcopal Café.

Human microphone: liturgy and pedagogy

By Donald Schell

Just what concrete steps should we take to make a new economic system that’s NOT-

- ruled by a few

- economically unjust

- chronically violent


- religiously legitimated ?

Occupy Wall Street? Actually these four eerily familiar bullet points are Marcus Borg’s description of the ‘four central features’ of ‘the ancient domination system,’ that prophetic voices in the Bible - among them the Deuteronomic code, all the writing prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus, and St. Paul - consistently protest.

Still it’s easy to imagine a contemporary chorus of voices - the human microphone - echoing a leader phrase by phrase as s/he calls out these four ancient marks of economic tyranny at any of the Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy gatherings around the country. Where it gets really eerie is the steady complaint in the banking industry and among established politicians that this is protest without program.

Is there some good reason Biblical prophets don’t offer programs and proposals to improve things?

Why didn’t they offer administrative corrections and proposals to regulate the king or fat bulls of Bashan, procedural corrections for the Roman provincial governor, clear wage and profit sharing demands to vineyard owners, or legislative proposals to pass on to the Roman Senate? Could it be that they trusted or hoped the Spirit would work through people’s heightened discontent and utopian vision of what might be? Did they believe there could be intrinsic, sustained power (and inspiration) when people see and reject a system gone wrong and glimpse, how ever faintly, what justice might look like? Could the weak and lowly actually inherit the earth?

In my last piece at the Café, “Like Repeating Fifth Grade,” I quoted a first-time visitor to Episcopal liturgy who’d told a priest colleague that our text-driven, reading together means of achieving liturgical solidarity felt like going back to fifth grade, and I offered my wish or hope to that experience, speaking as a liturgist and Christian educator,

"In the 'how' of liturgy planning (and space design), I'd like us to give serious attention to the radical improvement of singing that happens when people are facing other people, and to encourage the affective power in praying that's evident when we can see feeling on the faces of others formed in God's image."

Among several useful responses and reflections to that Café piece, Dave Paisley wrote –

“So how come most churches are regimented rows of pews that just face forward, focused on the altar? Really, how many people come to church for a music lesson? Gregorian chant? Obscure arrangements of 15th century hymns? These are the acquired tastes of multi-generational Anglo-catholic ascetics that just don't translate well to the "real world". . . .As for atomization - think of your average football game or rock concert - people there don't socialize with their neighbors, but they feel a strong sense of community and can walk away from the event feeling like they were part of something fantastic without ever having exchanged more than an "excuse me" with their neighbors as they stepped past them on their way to the bathroom. Until the church gets out from under the outdated pomp & circumstance it's pretty much doomed to be a relic of a bygone era. Apparently it's OK to be avant-garde socially, but hillbilly backwards in every other respect.”

I appreciate Dave Paisley’s offer (and wake-up call) on behalf of immediate, cultural relevance. If we’re going to depart from pervasive norms, we’ve got to have some good idea of where deviance will take us, we’ve got to have some sense of what we’re doing together, and we’ve got to know how a new practice takes on the familiarity that makes ritual actually work.

What is familiar and makes sense to us? What are our rituals of solidarity? It seems to me that church and broader society have quite different answers, so the descriptions

Dave offered has me wondering what we can learn from lecture hall, football game, and rock concert about our common humanity, and what in our humanity might ask different kinds of practices for formative expression. I have to admit that I get restless and skeptical in lecture format teaching (or liturgy), that I don’t attend or watch football games, and then I’ve been to two rock concerts in my life. So, Dave’s nailed me on sharing ‘the acquired tastes of multi-generational Anglo-Catholic ascetics.’ I happily admit that I loved those black and white photos of mass at Christ Church, New Haven Derek Olsen posted in his Episcopal Café story on church ethos. And it’s accurate coming and going - I am also grateful that our church manages to be (more or less) “avant-garde socially and hillbilly backwards in every other respect.”

I do worry that electronic media when I’ve seen it used plays to our isolation and (like print media but more so) imposes an external authority over a gathering. So, back to Occupy Wall Street, I’ve been excited to watch and listen to video of human microphones. The call and echo ritual of the Occupy gatherings around the country was invented as a way around a new generation of civic ordinances gutting the Constitution’s protection of public assembly and protest speech.

City ordinances against demonstrations using megaphones or P.A. Systems without special permits are intended to limit free speech. It’s sad, but there’s nothing new or interesting there. History gives us a long list of tactics to the same end - censorship, exile, crucifixion, torture, intimidation, police standing ‘unable’ to control a mob, media silence.

But what did the political and logistical demands of communicating in an unlicensed assembly produce? A practical solution that forges strong cohesion, and perhaps a kind of communion among group members.

Two articles on the human microphone phenomenon offer a neat, contradictory opinion guide without either noticing that we’re talking about how liturgy and all ritual assemblies work.

Richard Kim wrote “We are all human microphones now,” for The Nation – it’s his appreciative response to hearing and watching human microphone.

And L.E. Dyer wrote ‘”Human Microphone” tactic: Scary or just Moronic?” from a near-opposite, dismissive (or concerned) perspective.

For liturgist or Christian educator, familiar questions in planning rite or learning re-echo with these voices in the street. With the human microphone we make forced discoveries. No-tech communication methods throw new light on what kinds of communication and what rituals establish solidarity. And, though I think she’s misread what’s the holy anarchy and hopes for organic consensus making in the Occupy movement, Dyer raises useful questions

- do ritual voice and action inevitably lead to group-think?
- is the fellow-feeling of protest a precursor to violence?
- how can creativity and new thinking emerge in a highly structured group setting (like a liturgy)?

The questions aren’t new. They were common concerns in the Roman Empire where urgent need for control looked to prevent any emerging troublesome solidarity among conquered peoples. They’re the reasons that drumming was banned with the slaves in the Southern U.S. and they were the impetus that birthed the dance forms of Capoeira that veiled martial and spiritual training from slave owners in Brazil. Group work and group solidarity CAN birth freedom as St. Paul implies saying, “We have the mind of Christ” and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

Dyer’s critique is based in the reality that any ritual repetition that numbs the mind and steels the heart can and probably will eventually erupt in atrocity. Even seventy years later watching poor quality black and white tapes of Hitler’s Nuremberg Rallies, I feel conflicting body responses and wonder how something can be both morally gut-wrenching and compellingly spine-tingling at once. Programmed, manipulated solidarity that kills critical thinking and conscience makes a dangerous tool in the hands of a destructive leader, whether the result is mob rag against a scapegoated enemy or mass suicide, Jim Jones’s followers obediently heeding the P.A. amplified command to drink poisoned Kool-Aid.

But ritually forged solidarity can go somewhere quite different, because “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” What difference in leadership and in participation turn liturgy (or public ritual like the human microphone) into a jazz-like creative process capable of revealing and loosing love, beauty, and discovery? That discovery process, ritual forging a common mind that blesses freedom, is the common inspiration for mass at Christ Church, New Haven and the Eucharist for OccupyBoston , and both liturgies share with the rest of the Occupy movement foundational learning processes that give us language (music, gesture, and sound), selfhood, and one another.

Our humanity and individual experience is born from call and imitate, repetition, repetition, call and imitate, repetition, repetition, repetition, issues in discovery, freedom, autonomy. We watched it again when our new grandson discovered the communicating power of imitation (leading and following both), sticking out his tongue. The stage passed so quickly, and not so many months later were excitedly cataloguing his words. But speech and communication in relationship follows the same learning and formational pattern. I love the memory of how my eldest daughter back from college and baking cookies in the kitchen found herself teaching her baby brother not to touch the hot oven door. I walked in just as she said, “hot!” reaching her hand out toward the oven door, but drawing it back abruptly before she did touch. “Hot!” our youngest repeated, his first word, or actually the twentieth iteration of the same first word. They’d been repeating the revelatory sound and gesture back and forth to waves of laughter. “Don’t bother us, Dad,” she said, “We’re communicating.”

Imitation and repetition had led them into the joyful communion of discovering not just a first word but also his discovery of how language worked and a shared glimpse of language opening to rich human relationship. Ritually, they rejoiced to linger in their discovery, joyfully watching it deepen and grow.

Ritual speech or music-making birth human communion and take us to their source, the discovery point of communication. BUT solidarity often issues in violence. What difference in leadership or in the assembly or in the practice takes ritual toward freedom and moral courage? Isn’t imitation the path to mindless conformity? How does the imitation of Christ foster and bless our individual personhood? What kind of leader and what kind of group make this a practice of freedom and joy rather than a practice of readily manipulated, violence-prone elation? Consider how jazz happens (and for that matter how some parts of Baroque music happened in their time). It shows us the foundational building blocks of learning and that learning happens where the joining together of Spirit makes us fully human. I don’t think any of us have wholly satisfactory answers, but we can begin by noticing where solidarity issues in freedom and compassion and creativity and noticing where it issues in the opposite.

Holding the question of discernment (or method) in mind, let’s return to Marcus Borg’s description of the Bible’s repudiation of the ancient system of economic domination to ask how we listen to the human microphone to find the challenges and inspirations that won’t make sustaining corrections to a system that’s steadily widening the circle of poverty. Might the human microphone help us hear and feel how mirroring with voice and body, we take the Beatitudes to heart? Is the power of God actually manifest in the voice of the poor, the hungry and thirsty, and the mourning?

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Doing Christ: incarnation and liturgy

by Christopher Evans

Historians and theologians sometimes argue that a catholic emphasis is on seeing God and an evangelical or Reformation emphasis is on hearing God. Both arguments may be partly true, though Luther’s retaining of the elevation at Wittenberg muddies this overly drawn distinction every bit as much as do Benedictine monks at prayer. After all, any good Benedictine-type would point out that both are actually catholic. And where iconoclasm did not take hold of the Reformers, God’s Visible Word as sacrament remained central to proclamation. And have you seen the St. Mary’s Church altarpiece in Wittenberg? We Anglicans on the other hand had to recover from spastic fits of image hatred. Our praying reformed the excesses in time.

To hear the Word, Christ Jesus, and to see the Word, Christ Jesus, are of the whole and of proclamation. They are one. The Reformer’s emphasized one more than the other, but that is not unusual to larger catholic tradition either. Time and context always play a part in highlighting one or another catholic emphasis in prayer.

Our time, in my opinion, requires highlighting a full-sensory experience in the face of a technologized reduction of life to sight and sound. In our time, the Incarnation is at stake, not only in icon or proclamation, but in flesh and blood and clay and dust. Comfort with grinding poverty and ecological devastation are the most acute facets of our capitulation to a docetic Christology quite at home with a technologized society focused on sight, sound, production, consumption, use, and usefulness.

Our Christian failure to attend to our relatedness to the entirety of the cosmos through, with, and in Emmanuel-Incarnate-Word, Christ Jesus, has roots in our failure to attend to the full-sensory experience of the Incarnation at prayer. In attending to the Incarnation at prayer, our senses are renewed to experience all of creation as God’s dwelling place. We may even be surprised to find ourselves drawn to reverence and attend to grass, and earthworms, and one another. Veneration, after all, is not only intended for icons or Saints who have passed into the heart of Christ, but is a stance toward all life and “being-with” [1]: all life barely, sentient, and conscious and all “being-with,” mineral, vegetable, animal…, angel.

So I want to draw our attention to skin, if you will. On Sunday mornings when I am able to suspend my spousal duties at my partner’s parish to attend my own parish, I look forward to the censing of the Gospel Book processed into the middle of the congregation. I close my eyes for just a second and breathe in deeply the smells of myrrh and frankincense. The sweet bitter pungent smoke announces every bit as much as the Sanctus, Christ Jesus—and by means of His Person the Persons Three, present and showing up explicitly, coming among us in cloud and fire to meet the entire people of God in the mystery of smell as much as resonance of sound. And when I bow reverently at “The Holy Gospel according to Saint…,,” I respond in spine and clasped hands to the One Who makes them for attention and reverence.

At Holy Communion, as I raise the chunk of bread cupped in my hands ever so carefully and attentively and reverently to bring Jesus to my lips, I smell the goodness of the Lord, the goodness of the One Who Is With Us And Causes Us To Be With warm and yeasty with crusts. And I remember that, no, actually, we do live by Bread alone, for God so attends to our creatureliness that God in Christ Jesus, by Whom alone we live, has so identified with us as to meet us as creatures and give himself to us now as bread, as creature still. I am reminded of that ditty attributed to Elizabeth I or John Donne. “Is” and “as” are powerful words.[2]

In the Incarnation, God brings together what we would divide in our desire to flee the flesh, our desire to be other than creatures, our sin.[3] In the Incarnation, God is with creatureliness, and through, with, and in the Second Person, with each and every created.[4] In Christ, God meets us on the margins of Godself, if you will and enters into life with us. The cosmos, the entire creation is brought into God’s own life in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. And through the Left and Right Hands of the Father, each and all existing too is icon, Book, and yes, Christ-dimensioned symmetry if we but pay attention even through all of the mess and sin and death.

The paradox is that the Incarnation leads us to embrace of our creaturehood, and by that embrace, that comfort with being skin, grace works in us the divine relating precisely through flesh and blood and clay and dust. Ss. Irenaeus and Athanasius glimpsed this so long ago as the paradox and joy of the Incarnation. Yet this happens not through miserable hatred or a spiritualizing angelism of human being or triumphant escape of flesh, but precisely through embrace of our created existence and loving of all life and “being- with.”

And so I lick the last crumb of Jesus from my palm in preparation for the sweet, sticky wine. And bringing the cup to my lips, I touch the garment, the very goodness of Christ.

We are not just eyes and ears, something for which technology can easily account and turn to use. We are noses, and taste buds, and nerve endings where the brain extends into our skin and our skin touches the cerebrum to make indeed the “body’s mind compound.” [5] Our senses demand liturgy, theo-poetry, full sensory encounter. Such encounter is contrary to a socio-economy that reduces everything to use and usefulness. I’m reminded of the woman with nard. She knows liturgy.

Liturgy at its best not only gives us a vision of God through colorful clothing and paraments and postures and gestures meant for our seeing the Lord, and liturgy at its best not only gives us the hearing of God through words and singing. Liturgy brings us to encounter with God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and by means of this One of all created existence.

We smell, taste, and touch God too. Liturgy, if it be Christian, concerns itself with the fullness of all created, for it concerns itself of encounter with the Incarnate One, Jesus Christ, the Person in Whom by particularity as human being, the whole of heaven is come to meet the creation and all of the cosmos is brought to Father in high priestly representation. God chooses to bless all of creation through the particularity of this Human One, and in this One, through all of humanity. We might like to think us special then? A chosen people set apart. But lest we forget our humble relatedness, we are reminded again and again in Scripture that God chooses the particular one and ones not for ourselves but to bless the whole, to witness to the Word among each and all in the fullness of createdness, among every creature and their kind. Imagine when we shall meet with awe and reverence other conscious beings, not out in the far reaches of space, but here on our shared earth? Imagine ourselves good elder siblings to the many varied-conscious creatures of earth: crows, dolphins, gray parrots, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, elephants, and more?

So this encounter leads us not further into a sanctuary of escape, but into a cosmos where the sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch of creatures each and all is intended to declare a God who meets us through flesh and blood and clay and dust. God became human being, not that we might lord it over one another or other creatures, but that we might witness to God’s blessing each and all in word and image and deed.

In the concentrated form of encounter with the Incarnate One in liturgy, our senses are open to Christ’s Presence at work hiddenly in general society and all of creation. And we are called to Name Christ there and “do” Christ. Only by incense, can I recognize Christ in the smell of aged piss that covers the alley behind my parish, urging attention to and reverence for beloveds without a place to lay their heads. Only by meeting Christ in the sanctuary in the fullness of frankincense and color and bread am I nourished to encounter all of creation as sanctuary, God’s dwelling place, God’s home. Only by encounter of the Incarnation at prayer am I strengthened to engage with worldliness, in Church or general society, in myself and in others, all that would destroy flesh, all that would denigrate creatures, all that would deny that in Christ Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit each and all of us are related to God.

[1] From the works of Douglass John Hall. I recently started reading Hall for the first time and found we shared insights about creatureliness, God’s self-identification with us, and God’s going all the way for us in the Incarnation.
[2] I owe this insight to Alvin Kimmel’s work on Martin Luther.
[3] See Luther’s Lectures on Genesis.
[4] See the work of George Tinker.
[5] Christopher Evans, “Scar Tissue,” Unpublished manuscript.

Dr. Christopher Evans recently completed a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies and Church History at the Graduate Theological Union. He offers occasional musings on the Rule of St. Benedict, liturgical questions, and life as a Benedictine oblate at Contemplative Vernacular

Like repeating fifth grade

By Donald Schell

“Services in Episcopal church are like repeating fifth grade. There’s no place for me there.”

“Do I have to be able to read music to belong to this church?”

My colleagues who heard this observation and this question, one from a friend, the other from a stranger, are seasoned, committed leaders in our church, but both felt they were hearing something significant in the impression of a first-time visitor to an Episcopal Church. The ‘repeating fifth grade’ remark was made by someone who was visiting because her longtime friend worked in the church. The ‘have to be able to read music to belong’ question was from stranger’s first visit to an Episcopal congregation. Both were responding to our odd habit of doing ritual from printed text.

Another colleague, serving as interim in a church that had just won its building back from “Anglican” dissidents, attended a town council meeting, met a number of people who were excited to hear of a more open, progressive voice returning to their town’s religious community and several promised they’d come to church. They did come, and as my friend watched their faces in church that, he felt their bafflement at how we pray with our noses in the book, at the disconnection from friends and neighbors they felt scattered in pews unable to see any face but the priests, at juggling books and interpreting different kinds of page numbers. One by one, he said, he saw his new friends’ faces registering, “nothing for me here.”

The book is our splendid resource. It’s also a serious problem. Sunday I caught myself in an ultra-Episcopal moves. Presiding at a spoken 8 a.m. liturgy, we were using the Apostles’ Creed, which we had printed in the service leaflet. I couldn’t find it in the leaflet and fumbled for it as the creed began before it dawned on me that I didn’t need the leaflet. I could say the creed without text in front of me. I made myself speak the familiar text, but felt the loss of that conditioned security of the paper and print – whether Prayer Book or leaflet. And later when we came to the Lord’s Prayer, I lifted my hands to lead the prayer and noticed an entire congregation of people who know that prayer reading it from the book.

Sunday afternoon, my wife was running lines for our actor son. Running lines means she had the script, he mostly had his lines memorized, and they were practicing with her speaking other parts and him speaking from memory to refine his memorization. His leading part in a new verse translation of Maeterlinck’s Pelleas and Melisande. It gives him a heavy line load of gorgeous poetry he wants to get right. The director had scheduled cast to be off book for the next rehearsal, a full month before the play would open. So, many hours into learning his part ‘by heart,’ he was refining and polishing the memorization to get ready--for rehearsal--not even for performance, but for early rehearsals, because the directors knows actors off book discover new things as their characters are literally speaking to each other. They’re not ‘saying lines’ any more, they’re acting or playing their part.

Occasionally, going to a lot of theater, we’ve had the experience of being in the audience when an understudy takes the stage on book. We saw an Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello on book. It was exciting to watch because the understudy was stretching so hard to be the character, to get the lines without looking, to maintain eye contact with the other actors or speak the lines to the audience, and because the other actors were working so hard to make the whole production succeed. It was a beautiful performance and I still picture a charged moment when he held a sword in one hand and book in the other in the murderous final scene.

Aren’t we, in church, hoping to be at least as alive and present as a company of actors? Why aren’t we finding strategies and means to get people off book? Where are we valuing the voice and contribution of each regular attender and each visitor?

Praying with our nose in the book can’t touch the elation of watching that understudy play Iago. The book isn’t our springboard to freedom; instead it’s there to anchor us, to make sure we don’t go anywhere. Actually, it’s very possible that in 1549 some people felt elated, expectant, and even ecstatic to have printed English texts of the liturgy that they could hold and read themselves. My colleague’s friend in 2011 felt like unison reading put her back in fifth grade.

Where do we invite, allow, or even admit energy and emotion?

My hunch is that a lot of people in our culture, some consciously, some not, suffer from loneliness and isolation. They fear their voices don’t count. “Don’t you want your voice to be heard?” the paid pollster inevitably asks when I decline yet another unsolicited phone survey. That trained caller hopes the stranger picking up the phone will feel lonely enough and powerless enough that his formulaic questions to make me into data bits gives will give me enough hope that I might count and feel like I was finally someone that I’d cooperate. Usually I say. ‘no thank you.’

People do come to us, to our churches, lonely, feeling isolated, not knowing or trusting their God-given experience and power. So when, in our Sunday liturgy, do we bless the experience and authority they brought with them to church? When do, we help them find a resourcefulness that would empower them for Gospel living outside of church?

My question isn’t what we’re ‘telling them.’ Our message can be pretty clear, but we silence it when we contradict the message line by line and movement by movement in the liturgy, making people feel childish or incompetent. And which will people hear from us, our message or our practice?

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Touch is a loaded subject

By Donald Schell

I taught my dad to hug me, but not until after I’d been away from home for a dozen years, after my first marriage and the birth of his first grandchild, after my ordination, after my divorce and my second marriage, and after the birth of his second grandchild. I was in my early thirties.

I started teaching him to hug when we lived thirteen hours from my parents’ house, a very long day’s drive from our small town in Idaho down to the place in California where I’d grown up. After the first of those long drives, I startled my dad when we pulled into my parents’ drive and I burst out of the car and threw my arms around him in greeting. He smiled, but he felt stiff as if I’d put him in a straitjacket. Once I began, I persisted deliberately, and visit by visit slowly felt dad lose his startled response as he came to expect the hug. Eventually I felt him enjoying it. When we were leaving to drive back to Idaho, I’d hug him again and add, “I love you, Dad.” And in the same flow of re-patterning, “I love you too, Donald,” eventually declared what I’d felt for years in his accepting, affirming silence.

Listening was dad’s gift, listening and reflection. He remembered what he heard and thought about it, but dad was a measured, almost reticent speaker. Partly, I’d guess it was his generation, and maybe also the war and the deliberateness of touch that’s required of a physician, but my dad was cautious showing physical affection to his children– just a tussle of the hair. Still I never doubted his love and I had done my best to take into myself that patience and caring listening I felt in his presence and heard in the stories he told me of his medical practice.

Actually before I taught my dad, I had to teach myself to hug in greeting. It was a deliberate choice, a conscious change in behavior partly prompted, I guess by the generational shift that had younger people copying the Kennedys. We were learning from Europe, so we drank Cappuccino, preferred films with subtitles and hugged in greeting. Maybe people who’d put their bodies on the line in nonviolent love shaped us too, somehow. And doubtless the Summer of Love and Woodstock figured in our cultural shift.

For me it wasn’t just cultural, learning to hug had a spiritual heart and impetus. We moved to Idaho in 1976 after about fifteen hundred liturgies where I’d given and received hugs as we offered God’s peace to one another. At daily liturgies over six years, two in an Episcopal seminary and four in my first work at Episcopal Church at Yale, we’d made liturgical enactments of Christ’s peace in shared embraces around a congregation.

Whatever had gone into it, when Ellen and I moved from Connecticut to Idaho, it felt like a seismic moment. We had learned something together, something in our world had changed that we consciously and deliberately took to our new home in Idaho. And I chose to take my relationship with my dad along.

I had heard from colleagues that some people’s pained response to The Peace was, “I don’t come to church to greet other people and chat. I want to talk to God. I’ll greet my friends at coffee hour. I first heard that response myself in Idaho after I’d been a priest for five years.

There for the first time I heard the baffled, angry voices of good people who didn’t see how greeting another Christian in the liturgy could have anything to do with meeting God. With the best respect and compassion I could muster at twenty-nine I listened. From the simple hugs of six solid years of daily liturgy I knew in my bones that God could appear in ritual embrace of friend, stranger, and temporary ecclesial adversary. At its best body knowledge like that doesn’t need to win an argument. Hug by hug, my Idaho friends learned to embrace each other.

Now I’m asking myself to recall what I knew in my bones, because what’s got me thinking back over teaching my dad to hug and say, “I love you,” is pushing me hard toward making an argument when I need to listen and invite us to think together.
I’m concerned at how I see us Episcopalians keeping one another at arms’ length for the peace. I’m concerned that we’re backing away from the closer space where we can give and receive the caring, respectful touch we need. And I write this with deliberate caution, aiming for respect and compassion, because I do know how troubling touch can be for some.

So, patiently and compassionately I hope, I’m asking how we want to touch one another and be touched in the liturgy. And I’m concerned at this Eastertide, this season of hearing Jesus’ “Peace be with you,” that we’re seeing erosion of liturgical practice, as culturally manageable handshakes replace the healing, embarrassing awkwardness of ritual embrace.

Again, I know touch is a loaded subject, and we even find some of the mystery around that charge in the resurrection Gospels. When Jesus greets Mary Magdalene outside the tomb in John’s Gospel, he emphatically warns her, ‘Do not cling to me,’ and tells her instead to run tell the disciples that he’s “ascending to my God and your God, to my Father and your Father.” The scene hinges on Mary’s hearing her own name and Jesus telling her DON’T touch. So he steps back from touch, and doesn’t make his ringing resurrection greeting, “Peace be with you.” Those words come later, when Jesus appears where Mary and the other disciples are huddled together in their locked hideout. There he speaks that greeting that enacts what it offers.

Each time in the Gospels that Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” it’s a resurrection appearance, in fact a decisive resurrection appearance to the gathered community. In Luke, it’s explicitly ‘the eleven and their companions’ who are already gathered when Cleopas and his companion return from the Inn at Emmaus. In John it’s “the disciples,” implicitly including Mary Magdalene the first time but minus Thomas, so the second time he appears again to correct that omission and include Thomas in the community’s experience. In that first appearance to the gathered disciples in John, Jesus’ even says, “Peace be with you” TWICE. Each time Jesus says those powerful, life-changing words, it’s to a complete or nearly complete gathering of the founding community.

The writers of these two Gospels turn a familiar Jewish greeting into words that signify God’s breaking the power of death, estrangement, and everything else that silences love. In Luke after Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he explicitly invites touch. In John, in the first appearance, he breathes on the disciples (but I’m picturing the Middle-Eastern gesture that readers may have recognized as a one-by-one blessing, the one blessing holding wrists to the sides of the blessed one’s head and breathing across the top of the head). In the second appearance in John Jesus invites Thomas to touch him.

The resurrected Jesus’ “Peace be with you” addresses the whole community, enacts an intimacy with Jesus, and changes who those hearing it will be.

With the Prayer Book reforms of the 70’s we began making such an exchange at The Peace a part of our regular liturgical experience. We moved through our awkwardness and felt the transforming power of our sisters’ and brothers’ faces and touch in the liturgy and sensed something new (or remembered something long forgotten) about the power of touch and being present to one another face to face as we prayed. I was hungry for everything we were doing. I felt my skin touched by ancient memory and inherited body patterning that makes touch healing and reconciling for most people.
In the conservative Christian setting where I grew up some of my Sunday School teachers asked why would anyone want to hold or embrace a person they weren’t married to except to flirt with the possibility of adultery? And wasn’t that all dancing was, a deliberate temptation to sin? Through high school and most of college, I said, “I don’t dance,” but saying it embarrassed me. I meant I didn’t know how to dance and was afraid to look foolish as I learned.

A folk dance group on our college campus gave me an unimagined new freedom, a beginning in my own history of finding my way to be at home in this body. In the 1960’s first visits to the Episcopal Church, kneeling and crossing myself, and coming forward to receive communion all felt like big steps toward inhabiting the body God gave me.

Since 1981, thirty years of daily Aikido practice have given me an hour every morning of being grabbed, held or struck at by women and men, close-partnered work that has us moving closer into people’s space than anyone would move socially in this culture - It’s reconciliation practice rather than striking back, but the creative process that gets us there crosses into people’s “personal space” a hundred times a morning.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says to the disciples, he breathes on the twelve, and then in the next story says to Thomas, “Here are my hands and side. Touch me.”

I don’t know if I would have said it when I was teaching my dad to hug me, but certainly now I see the whole liturgy as a practice in reconciling intimacy, a practice significantly enacted by touch. How many ways do we touch one another in the liturgy? In all those ways we offer ourselves to one another as signs and instruments of God’s reconciling presence.

Touch is one of liturgy’s crucial, human building blocks. The restoration of The Peace to the liturgy almost forty years ago changed our church, but the work is not done. We’ve learned a great deal in the last thirty years about people’s fear of touch, about people for whom touch unleashes nightmares of real memories, of boundaries crossed, of bodies used, of selves made objects. Thinking of boundaries, thinking of people who can’t bear to be touched, thinking of people who abuse touch, I’ve moved from simple frustration at The Peace offered or received by someone whose body is angled away, left shoulder as remote as possible while the right arm is extended in a stiff, distancing handshake. I’ve become curious. I’m looking for grace and understanding in this event. I hope and pray it’s moving me to a new and wiser compassion. And I’m glad when it also moves us past a handshake to a hug.

Curiosity? I’m listening and working to feel the fear of touch that abuse brings. I welcome learning of neurological differences – for example Temple Grandin’s powerful witness to her autistic experience of the panic at touch as her autistic neurology and physiology plunged her into communication overload from a simple hug.

Recently I’ve been fascinated recently to read University of California professor Dacher Keltner’s research on the evolutionary roots and neurology of feelings and how we use them (in his book Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life). Among the primal adaptive feelings he’s researched, like kindness, embarrassment, smile, laughter, tease, touch, love, compassion, and awe, embarrassment stands out as an evolutionary adaptation that Keltner argues makes human community and relationship possible. Sociopaths and people whose orbitofrontal cortexes are damaged can’t feel embarrassment and so are at constant risk of anti-social speech or expressions of anger or disdain.

Keltner’s observation about embarrassment got noticing how each and every liturgical exchange of the Peace does begin with a tiny moment of negotiation. Will we be most faithful and authentic in letting the handshake be our sign? Is this someone who’d welcome a closer touch, a left hand on the other arm or a half-hug? Now increasingly I’m coming to see that both sides of that negotiation and whatever expression of resurrection peace we produce is holy.

In the resurrection accounts, the disciples are afraid and, I think we can add, embarrassed, abashed, and ashamed in the presence of the Beloved whose death they fled, and to this shame and embarrassment, Jesus offers his greeting of Peace and his touch. Embarrassment is part of the work of reconciliation and community building. Our embarrassment reminds us and communicates to others our felt commitment to community. To the extended hand, when can I offer a second hand for a double handshake, an arm to the upper arm for a half-hug, and my gratitude that Jesus asks us to touch?

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

The Super Bowl as liturgy

By Ann Fontaine

It begins like every Sunday – choosing the appropriate clothing, gathering the needed materials, rounding up those who believe, starting the car or getting on the transit. Anticipation builds. The ritual commences.

The Super Bowl is the great liturgy of the United States of America and for many around the world. It binds us together across the usual divides of class and race, even if you are among those who never watch football. Like our liturgies of the church it has its own rhythms and order. Good and evil contend for our allegiances. We hear stories of fall and redemption: the player who overcame great odds to become a professional, talent wasted and then reclaimed. We sing songs of praise and victory. Churches plan their annual meetings so they do not fall on this festival day. Bishops get into the spirit of the day making friendly bets with one another.

The Packer are the heartland team – the last community owned, non-profit team in professional American football. They dropped an aging, yet one of the most talented quarterbacks in history, and counted on youth and a quarterback who returned from life threatening concussions.

The Steeler represent a town who once proudly created the products to grow a country and its industries that now seems left behind in globalization. They are led by a flawed quarterback who represents redemption from sin through good works. They have won more Super Bowls than any other team and are known for legendary teams.

Even the commercials are legendary. The most memorable ones call to our best selves. The Donkey who joins the Cydesdale Team. The oboe-playing grocery clerk who finds a dream he did not even know he had. The child who is noticed by his hero. Cat herding, which everyone remembers for the content but can't remember the company it advertised. We look forward to seeing these vignettes each year – with some going viral on youtube and Facebook or recalled for years with a word or phrase. We eagerly await this years' winners.

There are even advantages for “sports atheists,” who can shop without crowds on Super Bowl Sunday. They can count on time alone if the rest of their friends and family are fans. They are usually not harassed about their lack of interest though they may find themselves with nothing to say at parties.

Seriously, what can we learn about liturgy and community from events like the Super Bowl. Or do church and fandom have nothing in common?

Andrew Gerns has this to say.

And of course a most important question - which team will win?

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

If you’re comfortable, or even if you're not

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Donald Schell

I found the first time I saw Rick Fabian teach ‘the carol,’ the final danced congregational hymn at St. Gregory’s, a moment of revelation. It was 1978. Rick’s invitation was startlingly lean, unlike any liturgical invitation I’d ever heard a priest offer.

After an unapologetic declarative description of what we were about to do--"Carol is an old Anglo-French word for a danced hymn and we dance the carol at St. Gregory’s.”--he shifted to unvarnished imperative: “We’ll form a couple lines around the table. Put your right hand on the shoulder of the person near you, now follow as we walk round to space the lines comfortably. Good. Now look this way. Here we go - step to the right, left behind, right, left in front."

So, after offering historical precedent, Rick used the imperative, the grammatical form of command, to guide us into doing something some had never done before. Never once did Rick say, ‘If you’re comfortable...’ Nor did he tell people it was all right for those who preferred to stand or sit outside the circle. Rick’s liturgical instructions were as direct as those in the psalms and Pauline epistles:

"Sing to the Lord a new song."
"Clap your hands all you people."
"Sing and dance to the Lord."
"Shout praise to our God."
"Greet one another with a holy kiss."

I was ordained priest in 1972. Trial use formed my ear for how priests and deacons would guide a congregation trying something new. It was a time when people expected variations and new challenges to show up unexpectedly in the liturgy, but clergy were painfully aware that many did not welcome changes. I understood colleagues’ fear when making a challenging invitation. I felt it myself. Looking back, I think that "If you’re comfortable" and other apologetic language eased us past our own discomfort at asking people to do things we imagined they wouldn’t like. But perhaps our fears and assumptions actually contributed to congregational discontent and anxiety.

After watching Rick teach a whole congregation to dance in the liturgy, and seeing everyone join the dance, I began to encounter parishes in which priestly invitations beginning with "If you’re comfortable" and ending with instructions on how to opt out led to about one quarter of the congregation deciding not to take part. Deliberately changing my language and training myself to offer only simple explanation and direct, imperative instructions, I observed exactly what I’d seen with Rick’s carol instruction. Almost always, everyone took part. Occasionally someone would opt out for physical challenge and, checking in with those people later, they were fine with what we’d done. And very, very frequently people who danced, or spoke up in response to a sermon, or took another unexpected invitation would thank me afterwards for the new experience they’d had from joining in. And the thanks typically included – "You seemed so confident that we could do it, that I decided to just try."

This many years later, I remember so many people offering their "just try’s" with gratitude. People heard the imperative as a simple invitation, and even grasped that there was room in it to be clumsy, uncertain, and yes, even uncomfortable on the way to learning. Some even said they felt the possibility of forgiveness if they made a mistake.

Framing a new or unfamiliar invitation with "If you’re comfortable" poses a conundrum. How would anyone know he or she would be comfortable doing something she or he had never done before? For most people it’s likely that the first time doing anything new would feel at least a little uncertain and so a bit uncomfortable. Holding up comfort as a standard for discernment suggests that what we are about to do is actually for those who’ve done it before and the few adventurous souls who somehow trust themselves to be comfortable doing something they’ve never done before. The quarter of the room that hangs back responds to our conditional invitation and concludes, “I’d better watch. Maybe next time.”

I knew we were up to something significant in our invitations to everyone to take part at St. Gregory’s when we introduced David Walker’s wonderful four-part setting of the Burial Office canticle, I am Resurrection and I am Life says the Lord for the whole congregation to sing, unaccompanied as we usually sang everything. The piece is beautiful, but it changes keys in ways that are surprising the first time you sing it, and each of the four parts (SATB) has a challenging moment or two. We didn’t sound at all good, but we braved our way through. After church that Sunday a former ‘non-singer’ said, with evident joy, “We’re really going to love that piece when we learn it.” She’d learned to live into discomfort for the sake of learning and knew there was rich reward for doing it. Over the next months the congregation came to love the piece, and for the past twenty-five years they’ve sung it wonderfully on Sundays in Eastertide and soulfully and joyfully at every funeral.

All right, but what about people who literally are not able to do the dance or simply can’t sing? What about the person in the wheelchair, or the person with a cane, or someone just recovering from surgery? Our experience was that people were very good at taking care of themselves. We knew we were on the right track was when Carrie Craig, then a seminarian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific applied for a field education placement at St. Gregory’s. Carrie uses a motorized wheelchair. She said, "with the level floor and lots of movement to negotiate and lead, this is where I’ll best learn what it’s going to take for me to function as a priest.”

A few years later, Lynn Baird, our clergy staff member who had Multiple Sclerosis would sit out the carol in one of the perimeter chairs, fully vested. Having Lynn sit out the dance made it even clearer that we weren’t demanding that people dance. The parishioner whose broken foot was in a cast, or someone just recovering from surgery would go sit with Lynn, and likely say, "I’ll be here with you for the next couple of weeks." Taking the phrase "if you’re comfortable" out of our liturgical vocabulary had given the active verb "to comfort" new life.
I don’t know if it’s a straight cause and effect line in this language use of "Iif you’re comfortable," but I notice that when people hold back from liturgical participation or want to criticize something, one thing we’re likely to hear is, “I’m just not comfortable [doing whatever it is we’re talking about].” Jesus’ Good News and the spiritual practices of the church shape us to live Good News, but like moving into any learning, practice invitations take us through discomfort, awkwardness, and disorientation to eventual flow, connections and freedom. Ah, freedom. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” maybe even freedom to move through discomfort.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is
President of All Saints Company.

Depart in peace

By John B. Chilton

As guests leave Shrine Mont Episcopal Camp and Conference Center they pass under a sign. On the front of the sign it says “Shrine Mont”. But as you leave you see the obverse that reads “Depart in Peace”. After your mountaintop experience away from everyday life it’s easy to say to yourself, yes I do feel more at peace than when I arrived.

But upon further reflection a good Episcopalian will realize that’s not merely Depart in Peace, Period. It’s “depart in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We have been fed with the spiritual food -- your respite in the mountains. And you have been given an assignment. Not an assignment merely of works, but an assignment to live a whole life, a life of integrity and gratitude.

The people remain standing.

That is the instruction to the people at the outset of The Great Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer.

Following the Sanctus the instruction is:

The people stand or kneel.

My personal preference is to continue to stand. I became accustomed to standing throughout the Eucharistic Prayer at a church that with no kneelers. (See my earlier Daily Episcopalian on The Personal Pew Movement.)

When it says, “The people stand or kneel” what if anything is implied? Should the people all do the same thing?

I have noticed that at diocesan services you see some standing and some knelling at the Eucharist. People stand or kneel depending on the practice at their parish, except that some clearly yo yo and are influenced to kneel when many others have chosen to kneel. The uncertainty creates some distraction from worship, but setting that aside I celebrate the diversity. I wish more individuals would feel comfortable making the choice rather than following the crowd.

Again, when it says, “The people stand or kneel” what is meant? Must you stick with your choice until the end of the service?

Returning to their seats after taking Communion most people kneel or bow their heads for a moment of silent prayer in penitence and thanksgiving before sitting. This is an unwritten custom – often the best kind.

And after Communion, but before the post communion prayer? It’s not clear from the prayer book what the people should do. Most revert to what they were doing before the Breaking of the Bread.

I advocate an insertion (shown in bold):

After Communion, the Celebrant says

Let us stand and pray.

(The same hitch that presents itself that already exists; the Celebrant needs to say which of the two post communion prayers to use.)

The post communion prayers are a sending forth. Through the Word and the Eucharist we have been prepared once more to go into the world. We ought to be standing as a sign through our posture of our eadiness to take on the assignment.

Depart in peace…

…Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love you and serve you

…And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love you and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord….

And the final hymn? Don’t get me started. It’s not the Recessional. It’s the Procession into the World.
Go forth into the world to love and serve the Lord.

People. Thanks be to God.


Oh, and Morning Prayer doesn't let you off the hook. The people's last prayer is the General Thanksgiving in which we pray,
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days....

John B. Chilton holds a doctorate in economics from Brown University. He has taught at the University of Western Ontario, the University of South Carolina, and the American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates). He keeps several blogs.
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Communion before Baptism: one parish's experience

By Donald Schell

We began making explicit invitation to everyone present to receive communion at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, San Francisco in 1981. After the Eucharistic Prayer and breaking of the bread and immediately before communion, we began saying something like this - ‘Jesus welcomes everyone to his Table, so we offer the bread and wine which are his body and blood to everyone, and to everyone by name. If we need help with your name, please help us out.’ We knew we’d chosen to step across a line, going beyond the canons of the Episcopal Church and the rubrics of the Prayer Book, and beyond that, remaking longstanding Christian tradition.

My colleague Rick Fabian and I have both offered theological and scriptural defense of the practice elsewhere and we’ll continue to engage the ongoing conversation in our church now, when many others have also written to raise theological questions and argue for or against the practice. I’m writing this today as a practice narrative, to tell the mix of circumstances, discoveries, accident, and theory that moved us to make a change we didn’t expect to be making.

When Rick and I first worked together at Episcopal Church at Yale (Rick 1970-1976 and me as his associate in 1972-1976), our church was in the early stages of Trial Use. For the generation who’ve known no other Prayer Book, Trial Use was the church’s official process for exploring how the new liturgy would go beyond the 1928 Prayer Book we all knew.

Six nights a week for six years at Yale’s Dwight Chapel 25-45 students completed our liturgy surrounding the altar table for the Eucharistic prayer, and then offering communion student-to-student around the circle. One of our regulars was a Jewish undergraduate who had converted to Christianity in his religious studies major. He received communion for well over a year before deciding to seek baptism. There were other unbatpized students we knew were receiving. Generally we had a sense of who and why, so perhaps pastorally we were practicing open communion, but we made no liturgical invitation or announcement of it.

After the Yale chaplaincy, my work as mission vicar at St. David’s, Caldwell, Idaho gave me the opportunity to introduce that congregation to now familiar Episcopal church practices like communion every Sunday at the main liturgy and offering communion to baptized but not confirmed children. In fact the latter practice was new to our church in 1970 and was unknown (and almost unthinkable) to the people of St. David’s when I arrived.

Rick, meanwhile, was working for Bishop Kilmer Myers of California. His title of ‘chaplain to the bishop’ included driving the night-blind bishop long distances for parish visits, helping the bishop prepare for highly conflicted meetings with parishes poised to withdraw over the ordination of women, discussing theological issues on the road, and drafting responses to the bishop’s correspondence.

So after our work together at Yale, Rick and I in quite different settings both saw a lot of parish conflict and theological pain. And both found ourselves asking questions about evangelism and parish structure and how practice might empower or limit evangelism.

The year after he completed his assignment as bishop’s chaplain, with then diocesan executive George Hunt’s strong encouragement Rick wrote a proposal to the diocese to found an experimental mission dedicated to Gregory of Nyssa. The mission church would try innovative liturgical practices to further evangelism, Christian formation, and service, and it would draw on organizational and group research to order governance and common life in ways that would bring conflict to the surface more quickly and work with it creatively.

For the mission’s founding liturgy on St. Gregory’s day, March 9th, 1978, I flew down to preside, and Rick served as deacon and preacher. In October that year the new congregation was admitted as a specialized mission and given seat and vote in California’s diocesan convention.

After his consecration in September of 1979, California’s new bishop, Bill Swing generously accepted oversight of St. Gregory's, the tiny specialized mission he inherited from Bishop Kilmer Myers.

In July of 1980 my wife Ellen and I moved from Idaho to join the project of founding St. Gregory’s. As planned Rick and I worked as founding vicars from that point. Ellen and my arrival increased St. Gregory’s membership from 10 to 12 people, and our two children doubled the size of the Sunday School.

Shortly after I arrived, Rick and I went to talk with Bishop Swing about St. Gregory's purposes, about innovation, and our declared commitment to testing innovation beyond the limits of canons and rubrics (all this had been in the mission proposal and was begun with the blessing of his predecessor and diocesan convention).

Bishop Swing told us what he would expect of us as we continued to experiment beyond the new 1979 Book of Common Prayer and canons of the Episcopal Church. His one firm rule was that we were not to invite lay people preside at the Eucharist. For all other innovation or experiment he asked us to keep him well informed of what we were doing and the reasons we were doing it so he could always say, “Yes, I know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.” We were careful and deliberate to keep him informed.

Meanwhile, in clergy gatherings around the diocese our new bishop repeatedly said, "If you don't have a valid missionary reason, you must obey the rubrics. If you have a valid missionary reason, you must disobey the rubrics."

From 1978 through 1980, though we were not making an explicit to all to receive communion, nor had we planned to. But we had no printed or spoken announcement like 'all baptized Christians are welcome to receive.' People simply received if they put their hands out or passed the bread and wine on to the next person, and we quickly realized that our efforts to attract unchurched people to our Eucharist-every-Sunday community were paying off well enough that our regulars were frequently giving communion to an unbaptized visitor, the stranger standing next in the circle. Some of those visitors would return regularly and began to ask about membership. We’d seen that pattern before in the Yale chaplaincy.

Concurrently, as part of our teaching work, we began offering an eight week course called "Jesus and Paul, the Christian Source." It was our introduction to Jesus’ teaching and practice concluding with some Paul's more intriguing and caring interpretation of Jesus’ work. The course was based on our distillation of the best New Testament scholarship we could find. Norman Perrin’s Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (1967) significantly shaped “Jesus and Paul,” particularly his critical method, and argument and conclusions about realized eschatology and the prophetic/messianic sign of Jesus’ meals.

Perrin argued that it was Jesus’ enactment of Isaiah’s feast for all people’s, the divine banquet where God welcomed all, including the unworthy, the unprepared, the unfit, in sum all the ‘wrong’ people prompted some Jewish religious leaders and local Roman authority (for different reasons and different understanding of the threat Jesus posed) to work together in a conspiracy to stop and eventually kill him. “This guy welcomes sinners and eats with them,” Perrin concluded from language and other evidence was likely an accusation Jesus’ adversaries had hurled against him. Perrin’s conclusion has become a central consensus among Gospel scholars.

In our teaching of Jesus class we began to notice that our communion practice of getting all the lay people present to administer consecrated bread and wine to one another kept prompting all of us, clergy and lay participants to wonder what we should do with Perrin’s conclusion that the meal was Jesus’ crucial practice, literally what he did that took him to the cross. By 1981, what we were seeing in practice and hearing ourselves say in teaching finally provoked a conscious decision to make our communion invitation consistent with what we were reading in the Gospels and teaching in 'Jesus and Paul.'

We were quite aware of the rubrical and canonical boundary we were crossing. We were open about what we were doing. And to steady ourselves we looked to others in the tradition who crossed official, received sacramental boundaries like John Wesley instituting presbyteral ordination when he couldn’t get his bishop to give him the clergy he needed for his mission to England’s industrial poor, and like John Mason Neale brought up on court charges for rubrical and civil law violations introducing ritual richness, hymnody, colors in church, cross and candle on the table, etc., and like Bishop Ronald Hall ordaining Li Tim Oi's a priest, and finally like Li Tim Oi herself disappearing into communist China where she was needed to function as a priest, simply ignoring Canterbury’s insistence that she stop.

We were acting, as each of these before us had, publicly, offering our rationale for what we were doing, and still taking certain risks for the sake of what appeared (and yes, still does appear) to us to be faithful leadership.

Other early witnesses to the practice may have more stories to tell. So far as we know, the explicit invitation we began to make in 1981 at St. Gregory's, San Francisco was the first time in our Episcopal church that we made a deliberate, explicit invitation to all to communion. But others may have begun independently and perhaps before us. I’d welcome hearing those stories and expect the ‘how’ of those decisions will be significant too.

We’re all still forging the theology of communion and baptism (not to mention the confusing separate work on confirmation). Much of the theology must rest on interpretation or reinterpretation of scripture and tradition. But practice and the stories of practice belong too. Sara Miles’ telling the story of her first communion, conversion, beginning the St. Gregory’s food pantry and subsequent baptism has meant touched many and inspired other story telling.

As we continue to work, and talk and sometimes argue theology, I hope this account of a beginning - almost twenty years before Sara came to St. Gregory’s as an unbaptized stranger, received communion, and was converted - may inspire others to tell stories of when and how their practice of communion changed.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is
President of All Saints Company.

But what about tradition?

By Emily M. D. Scott

The word “tradition” gets thrown around a lot, especially among folks who hang out at church. Sometimes people like to talk about “traditional” versus “contemporary” worship, or “traditional” versus “emergent” or “creative” worship.

The words can function as helpful shorthand, but they also create dichotomies. “Traditional” is a tricky word. Sometimes when we say “traditional,” what we really mean is “it looks like what I’m used to,” or, “it looks like what I’m expecting.” At St. Lydia’s, the church where I serve, we gather each week to share a sacred meal that we cook together and bless with an early Eucharistic prayer. We sing and pray and eat together. Every once in a while someone will refer to our practice as “non traditional” worship. I’ll remind them that our rituals are rooted in the earliest traditions of the Church. What we’re doing may not look like Sunday morning in most of the United States, but it’s a practice that dates back to the second century. It’s really traditional.

On top of our traditions around worship, there are also traditions around church culture: how we make decisions, how we’re structured, how our year is patterned. There are vestries and councils and synods and conferences and pastors and rectors and elders and deacons and youth ministers and altar guilds and committees and all the different ways we’ve come up with to function as a body. This too is part of “The Tradition,” and sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s weighty.

I’m invested in St. Lydia’s doing something new that draws on something ancient. And I’m invested in our congregation doing this with freedom and grace while taking part in a deep and sustaining relationship with the larger church. A new-ish congregant and I were discussing all of this over a beer in an outdoor café near Grand Central recently, and we came up with some imagery that I’ve found helpful:

Tradition is not a ball and chain that we’re trying to loose ourselves of. It is not a trap that we’re stuck in or garbage that we’re trying to throw away.

Tradition is not a net that’s pinning us down,
or a weight that’s holding us back.
It’s also not necessarily a foundation that we’ve decided to build on.

It’s not an object that we’re here to replicate.
We’re not building a factory where tradition will be produced or fabricated.
It’s not an heirloom we’d like to pass down to a future generation.

Rather, tradition is an ocean we are floating in.
We are held up by it, sustained by it,
effected by its nature and character,
drawn into its tides and currents.
Our job is to be buoyant,
to allow ourselves to float weightlessly in a vast sea of heritage.

Emily M. D. Scott is a candidate for ordination in the ELCA and the founder and Pastoral Minister of St. Lydia’s, a Dinner Church in Manhattan. She blogs at

How to stay awake in church

By Leo Campos

The treasure which is our liturgical service is often squandered when we go through it by rote. There is so much that goes on in a typical Rite II service that, in theory, people should be riveted. But the truth is that we suffer from too much familiarity with the service. Many of us can probably recite the whole service by heart.

I, personally, do not enjoy changing up the service just for the sake of novelty. I think that this betrays a very dangerous attempt at entertainment. I think that the onus of paying attention is not on the liturgist but rather on the disciples participating in the service. The service is simply a mirror upon which we can see reflected the Face of Christ. To put it more bluntly, if you find the service boring whose reflection are you seeing in the mirror?

Having said this there are a few places in the service where special attention will reward even the most bored disciple.

Be very attentive to the sermon. Take notes. Follow with your Bibles (do Episcopalians ever bring their Bibles to church? Why not?) Engage the priest. I am aware that not all are blessed with fantastic oratorical skills, and that the quality of sermons vary substantially from person to person and from week to week. Nevertheless I have never known a priest not to spend time on a sermon, wrestle prayerfully to find some appropriate imagery and a good story to pin the readings to, and try to impart some message, some Good News, to their flock. These efforts deserve a charitable, large-hearted hearing from us disciples. As Benedict puts it, "Listen with the ears of your heart".

In talking about listening one great trick for staying awake is to really pay attention to the congregational recitation and responses. For example during the reading of the psalms: is the recitation today low or high energy? Do you hear new voices? Try to listen to the congregation reciting the Creed together. Feel the unity of expression. Try never to speak over anyone, instead modulate your voice so that it disappears in the congregation. This does not mean whispering, it means listening harder.

Be very attentive to the recitation of the Nicene Creed. Take your time studying it at home. Be aware of the filioque clause and what it means. Struggle with the various concepts proclaimed. Be aware of the historical background to the Creed. In the words of St. Reinhold "Learn it. Know it. Live it." Listen further all the way back in history and all across the globe in hundreds of languages: the same Creed. In your own church for decades, centuries even, the same Creed has been recited. Allow yourself to be gathered up in the great cloud of witnesses.

Be very attentive to the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Make effort to mean every word of it. Get lost in the idea of the Kingdom coming. Make a profound bow when you ask for forgiveness of sins. Ideally bring up at least one person you need to forgive right there and then, and then bow. At different times in my life different lines of the prayer have seemed of particular import and would stay with me throughout the day.

Our Eastern Orthodox friends have a great way of reciting the Lord's Prayer with multiple genuflections and what-not. These bodily movements not only force us to pay attention to what is being said, but it also encodes the very words into our flesh and bone - the prayer then moves from being "informative" to being "formative".

As a final "trick" to stay awake in church: during the Eucharist itself make a deep bow every time the name of Jesus is mentioned. You will be surprised (or not) at how often you find your mind wandering.

I believe that if we make the effort to engage the liturgy our own spiritual lives will deepen considerably. What "tricks" do you use to stay awake in church?

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

Setting liturgical expectations

By Derek Olsen

The Episcopal Church is a religious institution. However you feel about that—and feelings about institutional religion are many and various—St. Paul reminds us by way of the Ephesians that, of the many purposes for an institution, there is one fundamental purpose that must never stray from our sight:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16, NRSV)
This fundamental purpose is best named as Christian maturity. The body’s ability to present love in thought, word, and deed both inside and outside of itself is directly related to the spiritual health and maturity of each of the members who make up the body. Paul is absolutely clear that the yardstick is Christ and that any knowledge or equipping conducted by and through the church must lead us into our fullest resemblance of Christ.

That’s the big picture. Now—how do we get there? Or, to state it more clearly, what steps do we as members and leaders within congregations take to realize this goal in our midst?
Personally, I think that we have to do it in steps, and that we have to proceed from a number of angles at the same time. I’d like to take up one such angle today, tagging it with the requisite notice learned from so many cereal advertisements: this is a nutritious part of your complete Christian diet; insufficient on its own, but powerful in combination.

As inheritors of the Anglican way, we must begin with the conviction that Christian maturity has a corporate liturgical component. Coming to worship is important. Why? The first and primary reason proceeds directly out of our Baptism. In Baptism we become members of the Body of Christ—and that’s not simply a metaphor, the Church teaches that it’s a mystical reality. The first and primary reason that we gather as a liturgical community is that together we are a literal and mystical expression of the eschatological Body of Christ. It’s the deep truth behind that whole “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there also am I” thing. When we gather together as members of the Body, we form the Body and, through our worship, take on a role within the interior life of the Trinity as the Body of Christ gives praise and glory to God the Father in and through God the Holy Spirit. Naturally, this is most perfectly expressed in the Eucharist where we participate in own Christ’s self-offering.

(Consider that next time you’re tempted to sleep in; do you really want to miss out on participating in the Trinity’s interior dialogue?)

There are other reasons as well, though none can match this first in importance. Christian formation into the language and habits of the Body is a high reason on my list. From this point you know the items on the list as well as I do: drawing strength from fellowship and mutual encouragement, sharing our joys and sorrows and helping bear the burdens of others, organizing to express God’s love in tangible works of mercy, and so on and so forth.

To boil this down to practicalities it seems that a first step of Christian maturity, then, is to set some basic expectations for community life. Stated in its most crass and clear form, we expect butts in pews. Furthermore, we expect those butts to be in pews when the community gathers. Now, many parishes have some sort of notion about this; it’s usually not expressed formally but is part of the lived culture. But we have to make sure what message it is that the lived culture is communicating. At one parish of my acquaintance, a member stated the cultural message to me explicitly: “here we expect that people ought to come to church at least twice a month or so…” I was shocked. I get that not everyone’s a church mouse. I’m a parent of children whose weekends are quickly filling with activities; I know about Sunday morning games and meets and such. But is this the expectation that our communities want to send?

At this point, we’ve got to stop and address the issue which is probably on your mind because I know it’s on mine: Do we have the right to set expectations for other people’s religious observance?

I’ll give you a second to ponder that…

Feel free to scroll back up and take another glance at the quote from Ephesians that kicked this whole thing off…

And after having said that you should know what it is that I’m going to say.

We certainly do have the right to set expectations for other people’s religious behavior because they’re not in it for themselves just like and you and I aren’t in it by ourselves. That’s the problem with that whole Baptism thing; it means that we are tied together, bound together by spiritual ligaments within the Body of Christ. If we are not encouraging those in the Body to rise to the maturity to which we are corporately called, we’re failing ourselves as well as them.

But what about being open and inclusive, you might say. What about being non-judgmental? What about “meeting people where they are”? You’d be quite right. Our mandate gives us the right to set an expectation; it does not give us the right to compel, cajole, or harass. Part of the real tension here is that while the Body must work corporately, the individual members must grow into their own maturity. We must point in the right direction, but there is no known way to force a person into maturity, spiritual or otherwise. Rather, we must set the norm, and then invite individuals to a clearly defined place of greater maturity.

Let me hit this from another angle. As I write, I have in my mind’s eye a guy like myself and like the guys I know at work. He’s an early thirty-something, married, with a kid or two. Maybe he grew up in the church, maybe his wife did, but for whatever reason drifted away. Now they’re at the point where they’ve feel some vague sense of obligation to show up at a church once in a while “for the sake of the kids.” We want to meet this guy where he is. And, in truth, he’s already taken the first step towards greater Christian maturity—that’s the one that got him over the threshold. Meeting him where he is means thanking him for that step and encouraging and engaging him. The next step means presenting a non-coercive vision and expectation of weekly attendance.

I can’t necessarily tell you what that ought to look like; it’ll be different in each community. Ideally, weekly attendance should be its own reward. Reverent worship, engaging faith formation, caring community should all reinforce the expectations. The expectations should be clear, but never pharisaical, never bludgeons nor codes of conduct. Hopefully, after a time this guy should look forward to coming to church every week, and be clear that he’s doing it for his sake, not just for the kids.

Those are the first two steps towards corporate liturgical maturity—getting people in the door in the first place, and then proceeding to weekly attendance. But, all too often, that’s where our expectations end—and that’s a shame. The American protestant experience has a certain amount of sabbatarianism to it. That’s the notion, proceeding from the 4th commandment, that the Sabbath day should be kept holy that in former days were taught in churches and enshrined in civil practice. The old Blue Laws that kept me from buying beer on Sundays in Atlanta were a hold-over from it. The up-side of sabbatarianism is that until this generation, civic and community organizations didn’t schedule things on Sunday mornings. That has, of course, changed. The down-side still lingers with us. The down-side is this notion of separation: if Sunday is holy, it means, by extension, that the other days aren’t, or that the other days don’t have to be. The down-side is an assumption that if one goes to church on Sunday, the week’s religious obligations have been met.

The next step towards Christian maturity is breaking the chains of the sabbatarian fallacy. Don’t get me wrong; we should keep the commandment and keep the Sabbath holy in ways that make sense to you and your community. But the idea that Christian responsibility—and Christian liturgy—are done by Monday morning has got to go. We need another expectation beyond weekly attendance. Luckily, we have it.

The very first sentence of substance in our Book of Common Prayer, after the Ratification, after the Preface, lays out the next ideal: “The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in this Church” (BCP, p. 13). Speaking liturgically, speaking with an eye to Christian formation and Christian maturity, I’m in favoring of dropping the reference to “the Lord’s Day” on the grounds of redundancy. The Eucharist is the principle act of worship on all Feasts; we don’t go to church on Sunday because it’s Sunday, we go because it’s a Feast of the Resurrection that happens to recur on a weekly basis.

This is a subtle shift. Some may say overly subtle, but I don’t think so. For the next step in Christian liturgical maturity is recognizing that there isn’t a separation in our lives between God’s time and our time—it’s all God’s time. We gather as a community to mark the feasts with Eucharists no matter on what day they fall. We mark each morning and evening with prayer, ideally in physical community but more likely and practically in spiritual community. But our communities need to uphold these expectations. Eucharists should be offered on feasts; if Daily Morning and Evening Prayer aren’t offered publicly, congregants should not only be instructed in the use of the Daily Offices but also reminded of their place in our lives. Again—the community has a responsibility to set the expectation.

In Paul’s Ephesians passage, one of the traits of the mature is a fundamental groundedness. Paul expresses this with a negative formulation: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” Being rooted, being connected to firm foundations, this is a trait of maturity from the liturgical perspective as well as the theological. Thus, maturity means that spiritual adventurism has passed, a rootless desire for liturgical novelty has likewise passed.

We are called in Baptism to live into the full stature of Christ. Paul rightly uses the language of maturity; we must “grow up” into Christ. Furthermore, one of the fundamental purposes of Christian communities is to nurture the whole community towards maturity that we may best do what we are—an expression of the eschatological Body of Christ. Our communities are failing in their calling if they are not setting expectations and drawing a clear path towards maturity. How’s your community doing?

Derek Olsen recently finished his Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Restoring the Rite of Sprinkling

By Derek Olsen

The season of Easter represents a liturgical season in full flower, often literally as well as figuratively. There are a number of special liturgical items that appear only in the Great Fifty Days. One of my favorites is one that didn’t make it into the Prayer Book—and I’ve never really understood why not.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer consistently highlights the place of Baptism within the Christian life. In comparison with prior prayer books and with earlier liturgical traditions, Baptism is restored to equality with Eucharist as the two great sacraments given to us by Christ in the Gospels, the two Dominical Sacraments. Given this focus, I’m mystified why we’ve never chosen to incorporate the Rite of Sprinkling, a standard feature of the western historic liturgy which, by means of the celebrant sprinkling the congregation with blessed water before the start of the service proper, serves as a reminder of Baptism at the beginning of a festal Eucharist.

During most of the year, the Rite of Sprinkling is accompanied by a chant known as the Asperges me (“Cleanse me”) which quotes Psalm 51, and makes reference to both our Baptismal cleansing and our on-going need for God’s cleansing grace. Within the Easter season, though, the proper chant is the Vidi aquam (“I saw water”)—and this is the text I’d like to turn to today.

The Vidi aquam is a brief chant that derives its power not just by what it says but where it comes from and from interconnections generally left unspoken. Like many of the traditional chants at Eucharist, it consists of an antiphon paired with a psalm verse:

Antiphon: I saw water proceeding out of the temple, from the right side thereof, alleluia;
And all people, wherever the waters shall come, shall be healed, and all shall say, alleluia, alleluia.
Ps 118:1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and will be forever. Amen.
Antiphon (repeated): I saw water proceeding out of the temple, from the right side thereof, alleluia;
And all people, wherever the waters shall come, shall be healed, and all shall say, alleluia, alleluia.

The antiphon gives us one level of meaning because of where in Scripture it is drawn and the biblical events that it recalls. A second level of meaning is added when we consider the Church’s interpretation of the verse and its application to Christ. A third level appears as the antiphon interacts with the psalm. A fourth level of meaning—and the last I’ll discuss here but hardly the last level of meaning—occurs as this chant relates to the ritual action that occurs while it is being sung.

The antiphon text is a paraphrase that hits some key points in Ezekiel 47:1-12. I’ve always had a fantasy that Ezekiel was the major prophet who, when he was in high school, would have been voted “most likely to use hallucinogenic drugs.” In the words of one commentator, Ezekiel is characterized by “bizarre visions and equally bizarre behavior.” Given his strange behavior, his contemporaries may well have judged him prophetic by reason of insanity—if this were the case, however, the most likely cause would be post-traumatic stress due to the harrowing events through which he lived. Although Ezekiel was a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, his prophetic ministry took place far away in Babylon where he was taken after the first Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in 597 BC. Despite his religious and political warnings, a second revolt in 587 BC caused both Jerusalem and his beloved Temple to be burned to the ground and utterly destroyed by the vengeful armies of Babylon and its allies.

Ezekiel’s book falls rather neatly into three sections. Chapters 1-24 are generally prophecies of doom warning the inhabitants of Jerusalem what will happen if they don’t get their act together; clearly these date before the second disastrous revolt. Chapters 25-32 are oracles against foreign nations. Chapters 33-48 are from the period after the destruction of Jerusalem. Whereas the earlier prophecies were dire warnings, this section communicates God’s intention to save and restore the people of Israel. The capstone of this section is chapters 40-48 where an angel leads the prophet on a visionary tour of a newly restored and rebuilt Jerusalem dominated by a grander, rebuilt, Temple where the glory of the Lord once more settles. At the center of this vision is a stream of water that pours out of the Holy of Holies, flows out of the east side of the Temple, increasing as it goes, bringing life and flourishing to all it touches and—in a grand reversal of the natural state of things—turns the Dead Sea into a living sea filled with fish of all kinds and bounded by forests of fruiting trees and plants with supernatural powers of sustenance and healing. The water of the river of God recreates Eden in what was formerly desolate desert.

Theologically, Ezekiel’s vision is a prediction of the restoration of Israel as a religious community. More than that, though, it connects the restoration of the Temple to the restoration of the Land. Ezekiel’s vision may begin conceptually with a straightforward simile—the presence of God is like cleansing and life-giving water in the desert –but the vision creates a metaphor that, in its color and luster, transcends the banality of the simile, raising it to a new and more vibrant key. Recalling this stream, the antiphon then speaks with new freshness:

Antiphon: I saw water proceeding out of the temple, from the right side thereof, alleluia; And all people, wherever the waters shall come, shall be healed, and all shall say, alleluia, alleluia.

A second level of meaning is introduced, though, if we notice the choice of words in the antiphon. Ezekiel had been using a lot of architectural figures and language in his visionary tour, and states several times that the water comes from the east side. At one point there is a clarification on the water’s direction which is rendered by the Vulgate and the King James as proceeding from “the right side of the Temple” which most modern English versions choose to translate as “the south side of the Temple.” (The Hebrew word can take both meanings.) We tend to apply fixed-direction words like “south” to buildings while relative-direction words like “right” are dependent upon how a person stands. Or hangs.

Many times in the New Testament, Jesus—and the Church as his mystical Body—is identified with the New Temple (see Matt 26:61, John 2:19-22, 1 Cor 3:16, Rev 21:22, and that’s just a start). Given this identification, early Christian interpreters could not fail to find in Ezekiel’s vision a direct connection with John 19:34 where blood and water flowed from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus. While John is not explicit about what this flow means, the same interpreters traditionally understood it sacramentally, most often connecting the blood and water to Baptism. (See, for example, the third verse of the Pange Lingua, hymn 165 and 166 in our hymnal.) Thus, the antiphon’s summary of Ezekiel can equally be understood as a reference to the sacramental healing flood that flowed from Christ himself on the cross.

When the words of the antiphon are overlaid with John’s story, the theological meaning deepens. The Christian interpretation asserts that Ezekiel’s vision has been fulfilled in the incarnation of Christ and that the religious community has been refigured in all those who have been given new life through God’s sacramental waters. Our Baptism has cleansed us and healed us. And the antiphon’s original Latin phrase for “be healed” (salvi facti sunt) can equally be translated as “be saved.” Truly, we are saved by God’s grace in our Baptism and incorporated into the mystical Body of Christ which is the Church. In Baptism, we become the people who shall say alleluia.

A third level of meaning is introduced by the psalm verse. This passage may come across as almost commonplace—but I suggest that’s part of the point. This phrase extolling the goodness of God, and especially its final refrain, “his mercy endures for ever” is one of the most repeated liturgical phrases in the Bible. However, it particularly appears at the dedications of temples: it punctuated worship at the Davidic establishment of the Tabernacle in Jerusalem (1 Chr 16:34), at the dedication of the first Temple (2 Chr 5:13), and at the laying of the foundation of the second Temple (Ezra 3:11). The implication by its use here is that each Christian gathering stands in continuity with the on-going worship of God. Just as God’s mercy endures for ever, so the community gathered in God’s sight endures as a by-product of that mercy. As the antiphon joins the psalm verse, the ideas of restoration, cleansing, salvation and the praise of God by the covenant community meld together:

Antiphon: I saw water proceeding out of the temple, from the right side thereof, alleluia;
And all people, wherever the waters shall come, shall be healed, and all shall say, alleluia, alleluia.

Ps 118:1: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.

A fourth level of meaning cements the sacramental image as the ritual act is combined with the chant. The priest uses water, either the very water blessed in Baptisms or water blessed with similar words, to sprinkle the congregation with a device called an aspergillium which looks a bit like an asparagus even though the words are etymologically unrelated. (Plant branches are sometimes used too; my fellow writer Sam Candler prefers Atlanta’s dogwood branches over the more traditional hyssop.) The relationship between the water flowing from the Temple, the water flowing from Christ, and the water flowing from the font are inextricably linked. In the hurled water droplets, the Vidi aquam becomes a tangible as well as an auditory reminder that Easter is our preeminent Baptismal season where we celebrate our own inclusion into the covenant community.

While the Rite of Sprinkling fails to appear in the present Book of Common Prayer, it is not without its fans in the Episcopal Church. Anglo-Catholics, of course, have continued its use for years but its connection with the church’s recovery of Baptismal theology has not gone unnoticed. Even that most Protestant of liturgical guides, Howard Galley’s Ceremonies of the Eucharist, commends its use during the Easter season. Whether your community chooses to use it or not, I commend the Vidi aquam to you in this season of Easter as a sacramental reminder of the enduring love of the God who invites us through Baptism to share in his own resurrection life.

Derek Olsen recently finished his Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Naming women's names

By Christopher L. Webber

There are those who think it’s a sin to add to the Book of Common Prayer and there are those who think it’s a sin to be bound by the levels of political correctness current in the 1970s. One of the most frequent additions made by the latter for the sake of a more enlightened inclusivity is that made to Eucharistic Prayer C where it’s the usual thing to add the names of their wives to the names of the Patriarchs. Thus we have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob supplemented by Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah.

But why? Giving birth is no light thing and being married to a patriarch wasn’t always a lot of fun either, but this is not a complete list of the patriarch’s wives. Abraham also married Keturah (Gen. 25:1) and she gave him six children. So why not Keturah? You might say, “Well, she wasn’t Isaac’s father and had no bearing on the direct line of succession.” But neither did Rachel. She may have been Jacob’s first love and second wife, but the Davidic line passes through Leah. If you want Rachel on the list, why not Keturah? Indeed, why leave Hagar out?

Let me suggest, however, that a desire for inclusive language ought to have some higher view of the importance of the female side of things than just being married to a patriarch. Why are we not including some of the women of the Hebrew Covenant who made a difference in their own right? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to include, say, Deborah, Ruth, and Esther. Deborah, after all, was one of the Judges, a ruler in Israel in a day when women didn’t often lead. Ruth and Esther have their own books, something Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can’t claim. Ruth also was a Gentile, which adds ethnic balance to the list. And Esther was one of those who took events in her own hands and saved her people. Other names that come to mind are Rahab, without whom Joshua would not have gotten to first base in Jericho, and Judith, another sister who took events in her own hands and changed them. Yes, she’s Apocryphal, but the Thirty-nine Articles tell us we should read the Apocrypha for “example of life and instruction of manners” and Judith is a remarkable example. Then, for a more challenging example, there was Jael, who nailed the opposition down by her own right hand; or even the three ladies listed in Matthew’s Gospel in an early effort at inclusivity: Tamar, Ruth (again), and Bathsheba. Bathsheba, there’s a name to consider. Think how she shaped the course of history by maneuvering Solomon onto the throne.

So we have some choices here, but all of them better, it seems to me, than the three otherwise anonymous ladies who just happened to be around when the patriarchs needed partners. Let’s have some names in the Canon to inspire us by reminding us of the wisdom, leadership, and executive ability of some of our foremothers who were significant in their own right.

Re-thinking Ash Wednesday

By Christopher L. Webber

The adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was, by intention, the inauguration of a new relationship between the church and its liturgy. No longer would we have an unchangeable liturgy handed down from past centuries, but we would become again a community like the early church in which innovation and enhancement would be encouraged and a frequently revised prayer book would draw on the best of this creative process to provide an evolving standard of excellence.

This process was disrupted first by the unexpected depth of the resistance and then by the emergence of the computer and internet, and the ease of desktop publishing--possibilities unimagined only thirty years ago. The Standing Commission on Liturgy has, nonetheless, continued to provide new resources, well used in some places and completely ignored in many others. What has been missing however, is a careful re-examination of the 1979 Prayer Book, to ask what was well done and has worn well on the one hand and, on the other hand, what was poorly done and needs to be reconsidered. Even typographical errors such as the inconsistency of capitalization of the word “Godparent/godparent” have gone uncorrected since to correct them requires action by two General Conventions and opens up the possibility of new wars that no one would willingly initiate at this time.

Nonetheless, there are weaknesses in the present book that need attention and the canonical authority of the bishop to authorize appropriate other forms for special purposes would seem to encourage experimentation at the local level.

To cite one specific example, the order for Ash Wednesday is awkwardly arranged and questionable in its theology. Why to take the simplest matter first, does the opening rubric tell us “On this day, the Celebrant begins the liturgy with the Salutation . . .” but not provide either the Salutation or even the page number for it? There’s plenty of blank space on the page to provide Salutations in both Rite I and Rite II, but instead the presider has to direct the people to another page for that one line and then tell them to turn back to the Ash Wednesday liturgy to find the opening collect after which they sit to hear readings which are the same every year but are not provided. If ever there were a need to hand out bulletins with the full text of the service, this is it!

Then we come to the Bidding which attempts to provide an explanation of the Lenten Season but, unfortunately, seems only to offer that quintessentially Anglican rationale: “we have always done it that way.”

“Dear People of God,” the Celebrant or Minister appointed is instructed to say, “The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting . . .” Yes, but was there a reason grounded in Scripture and in the nature of the Christian faith that undergirded this observation and custom? We are never told. This will not trouble those Episcopalians who are satisfied to carry on customs simply because they are customs, but does the annual reading of this exhortation perhaps reenforce the notion that custom indeed is king?

Consider also how the Ash Wednesday order ends with a long Litany expressing penitence and then asks the presider to read a statement which is not an absolution. It says the clergy are empowered to pronounce absolution – but doesn’t do it. Instead it offers a prayer for true repentance and renewal of life which is certainly appropriate, but wouldn't Ash Wednesday be a good time for a real absolution?

I asked a member of the Liturgical Commission some years ago why the order was framed in this way and was told “Well, there were members of the committee who wanted to save the pseudo-absolution from Morning Prayer in the 1928 Prayer Book and this seemed like a good place to put it.” One wonders why they didn’t just leave it in Morning Prayer Rite I!

I am not one to stray far from the strictest and most literal obedience to the Prayer Book, and I am frequently appalled by the freedom with which rubrics and customs are currently ignored. I don’t travel much, but when I do, I have encountered prayers and practices that would, to put it mildly, benefit from informed appraisal. At the least we would all benefit by exposing local variations to wider criticism. In that spirit, the following is offered as a possible improvement of the Bidding in the Ash Wednesday liturgy that might be used with the consent of the bishop. Comments and criticisms would be very welcome.

Dear People of God, The Holy Scriptures tell us of God’s loving purpose in creation: to raise up a holy people worthy of eternal life. Because we have fallen far away from that purpose, God has worked patiently to draw us back sending prophets and teachers to warn and to guide us and coming at last into this world in Jesus and sharing our human life and death so that we might know the full extent and power of God’s love and forgiveness. In the waters of Baptism and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has called men and women of every time and place into the Church, the Body of Christ, to offer worship and praise, to bear witness to God’s love, and to work with God for the healing of the nations.

Yet we continue to fall short of the holiness for which we were made and to turn aside to our own purposes, weakening our witness and failing to fulfill the ministries to which we are called. We stand in constant need of the forgiveness that Jesus proclaimed and which he commissioned the disciples to offer.

Therefore from very early times, the Church has set aside the season of Lent as a time when God’s people are called to repent their sins and to renew the promises made at their baptism. It is a time when we are called to examine our way of life, to put aside all luxuries and self-indulgence, and to live a life of greater discipline, centered again on our Baptismal covenant of faith and witness and our commitment to seek justice and peace for all people.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of this season of renewal, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

This is hardly a radical revision but it puts the emphasis on the Biblical witness to God’s purpose rather than church custom. Why not also, if this makes sense, print up the whole service and put the Salutation in place at the beginning and a proper absolution at the end of the Penitential Litany? And why not petition the Standing Liturgical Commission for a revised Order for Ash Wednesday the next time they want to enrich our worship?

The Rev. Christopher L. Webber, the author of a number of books about the Episcopal Church and Beyond Beowulf, the first-ever sequel to Beowulf, has recently become Vicar of St. Paul's Church, Bantam, Connecticut.

Dinner church: sit down at the table

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
Luke 30-31

By Emily Scott

You are invited to Dinner Church, our posters read, this and every Sunday. Dinner Church at St. Lydia’s. So you make your way to the corner of Avenue B and 9th Street in the East Village on a Sunday evening. It’s winter now, so you bundle up against the wind as you emerge from the bus or the subway and hurry to our door. Someone welcomes you, helps you put your coat away and gives you a nametag. And then says, “Would you like to help cook dinner in the kitchen, or help set tables upstairs?” And puts you to work.

St. Lydia’s is the just-over-a-year-old church start that I founded together with a whole bunch of friends and congregants, including my collaborator and now-colleague Rachel Pollak. If you asked us if we’re doing something experimental, I suppose we’d say yes, but we’d also say that we’re doing something incredibly traditional. Our liturgy is modeled after the Eucharist of the Early Church when Christians would gather for worship that took place around a full meal, blessed with the great-great-grandparent of our modern Eucharistic Prayer. When Paul writes to the Corinthians, hassling them to wait for each other and eat together at the Lord’s supper, he’s talking about an ancient potluck with its liturgical roots in the Sabbath Supper and Seder Meal. And this is what we do at St. Lydia’s, not because we’re liturgical purists, but because we find this ancient practice resonates sonorously in our context.

But where were we? Oh yes, you were working. Perhaps you’ve elected the kitchen, and find yourself industriously peeling a squash as directly by one of our lead cooks. We’ve found that working together helps build community, as we make worship together. Rather than seeing work as a burden to be shouldered by the unlucky or unwitting, we see work as an opportunity to participate in creating something amazing.

Around 7:00, someone hands you a casserole dish to be taken to the sanctuary, where the dinner table has been set by congregants and newcomers alike with a bright tablecloth and napkins. Someone uncorks the wine and sets out the bread. Then everyone gathers in the entryway for a prayer, a welcome, and the candle lighting. You participate in singing a simple, repeated song as we process to the sanctuary and light the candles on the table. You hum with the group as the presider (it’s Pastor Phil tonight, the pastor at our host church, Trinity Lower East Side) prays over the meal, tears off a big piece of bread and says to his neighbor, “This is my body.” A moment of silence, and everyone digs into the meal, passing wine and juice and serving dishes round the table. There’s a lively commotion as conversation sparks.

Between our core group, folks who wander in and out, and visitors, attendance at St. Lydia’s can fall anywhere between six and eighteen folks on a given Sunday night. This means that the character of our worship can change drastically from week to week. Some Sundays we’re a reflective, intimate group. Other Sundays we’re a boisterous crew singing in four part harmony. It sort of depends on who shows up. And who shows up is a source of surprise and delight. Often we’ll be joined by folks who make their home in the park across the street, or kids who were riding by on bikes, or 15 college students staying in the church on a mission trip. All are welcome at the table.

At the moment, Lydia’s has a core group of about 15 congregants. Our first gathering was at a congregant’s home in Advent, 2008. The group has shifted and changed since then, gaining members one by one. For the most part, the core group is between 25 and 35 years old. We’re tend to be fairly educated and creative: an artist, a few writers, some graduate students, a copyeditor. We have a varying degree of familiarity with church. Most of the visitors who show up at our doors have one thing in common: they are spiritually hungry. They have this sense of God at work in their lives, and they’re trying to figure out how to respond.

But back to worship.

Dinner is followed by the exploration of scripture. I preach a compact sermon and ask the group to respond from their experience. You might surprise yourself by offering a story of your own. Then the group takes hands, sings a song, and prays. After a poem is read, everyone lifts their cups as the presider blesses them, then clean up begins and you dry plates and glasses in the kitchen. The moment the dishes are done, folks crowd into the entry once again for announcements, an offering, a final song and a blessing, and after sharing the peace with your neighbors, you head back out into the night. There’s food in your belly, and perhaps even a song from the evening cycling around in your head. And a postcard in your hand. And some leftovers in the other.

We do church this way because people are hungry. People in New York have hungry bellies that may be filled with home cooked food. They have hungry souls that may be filled with holy text, holy conversation. And these hungers are sated when we sit down together to eat.

We do church this way because people want challenge. People want the challenge of sitting down next to someone, someone they don’t know, who may be entirely different from them in every way, and working, reaching, to see her as God sees her: perfectly and wonderfully made. And we are challenged when we sit down together to eat.

We do church this way because people are looking for Jesus. People are looking for Jesus and thinking that just maybe they see him, but then again maybe not. But when we sit down together and break bread, we glimpse him for a moment in one another’s eyes and say to each other, I see Christ at this table; I see him when we sit down together to eat.

Emily Scott is the founder and Pastoral Minister at St. Lydia’s , a new church start in Manhattan. She holds an M Div from Yale Divinity School and blogs at She invites you explore the St. Lydia’s website.

Of creeds and covenants

By Torey Lightcap

Sunday after Sunday, presiders at Holy Eucharist rise following the sermon and try to say something pithy about what is immediately to follow. Too often, this introduction to the recitation of a creed – generally the Nicene Creed – misses the mark by a mile or two, betraying potential discomfort. For as well all know, being pithy and being liturgical don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand; the words of the liturgy stand on their own even if they’re not complete until spoken.

Among the many ways of mishandling this moment, my favorite is this: “And now let us stand and affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed.” (Wait … you want me to affirm my faith in what, now?) I enjoy this moment not only because it makes me cringe (as indeed I am a fan of the awkward), but more to the point, because it accidentally shows how unsure of the content of the Nicene Creed we can be. (If we affirm our faith in the words themselves, perhaps we needn’t affirm much else besides!)

As one who presides (and as a stickler for liturgy), I suffer likewise, having attempted lots of workarounds to what often feels like a ham-fisted half-attempt at leading a community at prayer:
• Lofty: “Let us rise in historic witness to our faith and say together the words of the Nicene Creed.”
• Unapologetic: “Turning to page 358 in the Prayer Book, (pause) we say together (pause): ‘We believe in one God…’”
• Invitational: “Would you stand, please, and join me in saying together the Creed.”
• Or I say nothing at all: pausing, standing, and starting the recitation.

In truth, in their execution not a single one of these ideas improves on the situation in the slightest, and we all know it. By allowing us to over-announce the obvious, they simply reveal our sometime dis-ease with what is about to happen.

The simple fact is that for many, the content of the creeds these days provides a stumbling block where once, and in many times, it was foundational to faith. It feels like a stumbling block, perhaps, because it seems to sound tinny and unenlightened in the ears of moderns, who busily ask themselves, Does this statement reflect reality? rather than the postmodern question, Is it lovely enough to be true? (So perhaps it’s not even a question not worth flagging – something generational due to pass its own way after a few decades of “parallel development”!)

But then, what other foundational statement invites any higher level of agreement? A friend relates that the originators of an emergent project to construct a contemporary-language version of the Bible required assent to the Nicene Creed among collaborators; he writes that it “was the linchpin that we could all assent to – liberals and conservatives, Catholics and Protestants, evangelicals, progressives, denominational and non-denominational.” Yet for all the consensus it generates, the Creed’s placement within Sundays, for me, has always felt like something of a sore thumb – the thing we do because “it’s what we’ve always done.”

I most assuredly speak out of both sides of my mouth, for I say all this as someone who is relieved that the Creed follows the sermon. If my homiletical foot has slipped out of place, or if I have broken a boundary on the way to making some point, I take great comfort that the Creed is there to suggest what is normative. In that moment, the Creed is the remembering of a grace-giving Law.

Still, to any parish priest with an open office door and a confirmation class to teach, these tensions aren’t new. Something better is longed for; nothing better is advanced; we fall back into what we know; and omitting the element from worship only makes things stranger because we miss it so. Meanwhile, we’ve been hearing these complaints for years about the longsuffering Nicene Creed. You know:

• it reflects a cosmology whose structure is not supported by science (i.e., heaven is “up” and death is “down” and “we” are somewhere in between);
• it holds the value of baptism as being salvific for Heaven only, having little or nothing to do with entering into earthly communities of believers;
• it allows only for the bodily resurrection of Christ;
• it turns the prophets into predictors of the future only, and takes away their function as critics of the society, religion, and government to which they were contemporaneous; and
• it envisages God, in both God’s one-ness and three-ness, as being strictly male.

If it wasn’t meant to do these things, we certainly have not been careful to point that out. That would be an equal failing of seminaries and priests.

Whoever’s at fault, in other words, the Nicene Creed can at times feel like a limited and limiting instrument of faith – proscribed, dogmatic positions rather than the kind of lively thing we hope for, and know, our worship can be.

Even so, when it comes right down to it, we tend to grit and stand and recite with everyone else. The instinct to do so is practically reptilian. It’s just written on our liturgical DNA.

We tell ourselves,
• “This is all just one big metaphor, one approach to a larger and ineffable truth, which I can ‘believe’ because I can spiritualize it; I don’t need it to really be true.”
• “It’s beautiful and poetic.”
• “I’ll say this part but not that part” or “I can cross my fingers for the next three lines” or “I shall stand, but I shall not speak.”
• “Maybe if I do this I’ll be a better Christian. After all, everyone has to have a place to stand.”
• “Saying the Creed puts me in line with history.”
• “The sermon was so heretical, we have to have something to get us back on track.”
• “If this thing has been around as long as they say, it must be worth something, so I’ll give it a shot.”
• “I dare not leave the crowd.”
• “Thank God for the communion of saints. If I can’t say this Creed with a straight face, perhaps my neighbor will do it for the both of us.”

We negotiate the creeds, wrestle with them; revere their supposed historical capacity for creating compromise; use them as personal theological counterbalance to weigh and sift belief. But too often – or perhaps this is only one priest’s imagining – we do not employ them in the actual worship of God. And all this interior negotiation is happening (must this really be said?) in the supposed context of the worship of God.

Talk about awkward.

A few congregations have elected to deal with this situation by simply setting the Nicene Creed aside, not saying it at all, or saying it only sporadically when it suits them (say, when the sermon is shorter, or when voices clamor for it), or not saying it when it doesn’t suit them. You can never tell which way that wind is going to blow. But really, that’s just the exception proving the rule.

Others have tried to write new creeds, but their chief characteristics are not primarily credal; that is, their first goal is not to set out the scope of believing, but rather to react: to not offend, or to pack it all in, or to correct the theology and language of existing creeds. These artifacts, such as Jim Rigby’s “A New Creed,” aren’t so much creeds as they are alternative creeds (heavy on the alternative):

I trust in God, universal parent, source of all power and being;
And in Jesus Christ, a unique expression of God and our guide for living:
conceived by the spirit of love,
born of Mary’s pure trust,
suffered under political oppression….

The fact remains that for most of us, the Nicene Creed is not a commodity up for editing: it’s part of what makes worship essential and whole. Even if our understanding of it is less than complete – even if its recitation is like swallowing medicine drawn from an unlabeled bottle – nevertheless we need it (or should we say the collective mood or feeling requires it) to make the worship experience seem complete. For most, it must be like the blessing or the Gospel reading or the Peace: the air we breathe at worship, the ground on which we stand.

Only the air and the ground are so common that we forget they’re even there. No wonder it seems so awkward: certainly we need air to breathe, but in this case that air consists of the recitation of the terms of a theological deal struck nearly 17 centuries ago in a vain attempt at unifying a religion that was being fitted for servanthood to the Romans. That could be some pretty stuffy air.

The Nicene Creed may have settled the collective hash of the Arian camp, but those who study history know that the Creed came with its own ultimatum: endorse it or be exiled.

If any of this seems oddly familiar, it’s because we are currently standing upon the crust of exactly the same precarious moment in which propositions are being thrust upon us with the demand of assent or exile. In the propounding of an Anglican Covenant, Anglicans have been asked worldwide to state, codify, and commit to a set of beliefs and the practices that inhere in such behaviors so as to determine who is and who is not Anglican, and that’s just not how Anglicanism works.

A powerless and hollow citizenship in the Anglican tribe may be offered to those who cannot sign the Covenant in good conscience, yet who hold the common purse, and that might make them out to be Judas when all they ever wanted was to state with clarity what Christian justice looked like within their own province.

Who among us would imagine that a few hundred years hence, Anglican catechesis (if such a thing there be) would include the memorization of a binding juridical formula for the purposes of recitation in worship? Will it be set to music?

Of course not. This Anglican Covenant – so long as it is primarily concerned with discrimination – would have about as much flavor and pith as last week’s gum. It would be made into footnotes and studied by those with specializations in history and theology, and it would be remembered not as compromise, but as con. It would be novel in the worst sense.

In short, it would reflect its own limited worldview, proscribe rather than describe Anglicanism, and be largely misunderstood. It would certainly not be used in the actions of praise. Really: under what circumstances would it become an instrument of faith and evangelism, or further clarify the meaning and intention of Christ?

All of which returns us to the Nicene Creed, with its limitations and imperfections and our great, inexplicable, and admittedly rote need for it.

Whether and how we handle particular articles of faith says a lot about us. Sometimes, in a sense, they say more about us than they say about God. And yet here is this thing that provokes both theological anxiety when it is present, and personal anxiety when it is absent. What more can be said of it, than that it has held us together as much as it has pricked at our ideologies and politics.

May we handle with great care not just what is already in print and has been recited for generations, but what has been set before us to shape for the generations that follow.

As simple, and profound, as the days of the week

By Derek Olsen

My younger daughter has been running around the house singing a song from preschool; it’s called “Days of the Week” and it’s to the tune of the Adam’s Family theme complete with finger-snaps. So—for no better reason than that—I’ve had the days of the week on my mind.

If I rail against those who fiddle with the Prayer Book liturgies, it’s typically on the grounds that the texts and arrangements that we have received transmit centuries of theological habit and reflection. All too often these are cast away not with malice aforethought, but simple ignorance—we just don’t realize what we wander by and what we cast away. Let me offer as an example of the depths of our Prayer Book a brief and entirely non-exhaustive glance at a topic as basic as…the days of the week.

Most of us are pretty clear on Sundays—Sunday is the day we go to church and have the Eucharist, right? Well, it is now. Sundays have always held a special place in the lives of Christians but exactly what we do together then has not always been so clear. The very first (and still rather catholic) Book of Common Prayer in 1549 appointed Collects and Lessons “to be used at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper” for all the Sundays of the year. The Readings for daily Morning and Evening Prayer moved through the Scriptures sequentially taking no notice of the day of the week and thus offering an ancient monastic pattern: Daily Prayer punctuated by celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays and Feast Days. A spare ten years later, Elizabeth’s 1559 BCP offered a clear protestant option, a special table appointing readings for Morning and Evening Prayer on Sundays. Elizabeth’s pattern dominated Anglican life for the following centuries, flowing into the first American Books of Common Prayer, and—aside from the Anglo-Catholic wing and the Parish Communion Movement—the chief Sunday service was Morning Prayer.

What happened between now and then? Quite simply—Vatican II and the accompanying Liturgical Renewal Movement. Reaching back to the earliest recoverable Christian paradigms, Sunday was given pride of place and the centrality of the Eucharist was emphasized. Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Consilium states at the very head of its decrees on liturgical time:

“…the Lord's day is the original feast day, and it should be proposed to the piety of the faithful and taught to them so that it may become in fact a day of joy and of freedom from work. Other celebrations, unless they be truly of greatest importance, shall not have precedence over the Sunday which is the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year.”
Following this thought—and reaching back to the pattern enshrined in the 1549 BCP—our Prayer Book states at its start that “The Holy Eucharist [is] the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts…” (p. 13). Following the notion that Sundays are “the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year,” Sundays—all Sundays—are designated as the second highest class of feast in the section on the Calendar (p. 16). The logic is placed at the start: “All Sundays of the year are feasts of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Every Sunday, then is a little Easter; every Sunday is a festival of the Resurrection.

But then we get to the rest of the week—and what we find there might surprise us… There’s another weekday lifted up as special in our Prayer Book’s directions on the Calendar. If you let your eye move from the Sundays in numbered section 2 on page 16 and drift across the page to page 17’s numbered section 4 you’ll find this notice under the heading “Days of Special Devotion”:

“The following days are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial: . . . Good Friday and all other Fridays of the year, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter seasons, and any Feasts of our Lord which occur on a Friday.”
Everybody knows about Sundays—Fridays, well, they’re a bit less observed. However, the observance of Fridays enshrine a fundamental Christian principle of balance. We believe that the love of God in Christ has sanctified and transformed our whole life—not just the happy bits. Christ (as Hebrews reminds us) was like us in all things except sin and walked the same paths of pain and sorrow that we tread. If every Sunday is a festival of the resurrection (and it is), then it is only fitting that each Friday (except during our high-party seasons) be likewise a remembrance of the cross.

Interestingly, even through our protestant periods Fridays have been identified as special times of remembrance. The first BCP to explicitly detail days of feasting and fasting, the theoretically normative English 1662 Book, states that “All the Fridays in the year, except Christmas Day [if it should fall on a Friday]” are days of fasting or abstinence. (And I’ll pass in silence over the troubles that the simple “or” caused among the scrupulous!)

Sundays and Fridays—these are the weekdays that get special treatment. But I’ll let you in on at least one other weekday pattern concealed within our book… As Eucharistic piety rose in the early medieval period, cathedrals and monasteries began offering masses every day. But outside of Lent, Propers were only appointed for Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays—what services were to be used on the others? Furthermore monastic communities began offering two masses daily—only one of which could be the Mass of the Day. What to do with the other? The answer was the votive mass: a celebration of the Eucharist with special intentions for problems facing the people (plagues, storms, Vikings, etc.). But when none of these perils threatened, a standardized pattern sprang up that recommended certain votives for certain days of the week:

• Sundays celebrated the Holy Trinity,
• Mondays, the Holy Spirit,
• Tuesdays, the Holy Angels,
• Wednesdays, All Saints,
• Thursdays, the Holy Eucharist
• Fridays, the Holy Cross,
• Saturdays, the Blessed Virgin Mary

(From Andrew Hughes’s Medieval Manuscripts for Mass and Office, page 157). There was local variation, of course, especially on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. My favorite 10th century English missals, for instance, celebrate Holy Wisdom and Holy Love on some of these weekdays instead.

Now, what does this have to do with the days of the week in our Prayer Book? Just this: flip to page 251 if you’re a contemporary sort of person, or page 199 if you like your language traditional… Here you’ll find the collects appointed for “Various Occasions”; meet the BCP’s votive masses. And, interestingly enough, here are the first seven:

• Of the Holy Trinity
• Of the Holy Spirit
• Of the Holy Angels
• Of the Incarnation
• Of the Holy Eucharist (specifically recommended for Thursdays)
• Of the Holy Cross (specifically recommended for Fridays)
• For All Baptized Christians

With the exception of some apparent scruples over the place of the saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the votives are the same! (In fact, if you flipped the fourth and the seventh you’d come even closer still…) Furthermore, if you look hard at the collects at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer you’ll find echoes there too of the ancient weekly pattern.

So why do these patterns matter? First, they shatter the cultural assumption that attempts to restrict our faith to Sundays. The God who entered time has sanctified our time and blessed our days; these patterns remind us to return the favor. Second, they present us with the patterns of Christ in miniature—almost a weekly repetition of the yearly liturgical cycles. Third, they remind us weekly of the fundamentals: of the Spirit that blows through our lives, of the mystery of the Word made flesh, of Christ’s self-giving on the cross and in the meal.

The Prayer Book is filled with patterns and possibilities like these. But they do us little good if we ignore them or alter them without thought. This week I urge you to consider the patterns, consider the habits, into which the Prayer Book invites us. Consider, for instance, the days of the week...

Dr. Derek Olsen recently finished his Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

Bylaws, baptism and open communion

By Kathleen Staudt

Whenever a baby is baptized in my congregation, the priest presents the newly baptized child to the congregation and announces joyfully. “Join me in welcoming the newest member of our church,” and there is applause, and rejoicing and delight all around. Baptism is what makes us part of the Body of Christ, the Church .

When we welcome the newly baptized as our newest “member,” the celebration is of inclusion, expressing the open arms of the community of faith. Theologically it is the incorporation of a person into the mystical Body of Christ, of which we are all “living members,” and we celebrate that, even though we know that often the baptism of a child is primarily a rite of passage for a family.

But very quickly, even well intentioned language about “membership” begins to sound like language of exclusion. I’ve been mulling this over as our congregation begins the process of revising our bylaws, part of which involves deciding who is a “member” of the congregation, mainly for purposes of vestry elections and voting at the annual meeting.

The old bylaws defined a member of the church as a communicant in good standing who made a regular financial pledge. But the question has been raised lately about whether one can be a “member” of the church without making a pledge: whether it is sufficient to have made a financial contribution during the previous year – whether membership should rely on making a financial contribution at all. Our culturally diverse congregation’s mission statement is “to be a home for all God’s people.” How does that square with putting a financial requirement on “membership”? people wonder, perhaps rightly. Our rector wants to keep the bylaws language about membership consistent with what he says at every baptism. As long as you’re baptized and we’ve recorded it here, you’re a member. That’s what the canons say. So far, so good

But in the theology expressed in our local practice, this all quickly becomes more problematic. Under our current bylaws, the bar is actually higher for voting at the annual meeting than it is for receiving communion! On the one hand, the priest’s announcement at each baptism reminds us that we are members by virtue of our baptism. At Eucharist, like many Episcopal churches, we have a local practice of open communion: we gladly welcome all who wish to receive.

In practice, then, in a post-Christendom world, Eucharist is for some people the point of entry into the life of the church. Baptism, for an adult not previously baptized, becomes once again the major step of risk and commitment that it was for the earliest Christians -- a serious moment of intentional commitment to Christ. We do not insist that someone prove that they are baptized before they come to the altar. We have lost that ancient connection between a catechumenate and admission to the Eucharist, and the statement that this makes about Christian identity: that we are baptized into both the death and Resurrection of Christ, and that Eucharist is the meal that nourishes us for faithful living. I love that teaching, in its positive version. I believe it.

The trouble is, to someone coming in the door of the church for the first time, what I think of as an inclusive statement: “All baptized Christians are welcome to receive” gets heard as exclusion. I’ve experienced what it’s like to feel excluded from the Eucharist (see my previous post), and I see the wisdom of the open table practiced in my church and in many Episcopal churches now: we simply say “all are welcome to receive” and leave it to the Holy Spirit, working through the life of the local community, to invite those who are drawn to Christ to receive communion, and perhaps eventually, if they are not baptized, to embrace what amounts to a “believer’s baptism” – making their own adult commitment to the Christian life, in full awareness of all that it involves. But I think we have some work to do on supporting and encouraging people toward that second step. And on remembering why Baptism is important.

One of these days there will have to be a conversation in the Episcopal Church about open communion and how we understand it theologically. It seems to have become part of our witness to an open and generous-hearted Christianity in a post-Christian world, and I expect it is here to stay. Indeed, I welcome the practice, despite theological reservations. But the power and grace of Baptism also needs to be reclaimed as part of our understanding of who we are as Christians.

I am glad that ours is a liturgical tradition where “praying shapes believing,” where to some extent we learn where the Holy Spirit may be leading us through our evolving practice, rooted in tradition but also changing with the times. So where is the practice of open communion leading us, in terms of our understanding of what it means to be “members” of the body of Christ? Is there perhaps an opportunity here, in a post-Christian world, to reclaim baptism itself as a truly intentional commitment to Christian discipleship? I really am interested in what readers of the Café have to say about this.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Liturgical roots, baptismal theology: where "full inclusion" comes from

By Linda L. Grenz

A reading of press reports about the 76th General Convention might suggest the only topic debated (again) was sexuality – or, more precisely, homosexuality. Sometimes this happens simply because the press does not know much about our history or theology. Unfortunately that often means our members get misinfornmation about why this topic is relevant to our church and why we are devoting attention to it.

Our focus is on inclusion and this is not new – it is something we have been working on for decades. It grew out of the liturgical renewal movement that began to have a significant impact on the church in the early 20th century. The desire to renew the church's liturgy led scholars to re-examine the church's worship and theology. Their research and the discovery of previously unknown texts led liturgical scholars to re-vision how we worship.

Liturgical scholars realized the earliest Christians gathered around the dining room table and it is likely that the hosts presided. As membership grew and services became more formal, the order of priests was established to assist the bishop. This led to the clericalization of the liturgy as priests became more central to worship services and laity became mere observers.
The priest became the primary actor, the one who said the liturgy and did the ministry. The people become passive recipients. Their role was to “pay,” “pray” and not “say” much more than “amen” or “and also with you!”

As liturgical scholars began to re-shape the liturgy to make it more participatory, the roles of clergy and laity also changed. This change was driven by another aspect of the liturgical renewal movement – the re-visioning of baptismal theology. In the early church, baptism was a transformative rite of passage. In baptism, one died to one's old self and rose with Christ to a new life as a redeemed child of God. One’s baptism profoundly changed one, both now and for eternity.

As priests became the primary leader of the congregation, the bishop, who used to lead the congregation, had no connection to the local community. What would be the bishop's role? One response was to separate the anointing with oil from the rest of the baptismal liturgy. This led to the creation of Confirmation, and the development of a theology that one needed to “complete” one's baptism by being confirmed by the bishop. The liturgical renewal led the church to move baptism back to the center of the church's life (vs. a private ceremony) and to restore the anointing to the baptismal rite.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer wholeheartedly embraced the re-visioned baptismal theology – and emphasized it by adding the five questions that spell out baptismal living after the Creed. Because we believe that how we pray shapes what we believe, it became a means of incorporating this baptismal theology into the life and practice of the church. Those five questions, in particular, led to theorization that baptism meant full inclusion which resulted in the church re-examining the role of laity, of people of color, of women and of children and youth.

The 1960s saw the church take significant steps to support and sometimes lead the effort to establish equal rights for blacks. In the church, blacks were elected to leadership roles.

Women in most dioceses began to serve on vestries in the 1950's and 60's. Laity began to read lessons and lead the prayers at the liturgy. The first women deputies to General Convention were seated in 1970 and girls began to serve as acolytes. The 1976 General Convention voted to permit the ordination of women as priests.

Meanwhile, throughout the 1980s and 90s, laity were appointed as Eucharistic Ministers, allowed to administer the chalice at the Eucharist and later to take the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins. Children were allowed to receive the Eucharist as soon as they were baptized. Youth were appointed to vestries and given voice at diocesan conventions and at General Convention.

In 2003 the General Convention voted to confirm the election of an openly gay man by the Diocese of New Hampshire. It also engaged in a conversation about whether or how to bless the relationships between same sex couples.

Each of these changes was challenging to some members. Each time we changed the liturgy or the rules to include another group of people in a previously prohibited arena, we lost some members who could not reconcile that change with their theology. The latest focus on the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people grows out of this long history of the church seeking to apply the baptismal theology that says that in baptism we are all transformed by Christ, becoming equal children of God. It is part of the church's long engagement in the spiritual practice of seeking to be the Body of Christ – the place where all the baptized are equally welcome.

One of the most moving experiences at General Convention was when some deputies and bishops joined the largely Hispanic group of Disney workers protesting Disney's plan to eliminate health care benefits for many of them. The largest march in Anaheim's history put the church on the side of those who are poor, often oppressed and living at the margins. But what was remarkable was that when Bishop Robinson, the gay bishop who is the focus of much of our talk about homosexuality, was introduced – the Disney workers burst into applause. It turns out they knew who he was and what he stood for – and they identified with him. You can bet that Episcopal churches in Anaheim are having lots of new Hispanic seekers coming, along with many of our congregations who are finding people who otherwise would not trust coming to church or who are at the margins of society, coming to us. The good news is that those souls are hearing: ALL are welcome at God's table. And that is worth the cost of struggling through all of these sometimes awkward or difficult changes.

The Rev. Linda L. Grenz is president of Leader Resources and priest-in-charge at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Silver Spring, Md. A version of this article appears in the September issue of Washington Window.

Sacred space v. Holy people

By Donald Schell

On the way to mass in Sevilla’s Gothic cathedral, we passed Christopher Columbus’s tomb, a suitable reminder that Spain’s colonial power and wealth had built the cathedral. At the main altar, a gilded reredos towered to a height of fifty feet, gilded statues of saints and Bible scenes filled rank on rank up the golden wall, every surface gilded with Inca and Aztec gold from the New World. During the liturgy the dean stood at a simple lectern to preach. He smiled warmly and half gestured at the glittering reredos as he said, “I want us to hear Jesus’ teaching in this morning’s Gospel, and that great wall of gold behind me won’t help you hear. The statues tell Gospel stories and stories on the saints, that real holiness lives here [pointing to his own face] and there [gesturing toward us in the congregation].”

I remember this moment when a preacher contradicted the voice and theology of a powerful building, so what he said proved memorable. You can argue with the architecture, and briefly at least, you can win. But the triumphalism and static hierarchy of the admittedly beautiful reredos is still there as you read, and the preacher is not. Should we be content to argue with the building’s steady voice? Each instant when we’re not offering another vision, the building continues to speak, so in the end it does speak louder than our words. Beauty and history aren’t in themselves our tradition. Our tradition honors God’s compassionate steady hand making humanity wholly and holy.

We can preach that we’re called to see the face of Christ in our sisters and brothers and in the strangers we meet, and all the bright faces in the congregation may nod their agreement, but only the preacher sees those faces. Are the backs of people’s heads an adequate image of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?

We can preach that God came to dwell among us in Jesus Christ who touched and blessed our living and dying with his human hands and heart and breath. But when we call on the Spirit to make his presence live for us again in the assembly and in the bread and wine, what does offering that prayer in a fenced-in “sanctuary” reserved for vested clergy and vested authorized lay assistants say about our approach to the Holy One who drew near to us?

Our furniture dilemmas are not the Great Tradition. Distant altars, altar rails, and forward facing pews are the legacy of 17th century church polemic and 17th century church-growth problem solving.

Starting in 1633, Archbishop Laud (with King Charles’ enthusiastic encouragement) worked to eliminate Elizabethan and Jacobean altar tables where the people gathered around. He decreed that altars should be fenced in with altar rails at the east end of the building. Laud and the King agreed that the Anglican practice they had inherited of gathering the congregation at an altar table for confession (‘draw near with faith’), Eucharistic prayer and communion cheapened the Eucharist. Laud was convinced that a set-apart, clergy-only area and rails to keep lay people out declared the holiness of the sacrament. Laud was so convinced that he was right that he invoked sedition laws to punish his most outspoken critics by having their ears cut off and a brand burned into their faces.

Puritan reaction set in fairly quickly. King and Archbishop lost power in 1640, and both were eventually executed. Oliver Cromwell's church-vandalizing soldiers destroyed Laud’s new altars and altar rails, and also smashed statues and stained glass windows. The cycle of reaction continued when the monarchy was restored in 1660; many of the altars were redone (again), as Laud would have had them. But popular liturgy was on the cusp of the Enlightenment. Preaching is the most rational and thought-provoking part of liturgy and in restored Anglican liturgy after 1660 preaching became the main event and preachers were media stars. Stylish Londoners valued and expected l-o-n-g, rhetorically elegant sermons, so when the 1666 Great Fire destroyed most of London’s churches, people welcomed Christopher Wren’s new churches with their auditorium style seating, forward-facing bench pews, that enabled people to sit back and listen more comfortably to whichever of London’s elegant rhetoricians was preaching a customary ninety minute sermon.

What many Episcopalians call a ‘traditional Episcopal’ church arrangement synthesizes these two innovations –practical seating for a kind of liturgy we’d no longer tolerate (ninety minute sermons), and the ideological barrier to the laity, for a kind of liturgy I hope we don’t believe – that ‘the sacrament’ is holy and the people are not. In the sweep of Christian history, the 17th century is recent. I believe we’ve got to ask whether these two contradictory elements of 17th liturgy really serve the liturgy we’re called to make.

Buildings with forward-facing pews encourage us to scatter two or three to a pew; the furniture preaches isolation and passivity, making each lay person a passive religious consumer watching ‘what’s going on up front’ from a safe and lonely distance. And the massive railed in altar (whether it’s out from the wall or not) conveys that Laud meant it to convey – a power and holiness that lay people ought not to get too close to.

In Liturgy and Architecture, Louis Bouyer, a Vatican II-era Roman Catholic theologian, scripture and early church scholar, and liturgist, traced step by step the changes in Christian church architecture from the earliest church buildings. In his century-by-century account we see how the priest became more and more the center of a show while the laity faded into the background – headed toward Wren’s audience – passive listeners. And in that book Bouyer warned that the priest going ‘behind’ the altar to face the people so they could ‘see what was going on up there’ was only another step in the same clericalizing distancing.

Is the Eucharistic prayer something we want to witness the priest doing, or is it something we’re doing together as a congregation? Rick Fabian, my wife Ellen, and I founded St. Gregory’s, San Francisco in 1978 to explore just how completely the liturgy can be a shared work of the whole assembly and what a full expression of that shared work Sunday by Sunday does for evangelism, Christian formation, and mission. Twenty years later the new building St. Gregory’s had just built won an American Institute of Architects Best Religious Building of the Year award. The award said:

St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church has developed a unique, historically inspired liturgy based on fourth and fifth century Christian worship. There are two distinct aspects of their worship service: the Liturgy of the Word (Bible readings) and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Holy Communion). The church building joins two distinct but linked worship areas, each with its own liturgical and acoustical requirements. [The area] for the Liturgy of the Word, seats 200 people facing each other across a central platform. This antiphonal arrangement encourages spoken and sung community participation. The presider’s chair is located at the north end in front of a prominent painted icon. Bible readings are from a lectern at the south end.

Midway through the service, worshipers move in a procession from the seating area to gather around the central altar table for Eucharist, song and dance in the octagonal room…the baptismal font is in a garden court beside the hill [outdoors] on cross axis with the altar table.

This is a church with a marvelous sense of community and a wonderful ordered plan that reflects the eastern Coptic influence in this Episcopal congregation’s liturgical practices. The parts of the service were given geometric forms. Beautiful, naturally lit ceilings and modest materials are handled with a profound sense of craft and purpose show keen awareness of the Bay Area’s regional character. The church appeals spiritually and aesthetically to the diverse people of the Bay Area, welcoming all to what the congregants call ‘a home for God’s friends.

Jesus appealed to daily experience of marginalized people and ordinary sinners to God’s work among us. He made everyday service to others holy when he washed his disciples feet and he transformed a table meal into the sign of his victory over death and living presence with us for all time. In the religion of Jesus day, he was a layperson. He commanded his disciples, also lay people, to do all he had done and serve as he served.

I’ve troubled people saying this, but can’t escape the conclusion that we’re not being faithful when we let the voice of the building speak louder than Jesus’ practice. Provisionally, to develop a congregational vision, we may have to work in and around buildings that contradict Jesus’ teaching (both what he taught and how he taught), but sooner or later faithfulness asks us to practice what we preach. I believe the Spirit asks that we make our buildings work for liturgy and serve the holy people. When we hear and refuse to listen, we’re valuing sacred space more than holy people.

How do we make a holy space for holy people? Whatever our building or floor plan, two things can make a huge difference in the message our building teaches:

-we can re-order seating to monastic or collegiate choir so that lay people can see one another’s face as well as the preacher and reader see everyone’s faces. Our faces are our primary manifestation of the image (icon) of God, and seeing one another’s faces as we pray and sing and listen brings us closer to Jesus’ teaching and practice of the holiness of people and human experience, and

- we can open up space for processions of the whole congregation and space to gather everyone around table and font as we do our sacramental work. Congregational processions and real gatherings for sacramental action let us feel that we are one body in Christ, and that together, souls and bodies, God’s pilgrim people, are on the move.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Singing Judith's song

By Deirdre Good

The Daily Office, the daily common worship experience of professionals and proficients in many mainline Christian denominations, incorporates the Song of Judith as one of the Canticles we sing on a regular schedule (the asterisks denote a pause):

A Song of Judith

I will sing a new song to my God, *
for you are great and glorious, wonderful in strength, invincible.
Let the whole creation serve you, *
for you spoke and all things came into being.
You sent your breath and it formed them, *
no one is able to resist your voice.
Mountains and seas are stirred to their depths, *
rocks melt like wax at your presence.
But to those who fear you, *
you continue to show mercy.
No sacrifice, however fragrant, can please you, *
but whoever fears the Lord shall stand in your sight for ever.

A canticle is any song in the biblical text other than Psalms. Based on Judith 16:13-16, the Song of Judith is part of a larger song forming a conclusion to the astonishing tale of Judith's defeat by decapitation of the Assyrian General Holofernes. But the canticle we sing in the Daily office extolling God for the defeat of God's enemies, powerful as it is, has been severed from its connection with the wider context of Judith's song and its recapitulation of the deeds of her hands. Do we recognize that Judith sings a new song celebrating the omnipotent Lord who set enemies aside at the hand of a woman? Can we who sing it hear the textual echoes and transformations of God's spirit in Exodus not now being sent to drown the Egyptians but to effect the creation of the world?

The fuller version of the Song of Judith (Judith 16:1-17) celebrates in song the earlier prose form of the narrative of the book of Judith in which Judith celebrates the deliverance of Israel from her enemies. At the same time, the complete version of the Song of Judith draws in form and content on other biblical songs of deliverance by God sung by women such as the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 (attributed to Moses but now widely recognized to have been sung by Miriam and the women of Israel), and the Song of Deborah in Judges 5. And the Song of Judith in Greek anticipates the Song of Mary or the Magnificat in Luke's Gospel in the New Testament.

We know that Judith quotes the Greek text of Exodus: Judith 16:2 states, "For the Lord is a God who crushes wars," an allusion not to the Hebrew but to the Greek version of Exodus 15:3, "The Lord crushes wars, the Lord is his name." In the Hebrew text, Yahweh is a man of war but in the Greek text, the Lord crushes wars. This situates intertextuality at the level of the Greek text, not the Hebrew.

Exodus 15:10 describes God's "spirit" as potency and power for destruction: "You sent your spirit; it covered them: sea clothed like lead in violent water." Spirit in Exodus covers and drowns. But the same phrase, "You sent your spirit" appears in Judith as direct borrowing with different application: the spirit in Judith 16:14 creates: "You sent your spirit, and it built them up, and there is no one who will withstand your voice".

Specific to the Song of Miriam and the Song of Judith is the enemy threat of the sword in the hand: Ex. 15:9 describes the aggression of the Egyptians, "The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them'". Similarly, Judith describes the boast of Israel's enemies at 16:4: "He said he would set my territory ablaze and dispatch my young men with the sword". Yet when Israel's enemy is routed in Judith, it is not by the hand of God but by the hand of a woman holding a particular short sword.

Miriam's song celebrates a victory wrought by the hand of another, her brother. In Miriam's song, the sword is wielded by God; but Judith wields the sword of deliverance herself. In a sense, there is an identification of Judith with God so that she embodies God's triumph.

We can now reflect on the difference this makes to our corporate worship. Worship embodies human beliefs about God. Recognizing that the language of war, subjugation and victory undergirds worship intrinsically, we can restore to the Song of Judith the meaning of God's actions on behalf of a broken and subordinate people by the hand of an inferior and marginalized woman. And we can thereby begin to redeem language of war in worship.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. While she is an American citizen, she grew up in Kenya and loves marmite which may explain certain features of her blog, On Not Being a Sausage.

“Traditional” vs. “Contemporary”?

By Donald Schell

For the healthy future of our church we’ve got to stop thinking and talking as if ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ were opposites. This hackneyed dichotomy reduces us to a lose/lose battle between caricatured factions – do we want to be a backward-looking ‘traditional’ church bound by nostalgic practices of the last two hundred years or a ‘trendy,’ ‘relevant’ church whoring in uncritical embrace of ‘contemporary’ culture.

Only a church that’s deeply traditional and truly contemporary can live fearlessly into creativity and mission. To find our way to deep traditional roots and a lively present, we’ll need to relearn that the words ‘tradition’ and ‘traditional’ live in a creative process, an inspired engagement with our Christian past and discernment of the God-given opportunities and challenges of each present moment.

Hear Vladimir Lossky, a bold 20th Century Russian Orthodox theologian described tradition,

“…to be within the Tradition, is to keep the living truth in the Light of the Holy Spirit, or rather – it is to be kept in the Truth by the vivifying power of Tradition. But this power preserves by a ceaseless renewing, like all that comes from the Spirit.” [Tradition and Traditions, Lossky’s introduction to The Meaning of Icons, (Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, 1952 and 1969]

Lossky tells us that tradition is a creative process for the church and the work of the Holy Spirit among us. When the Spirit’s steady hand harnesses the powerful troika of humble memory, faithful curiosity, and innovative imagination, the church has a powerful team for an exhilarating ride.

When other rabbis scolded Jesus’ disciples for skipping the ritual hand washing that began the meal, those teachers’ concern wasn’t hygiene but sacrilegious violation of ritual purity. They understood a prophetic sign. Jesus was defying religious purity laws to show people the impatient welcome of his all-merciful Father. Hand washing was ritualized preparation for the sacred.

Jesus’ deep faithfulness to the tradition he received had provoked him to break the rubrics (official rules) of the ritual meal of a rabbi with his close disciples.

Jesus teaching God’s mercy on the Sabbath was good rabbinic practice. But to some his healing and feeding people to embody that mercy was more sacrilege. The Sabbath was the center of rabbinic Judaism’s liturgy. Once again traditionally-grounded rule-breaking led Jesus to liturgical innovation and a new vision for works of mercy in community. Liturgy and his mission of compassionate love were inseparable.

Making his ritual choices to reshape the ritual of a rabbi’s holy meal with close disciples, Jesus showed the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promised feast, on the mountaintop, God’s messianic banquet for all people. And he was using one tradition to reshape another. Isaiah and Israel’s prophetic tradition taught Jesus to trust God’s power to make us all holy. He wasn’t willing to do the meal ritual without showing that power at work.

Jesus’ own religious contemporaries were so scandalized at his welcoming unprepared sinners to feast with him that they called him a ‘jerk’ who ate with sinners and accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton. Scholars like Norman Perrin believe it was precisely Jesus’ prophet-inspired defiance of the established ritual of his time that finally drove the religious leaders of his community to conspire with Roman military power to kill him.

Even as established power worked for Jesus’ destruction, at his Last Supper with his disciples Jesus renewed tradition again, offering his disciples traditionally blessed bread with new words identifying it as his own living body, and then after supper, giving them the traditionally blessed final cup of wine, saying the cup held his blood shed for the reconciliation of the whole world. His ‘Do this and remember me,’ declared his intention that they follow him in this changed and renewed tradition around the ancient practices of blessing and sharing bread and wine.
John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus altered another traditional ritual when he substituted washing all his disciples feet for the fingerbowl-like hand washing that ended the meal. Again, he commanded them to continue doing what he’d done.

St. Paul and our four Gospel writers present Jesus’ ministry as a conscious re-traditioning. What he did was deeply rooted in his tradition but also represents the paradoxical character of all tradition making and sharing. Jesus read God’s Law and measured official religious practice in light of the prophetic tradition’s insistence that God desired mercy not sacrifice. By recasting traditional images and actions, Jesus patterned his brief ministry and interpreted his coming death as an icon of God’s self-giving love.

Tradition always offers choices, and if we don’t make choices, we reduce ‘tradition’ to a desperate clinging to our parents’ and grandparents’ interpretations of what they knew and received. Anglicanism’s genius lives in this tradition of embracing the riches of Christian history and making conscious choices. Though it hasn’t been without conflict, Anglicanism has always borrowed practices from the whole of Christian history and the worldwide church to make a highly participatory and strongly embodied liturgy for evangelism and Christian formation. At our best we’re imitating the householder in Jesus’ parable, “…who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13.52).

Recently our Episcopal church’s schismatics began claiming ‘tradition’ (along with ‘orthodox ‘ and ‘Bible-believing’) as their words, an accusation of faithlessness to their supposed opposite - ‘revisionist Episcopalians.’ I’m glad to claim this holy title and the work of re-visioning. But re-visioning is the Spirit’s work that grows directly out of tradition, orthodoxy and the Bible.
Our Christian faith comes to us from more than a hundred generations of faithful re-visioning, of rooted tradition-making. Uncritical repetition of ‘how it’s always been done’ or even ‘what we’ve always taught’ isn’t faithful or even honest, but tree of faith cannot flower without deep roots. The prophets promised God’s Spirit poured out on all humanity would make our old people dream dreams and our young one ones see visions. That has been the church’s history. It is our living tradition.

The Spirit has always been at work. Sometimes good things have been lost, and startlingly (and wonderfully) they may be rediscovered. Sometimes it’s an inspired hearing of something new in a present moment. And sometimes the work is saying no to something false and holding fast an old way. We can make these choices because as St. Paul says, ‘We have the mind of Christ.’ Like the church gathered in Acts, we weigh scripture, tradition, and our present circumstance and challenges and dare new things, renewing tradition as we say, ‘It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’

Partisan, rigid use of the word ‘tradition’ hides what artists working in a tradition knows in their bones. Tradition flowers in responsive creativity.

Not only our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, but every previous Christian generation may have treasures for us. We must listen, feel, imagine, think, and discern what the Spirit calls us to preserve, what the Spirit challenges us to discard, and what the Spirit asks us to make new. And we can find new treasure in our own questions and the questions of our children. Living tradition must embody the living choices of a living community. The Holy Spirit and our tradition-breaking and tradition-making Lord Jesus goad and guide us forward. Which practices make us more alive to one another and to God?

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Holy Chaos, or: What Episcopalians can learn from Baptists

By Emily M. D. Scott

I think that it is safe to say that my church, The Riverside Church, is in a Holy Chaos. Our interdenominational congregation (American Baptist Churches, USA and United Church of Christ) housed in a towering gothic Rockefeller-funded Nave on the border of Harlem and the Upper West Side, has never seen anything quite like this.

On his first Sunday as our new Senior Minister, The Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton descended from the pulpit, said a few words to our organist, and walked with purpose toward the pews. He told the congregation that this was the beginning of building a relationship of trust between pastor and people. And then he invited them forward. The Riverside Church had an Altar Call. People came forward to pray; they came forward to convert; they came forward to join our church. The liturgist of this assembly—and a cradle Episcopalian—I sat watching quietly and eagerly from the chancel. I felt something slip in me. It felt like a key in a well-oiled lock, unlatching and releasing, the door sliding ajar.

Each week now, our worship offers a Time of Invitation: a time for congregants to come forward and pray with clergy. As you can imagine, this new ritual has sent our congregation spinning in a number of different directions. Did you see what happened? a few of them said to me. Did you feel that? Did you see all those people come forward to pray? I told them that I did, and I had. Something was happening.

Two weeks later, I watched as Dr. Braxton led our congregation, all 1,000 of them, in singing Were You There When They Crucified My Lord. The spiritual was not listed in the bulletin; he led the song in response to the words of our guest preacher that day. Sitting on the front pew, my heart seemed to lift in my chest as the congregation, singing unaccompanied for the first time I’ve heard, tentatively found the melody, then, without effort, broke into a gentle harmony. At the end of each line we found a place of quiet, breathed as one, and sang on.

Each night as I pray for Riverside, I see in my mind’s eye a great wind that rattles the doors of the Nave from the outside. Suddenly the doors slam open and the wind, an almost visible force, sweeps through the church, sending dust and loose papers flying. The wind is fresh and seems to carry with it a warm, clear light. Each Sunday I arrive at work, the air seems fresher. The light filtered through our stained glass windows seems warmer. Even the stones, arching up to our vaulted ceiling, seem to hum.

I’m not sure about all of this, congregants have told me. A lot of people in this church left these traditions behind. That’s why they came here. They don’t want to go back to doing church like that. It seems to me that a lot of folks end up in the Episcopal Church for the very same reason. Many Episcopalians are refugees from other denominations, painfully excluded because of who we are or what we believe. For a long time, we left the Church. When we came back, we knew we needed to be part of something progressive, where we would never be told that God’s love excluded us. We also live with a visceral reaction to the language of the church we grew up with. We can’t bear to be around anything that feels like that place where we were so badly wounded.

I think my pastor, Dr. Braxton, would caution us not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Reading the opening chapters of Luke last night by the light of the Christmas lights strung across my apartment, I was struck by Gabriel’s words to Mary as he tells her she will bear God’s son. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary asks the angel. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” comes his reply.

When have you been overpowered by the Holy Spirit? When have you felt God’s spirit overshadowing you, weaving together a work of God in the depth of your being? I know you have felt it – that moment when you are overcome with the beauty of life, the grace of time slipping through your fingers. In that moment, God is not only all around you, but within you, knitting together her hope for your life in the deepest place in your body.

Growing up at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle I felt that Spirit descend on me with earth-shattering force, most often as the new fire of the Easter Vigil was lit, or when the priest exclaimed, “Christ is Risen!” I’ve felt that undeniable sense of God in quiet places, tasting the familiar cadences of the Prayer Book as the light slipped away from the world each evening. I’ve seen Jesus dancing along with my friends as we circle the altar at St. Gregory of Nyssa. The Holy Spirit swirls over us as we move, dipping and dancing along with us. Like you, God comes to me in different ways and in different places.

But this Altar Call has me thinking. Watching Dr. Braxton lead worship, I am aware in a way I never have been of the work of the Spirit in worship. After singing Were You There, and praying with the folks who came forward that week, Dr. Braxton eased us right past the recessional hymn. We didn’t sing it at all. There’s a sweet spirit in the room, he told us, and asked our musicians to begin the postlude, as the clergy made their way to the rear of the Nave. It was the right way to end the service – the moment demanded it. Urban Holmes wrote that good liturgy leads regularly to the edge of chaos, a regular flirt with doom (Theology and Religious Renewal). These past weeks in worship, I’ve felt myself clearly standing dangerously on the edge of a precipice – nothing below me but God.

How often do we trick ourselves into believing that if we do everything right – if we use the right words and process the right way and bow at the right moments, God will be present in our worship? How often do we deceive ourselves into, as Aidan Kavanaugh so incisively wrote, “tam[ing] the Lion of Judah and [putting] him into a suburban zoo to entertain children (On Liturgical Theology)?

And how often to we believe, as we stand in the Narthex among the acolytes and choir members, that the cataclysmic Spirit of God just might thunder into our sanctuary, cracking open our familiar and comforting practices, and change the very lives of the people to whom we minister? How often do we trust that someone might be healed, that someone might be saved? How often do we trust our own ability to be the lighting rod to God’s presence and touch?

I ask these questions that we might stop and consider for a moment our visceral responses to the diversity of Christian practices. For just as worship that invites an emotional response from the congregation can be turned toward manipulation, worship that proceeds “by the book” can turn toward idolatry. Both traditions require leadership that is faithful and honest: that does not run rampant with the power of the pastor, and does not become convinced that our pageantry can control a living God.

Riverside is in a Holy Chaos. Letters are written, conversations are whispered, arms are crossed. It’s hard to accept change. It’s also hard to accept that you might not be the one in control. I know what it’s like to be convinced that if you do everything right, have everything just so, say the right thing at the right moment, God will smile and nod and say “well done.” But that’s simply not the case. While we’re fussing over the linens, over getting things right, God is sitting in a chair in the back of the room, wondering when we’re going to start listening to her. Just stop. And listen. And pray. That’s all she wants.

Emily M. D. Scott is a lay liturgist and an Episcopalian. She is currently the Director of Worship at The Riverside Church in New York City, and the founder of a budding church called St. Lydia’s, which meets weekly in Manhattan. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and the Institute of Sacred Music.

Traditions ripe for revival

By Martin Smith

A surprise parcel arrived. A friend had been clearing out drawers and had found a stole I had woven years ago. Would I like to have this memento from the old days? Just smelling the wool brought about a flashback from that time when I was a new immigrant to the States. I’d taken a retreat day in a cabin in the woods, and as night came I found myself utterly awake. A strange feeling came upon me that I must get up again and make up the fire to wait for a visitation—but for what? I found myself pushing the furniture against the walls to clear the floor. And then something strange happened to me. I started to dance, and the dancing took on a life of its own. Or rather, it was my life that was being danced. I realized as the hours wore on that my entire life-story was dancing itself out. It must have been well into the small hours of the morning before I caught up with the present. By the glow of the now sunken fire, I sank exhausted onto the bed and slept the deepest sleep.

It was something of a revelation. A physically awkward intellectual, my experience of dancing was restricted to rare tortuous efforts which ballroom dancing classes at school had only taught me to dread. But apparently my body knew my life story better than my head, and it had to find a way to express itself through dancing.

Since then, I have had a strong sense that movement is more of a royal road to awareness and spiritual transformation than we imagine. I had struck the bedrock of human religious experience. Human beings danced themselves into spiritual awareness long before language emerged. Ritual is primal. Doctrine is a latecomer. I wonder whether as the implications of post-modernity gradually sink in we might realize just how alienated we are from our bodies in the religiosity our very recent ancestors invented. In the modern mutation of Christianity we assume that we think and argue ourselves into change. This Christianity stuck in its head is the one that called down the indictment summed up in the phrase that echoes in the Marabar caves in E.M. Forster’s Passage to India—“Poor talkative Christianity!”

I wonder whether I’ll live to see a really widespread renewal of true ritual movement, in which ordinary Christians discover freedom from the constraints imposed by the wooden cages we call pews. Two of the most primal avenues for creating transformative communities that celebrate the Great Mystery we call God are chanting and ritual movement, and scientists are now discovering the actual neurological mechanisms that explain why both open human beings up to enlarged experience. There are signs that chant is re-emerging, not least due to the widespread influence of the Taize community. And there are pioneering efforts here and there for restoring sacred dance and movement to the whole body of worshippers, such as the fascinating experiments of St Gregory Nyssen Church in San Francisco.

One of the challenges of post-modern spirituality is losing our fear of ancient traditions that are ripe for revival because they embody innate wisdoms that modernity repressed. Sometimes the chances of revival seem far fetched. I remember taking part in 1974 in a very profound retreat based on the Labyrinth. What a rare topic it seemed, and how skeptically we would have greeted any prediction that by 2008, this ritual of meditative movement would have sprung back into life all over the world!

I’ve used a processional dance in worship based on one that has survived in the pilgrimage church in Echternach, Germany. The dance involves taking five steps forward and then three steps back. It’s pointless to explain to people ahead of time the transforming insight that can only emerge from personal experiment. But the congregations’ puzzled, rueful and then delightful smiles eloquently expressed the felt sense that such a dance tells certain truths about our exploration into God and our life stories that the linear progress of regular church processions can’t. Life involves setback after setback, they belong to the sacred rhythm!

Perhaps sometime in the future the church will challenge the disembodied virtual world into which millions are losing themselves with a new sacramental physicality that welcomes people to be more emotionally available to one another and to God in the direct flesh and blood, face to face, arm in arm experience of community. I hope to see a new wave of delight in the gospel of Incarnation to wash away tired doubt. Dance and movement are sure to be at the heart of renewed practices of community. Dear God, we celebrate at Christmas that the Word was made flesh, and we have spent so much effort resisting the mystery by turning holy flesh back into words.

Martin Smith is well-known in the Episcopal Church and beyond as a priest, writer, preacher and leader of retreats. Through such popular works as A Season for the Spirit and The Word is Very Near You and in numerous workshops, lectures and retreats, he continues to explore a contemporary spirituality that encourages a lively conversation between new knowledge and the riches of tradition.

Yes, young people do like traditional liturgy

By Luiz Coelho

I can still remember quite vividly the Saturday before the end of the Lambeth Conference, where I served as a steward. We were invited to a special plenary session at which bishops and their spouses had the opportunity to talk to some of us concerning why we, as young people, still wanted to be members of the Church (In fact, my estimate is that around half of us are following the ordination path and most of the others are actively involved in some sort of Church ministry). It is no secret that churches in general (especially in Western societies) are increasingly losing members of young age, and I could understand that for many of those bishops, it was very vital to hear the voice of the those young women and men who seemed to be so proud of their faith. Maybe what they had to say would help them rescue the unchurched and provide stable growth to their dioceses.

We had, unfortunately, very little time, and only four stewards (out of almost sixty) were chosen to speak for us. They did a good job, but some points, in my opinion, were not touched at all. And since I am in my late twenties, and can still be considered a young adult, I think it would be a good idea to push this conversation forward and foster a discussion on one of the aspects I see young adults articulating more and more interested in: traditional liturgy. And, I fear, many of our bishops have not realized the incredible potential behind this single fact.

The Lambeth Stewards' Program helped me catch a glimpse of Anglican Youth worldwide. We came from many different countries, backgrounds and social statuses, and we comprised two main generational groups (18-25 and 25-35). However, I noticed that many of us shared a very distinct appreciation for traditional liturgy. Moreover, a disproportional percentage among us -if compared with the amount of parishes compatible with such worldviews- were especially fond of Anglo-Catholic liturgy and ancient Church Music. Yes, I know many probably think we were just “Church nerds”, but these numbers match somehow the data I had before from Episcopal/Anglican youth both in Brazil and in the USA.

What I perceive more and more is that a sizable amount (and in some environments, the majority) of us prefers “old-fashioned” liturgy, and it is not rare to find youth discussing the beauty of an east-facing Mass, the dignifying simplicity of Anglican chant or the pity that Festal Evensong is almost unheard of nowadays. It may also come as a surprise for some to learn that such an interest in traditional liturgical matters is not necessarily attached to conservatism. In fact, among young adults it usually holds hands with an inclusive and socially liberal, yet credal, theology. Even in the few cases where I have ran into theologically conservative and liturgically traditionalist young Anglicans, they have seemed to me to be much more charitable to divergent ideas and more apt to accepting diversity, or even a peaceful co-existence in different Churches, or Church bodies.

One reason behind the popularity of this “movement” among young people is simple, and Derek Olsen beautifully opened the discussion here. I would add a second thought, though; many young Anglicans are attracted to traditional liturgical forms because they offer stability. We have been born in a fast-paced world, and in a short period of time have seen the rise and fall of countries, regimes, technologies, musical styles, fashion trends and even Church movements. At the same time, most of the cultural norms our mothers and fathers fought to liberalize do not apply to us anymore, and only God knows how they are going to be within some years. The world is freer, and it is changing so fast that sometimes it seems to be in a free-fall. The Church, to many of us, is the last glimpse of stability that exists in this post-modern society, and the certainty that its language has managed to be the same for all these years is a key factor for two reasons (among several):

- First, it puts us in an (even more) special relationship with the Communion of Saints, who throughout the ages have used the same responses, anthems and hymns to worship the Triune God;

- Second, because it is a wonderful metaphor of God's unchanging love and care for humankind. No matter what happens – hunger, fear, war, depression or loneliness – the Church, our safe refuge, will be there with a very familiar and easily recognizable embrace expressed in its magnificent and Christ-centered liturgy.

A year ago I had long, straight and dark brown hair. Eventually I had it cut at a very nice salon in Midtown Atlanta, and got a spiky longish bang, with copper brown highlights. Some months later, while in Rio, I had it cut again, and now I walk around with this funky faux-hawk which puzzles people when they see me – “I know him from somewhere, but I can't remember who he is...” I was different, but my home parish, the Church of the Redeemer in Rio, was the same when I went there after months in the US. It had the same smell of incense permeating the air, the same red old carpet spanning across the aisle, the same velvet curtains, and even the same 15-minute delay which is so common in Brazil. I opened the same blue 1962 hymnal and was blessed by having my favorite hymn, number 238, as sequence (lyrics by a deceased Brazilian priest, based on the icon of Christ in Majesty, adapted to the tune Kingsfold). I knelt and received the Most Holy Sacrament. They were singing Pange Lingua and, of course, I cried (as usual). It is impossible not to. That was home; that was my family in Christ. Yes, I changed; the people in that church also changed; even the priest changed... but those special moments did not. They reassured me of Christ's eternal love and majesty, the same way they did to me one year ago, to my relatives decades ago, and to the uncountable brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages.

What would my reaction have been if I had been presented to a completely different liturgy, with elements from the so-called “pop culture” such as a rock band, drums or new age music? What if the solid and still stable pews had been removed and substituted by folding chairs arranged in a totally different pattern? What if the hymnal, which consolidates centuries of good and theologically profound Church music, had been substituted by the newest folk songs du jour, which are likely not to be known ten years from now? What if my referential, one of the few stable elements of my world, had completely changed? I guess it would have been a calamity to me.

Yet, this is probably the most often heard “solution” for the “problem” of declining youth attendance in our Church.

Personally, I do not think that many kinds of alternative worship -provided it has a good theological background and is offered with a contrite heart- are inferior in God's sight to traditional liturgy. I even enjoy some of the more “contemporary” liturgies under certain circumstances (such as camps or retreats). I respect those who have found their way with Christ through such liturgical styles, and wholeheartedly support the existence of such groups in Anglicanism, provided they somehow find a way of keeping the common prayer tradition and abide by our doctrines of faith and Church governance. And I can say that many young people agree with me in those points, and that, yes, there are youth involved in those “contemporary” groups.

However, this is not what all young people expect from Church, and I am afraid that many of us are looking for something much more ancient and rich in historical heritage. Can I cite statistics? No, I do not have them, but of course I am a young adult, and naturally I hang out with young people and most of my friends are in the 20-40 age range. This is a very eclectic generation, in my opinion, and it is not rare to find people who can appreciate both hard rock and Gregorian chant, pierced noses and traditional albs, green-dyed hair and fine frankincense. Some of these tastes will not last more than one season; others will stay forever. But very often, we foresee the Church in this second group.

I do recognize that in many aspects, the Church has changed in a good way in the last forty years. Liturgically speaking, some important steps were taken. The Holy Eucharist became central in our Church's spiritual life, liturgies became more sensitive to cultural settings, we have improved lectionaries and laity have become more involved in liturgical life. The problem, however, is that such advances (which in many cases are curiously a return to very ancient principles) not rarely were accompanied by an extreme iconoclasm towards simple liturgical and architectural elements that were not bad per se, and if properly used, could perfectly remain in association with the aforementioned advances (provided those simple liturgical forms are not ‘dumbed-down and condescending as if only priests can think about theological matters). All of a sudden, though, rood screens, east-facing high altars, the act of kneeling (and sometimes the actual kneelers), some musical instruments, traditional chant, and even the Prayer Book format (among so many other things) were equated to the antichrist, and considered the source of all evil in the Church. Here and there, they were practically erased from ecclesial daily life, perhaps in a faster way than the liturgical changes happened during the Reformation.

I understand, however, that all of that was a response to the plea of a previous generation which was suffocated by the evil side of traditionalism, and needed to foster changes in a world that did not want to look forward. Forty years later, however, we are still caught by some of the same questions: “How to attract youth? How to create liturgies that are meaningful to newer generations? How to reinvigorate the Church?” My response to that would be that we went too far in some reforms (mostly liturgical ones) and maybe restoring some of the icons we as a Church broke, allied with the empowerment of youth in the life of the Church would be a great start in attempting to attract some people of my age.

Do not get me wrong, though. I am not advocating any kind of Church-enforced obligatory implementation of solemn high masses. But yes, maybe some communities which would be willing to give it a try should do it sometimes. But do not stop there! Please, allow youth to do something and literally join this stable tradition of the Church. I am pretty sure that many secretly want to swing the thuribles, organize a choir, read the lessons, chant the prayers of the people, lead Evening Prayer or help with Sunday School and Church committees (including the liturgy one). Very often, such positions, which could be shared with – or passed to – youth and young adults, are not. And yes, please try traditional liturgy. Many young people want it, but much more importantly, they want to help make it happen.

Let me end with a final and curious note. Lambeth stewards were awarded with the possibility of organizing a special mass for us and staff people at the Canterbury Cathedral's crypt. With such an astonishing location and so many liturgical resources, we did our best. Most of us had the opportunity of doing something, whether it was reading a lesson, an intercession, serving as an acolyte, playing the organ or joining the choir. We rehearsed for one week “If ye love me” by Tallis (which was our Communion hymn), celebrant and servers wore a lovely set of silky red vestments and clouds of incense filled that sacred space, as it has been, is now and will be forever.

It was the only service with incense during the Conference, by the way.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

The oscular cross, and other gestures

By Derek Olsen

A New Gesture: As a liturgy geek with Anglo-Catholic leanings, I’ve seen and done more liturgical gestures than can easily be numbered. Yet, in the past few months I’ve discovered another. Since it is—to the best of my knowledge—unclassified, I’ll give it a name: the oscular cross. It’s a rather peculiar gesture that involves making the sign of the cross with the first two fingers of the right hand while simultaneously sucking the right thumb. While I’ve not seen it in Ritual Notes or any other liturgical guide, I have an extraordinarily good vantage for observing it; it’s the sign my newly-five-year old daughter makes as she leans her head on my shoulder while I hold her during the Eucharistic prayer. At the various points in the prayer when I lean my head down and whisper “Cross yourself…’ she’ll obediently perform the oscular cross.

It’s also been spotted at bed-time. As we begin the Song of Simeon (the Nunc Dimittis), the oscular cross once again makes an appearance. I have yet to determine if it is a characteristic gesture of a certain age-set, but I’m not yet sure; rather than the oscular cross, my two-year old daughter makes a motion—thumb free from mouth—that resembles swatting a cloud of mosquitoes that have descended all over her upper body.

The appearance of the oscular cross has led me to consider the faith of children, formation, and the Anglican way of being. Let me hasten to add that I’m no child psychologist, no decades-tested Christian educator, and I’m producing no glossy-covered book guaranteeing simple steps to producing a Christ-centered child. But I am a daddy. I do care deeply and passionately about my little girls, and about the ways they think, feel, and live. I have found hope, joy, and solace in my faith—I want nothing less for them. So I present no answers, but more a random assemblage of field-notes on raising up Anglicans.

On Bed-Time Prayers: A common part of Christian family culture is the bedtime prayer ritual. I remember caring for a clergy couple’s children a few years ago, and the look of shock and horror on the young faces when I forgot bedtime prayers. My elder was still non-verbal at that time, but the episode jolted me to an awareness that it was time to consider the concept in earnest! Raised Presbyterian and Lutheran respectively, my wife and I grew up with prayers, but our household spirituality is very much shaped by the disciplines of fixed prayer and the rhythms of the Anglican Daily Office, disciplines we’d like to instill in our children as well. If only there were a trial-size version of the Daily Office, suitable for children and others with short attention spans! …And it turns out, there is. The “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families” begins on page 136 of your BCP; prayers “At the Close of Day” can be found on page 140. These quickly became our standard prayers.

I’ve seen other options—we’ve got other options on our children’s shelves: books with little prayers helpfully illustrated by picture of cute little sheep and all. We opted out of those for two main reasons. First, the theology of many was rather questionable. If I don’t like a prayer’s theology, why would I teach it to my children? Second, I have a predisposed bias against worship dumbed-down. Prayer, worship, is formational. What we say, how we pray, shapes how we think about and feel towards God. It forms us into Christian patterns of being. I had initial fears that perhaps the prayers were “too advanced” but I felt confirmed in our approach when, at the age of three, our eldest could repeat the entire office from memory—and would often insist on chanting parts of it as well!

Does she understand what everything means? No, not yet—but it’s fascinating to see flashes of insight when an epiphany occurs, one made possible by her memorization. We were driving in the car one day and prompted by both the church service we’d left and the Linkin Park lyrics on the radio, she asked, “Daddy, what’s ‘mercy’?” After I’d finished choking on my coffee, I tried to give her a short answer to a big concept and found assistance by referring to those prayers that she already knew. Looking in the rearview mirror, I saw a flash of insight in her eyes that would have been impossible without her prayer formation.

On Kids in Church: My wife and I believe that, generally, kids understand the messages we adults send and are taught about us and our world by what they see us do. The practice of Children’s Church is a contested topic in our house. We can see some utility for it, but, at the end of the day I believe it communicates to children that the adults don’t want them in their service. If we teach them we don’t want them there—they’ll learn it and may never come back. As a result, we’ve had a policy of having our eldest daughter in church since she was born.

Since my wife is priest, that means that I’ve had the role of dealing with our elder daughter, trying to keep her focused—or at least quiet—in the service since she was born. I focus on quiet because children can be disruptive to the rest of the congregation, and that needs to be taken seriously. At the same time, a quietly cooing and giggling baby is not an offense in my book. The only way to learn how to behave in church is to be there. However, I always sat with an eye to the quick escape where I could remove her if she got truly disruptive.

A few Atlanta congregations remember me as the guy who stood at the back of the church swinging a baby carrier like a censer to lull the little one back to sleep. As she got older, she’d let me know what she wanted. Sometimes during a sermon (or even after the first lesson) she’d simply get up, head out of the pew, and take off for the back of the church to wander around outside. I quickly learned to follow along; the alternative was a messy meltdown.

Now that she’s older still and a newly-minted five-year old, I again choose our seating with care. Now we sit as close to the front as practically possible so she can see what’s going on, often in the first couple of pews. I formerly fretted about the time she spent doodling on pew cards, flipping through books, or coloring sheets rather than “paying attention” but time has taught me to not be concerned. Once after a game of “church” (oh yes, she gathers her mother, sister, and a flock of invisible friends for church complete with hymns, a sermon, and Eucharist) my wife came to me with wonder in her eyes. “She knows the Eucharistic prayer! Not word for word, but just now, she went through virtually the whole thing.” Let’s just say: she didn’t pick it up from Children’s Church…

You may have noticed, however, a certain silence about my younger daughter… That’s because currently while her elder sister comes with me, the younger goes to the nursery. I feel a little bit badly about that, like I’m letting her down, but I know the alternative. I’m just one man and the two sisters together inspire far more mayhem than the two sisters apart. It might be different if my wife were next to me rather than up front, but on the occasions we’ve had a chance to try it—the results weren’t pretty. I’d end up taking the younger out to wander the narthex anyway. Every once in a while, as she matures, we give it a try. Maybe in a few more months (or another year) it’ll be more possible. Until then, for the elder’s sake, for my sake, for the congregation’s sake, it’s the nursery for her.

On Providing Examples: Children learn things that we teach them, but even more than that, they absorb things from their environment—and I don’t just mean a church service environment. They learn our values by gauging what activities they see us do and not do. Once our younger daughter was “helping” us clean up our room by moving a pile of belongings to wherever she thought they belonged. I was both amazed and gratified when she toddled over to me, said: “Daddy book!” and thrust my Daily Office book into my hands. She sees me with it. Maybe not every day, maybe not as constantly as I’d wish, but she knows it’s a part of who I am and what I do.

I’ve seen studies and heard research about attendance patterns in kids. One of the things that I keep hearing is that the children who tend to stay in church during and after high school, during and after college, are those who come from households where the father goes to church. It’s well-known anecdotally that more women go to church than men, and what I take away from this is that it’s families that are engaged in the faith that have the best shot at raising faithful children. Families these days are complicated. Shape, size, format, we recognize that many configurations exist besides the 1950’s nuclear family. When children can see their family—no matter its structure—taking faith seriously, they will learn that it is something to take seriously.

Call for Help: So what do you do? What have you tried? How are your experiences partially—or maybe completely—different from mine? As I’ve said before, I know for sure that I’m no expert, but I’d like to start a conversation about children and faith and more particularly, children and the Anglican way of learning Christ. What do your field-notes look like? Let’s compare!

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.

Liturgy, culture and transcendence

By Adrian Worsfold

On Friday 7 March, the small market town of Barton-upon-Humber had a special event. Its now-disused, once Anglican, church was used again, on a one-off basis, to host a Requiem Eucharist for the return (as promised thirty years back) of many human bones dug up for research. They had come back, with skulls downstairs and the rest upstairs, all in individual boxes, resting in an ossuary made where the organ used to be and accessed from where the vestry used to be. The church is historic and has origins in the Anglo-Saxon period, the time when the incoming population that was to become English removed the population that was Celtic, the Celts (crudely speaking) moving to Wales and Cornwall and Cumbria - out of the way.

Until the 1970s the Barton-upon-Humber Anglican congregation oscillated between St Mary's and St Peter's, these two churches being quite close together. Then St Mary's was chosen for all the worship, the organ removed from St Peter's and placed in St. Mary's. English Heritage took over St Peter's and it is now, in effect, a museum to religion and death.

You can read the service on my website, in the Spiritual Area at Anglican Worship, and you can access via my weblog as well. The service was unique, with special permission to use the first English Prayer Book of 1549, but refused for the Eucharist itself, which came from 1662. All of the Bible readings came from 1611, the Authorised Version. All the music was along the lines of plainsong. The altar table used was at the wrong end for a change, the end it would have been at originally; however, prayers to the dead were said near to the bones at the eastern end, and that final altar table received its share of incense too.

There was wide media coverage, and a local arts centre, itself a museum to ropemaking, videotaped the whole service. So a reasonable number of people turned out to the service, and the usual rules were applied to who could communicate (basically of any mainstream Church - in practice, personal conscience).

Three clerics delivered the words of the service in the most professional manner, as did the choir, and all others involved, and the whole entity was smooth. The language was long and involved, but it worked and was, to my mind, more spiritual than Common Worship (2000), which is used for all but Evensongs for liturgical services at St Mary's.

Yet... Despite the fact that it was this full experience, and as good a worship as you could give and receive, and was intended to be (and indeed was) living, it struck me that it was, now, an entirely self-contained museum. It was internally consistent, but was its own self-contained and complete bubble.

I don't dislike Common Worship (2000), the liturgy for now, and St Mary's is able to do a great deal with it. The church has the human resources available to produce high quality worship. Not everywhere can these days - far from it. Yet whilst the language in Common Worship has been brought up to date, it still represents a feudal and agricultural world of some other time. Its thought forms are not updated at all. Indeed because the language is modern, but its world is not, it kind of lives in a limbo of no-time. So whereas the service of 1549, 1611 and 1662 was consistent in itself, the service via Common Worship is a bit of a dog's breakfast of form and meaning.

I came to the view some time back that there probably is no solution to this. I used to be Unitarian and wrote much of my own worship - and I presented worship too. Since being Anglican I have become a participant but rarely design or present anything (I have, but very occasionally). Even in a Unitarian setting, where you could start with a blank sheet, religion was constructed from the objects of glass cases in a museum. All the words with resonances gain a legitimacy and authority from the past. Sociologists call it invented tradition: just like an Anglo Catholicism that gives the impression it has been around forever when in fact it appeared in Victorian times because it wanted to distance itself from the State and the secular thought-world. Another example is neo-Paganism, which even more so reinvents the past as a way of creating a religion for feminism and the symbolic in an age of networks and relative freedom against hierarchy. Much of British royalty is simply a Victorian invention of pageantry that gave it a renewed authority.

Another example was being told that this worship was a thousand years old, and that we would see nothing like it for another thousand years. Well of course it was not a thousand years old, and it was constructed, and its effect was in the present. Who knows what the bones thought of the Lord's Prayer read in Anglo-Saxon and in Latin. The living presumably experienced it not unlike the monoglot English people in Cornwall when the Lord's Prayer was read in Cornish at a service attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury some years back.

Somehow, liturgy is condemned to be out of date, old, and of a mythic past. Out of this comes a sense of transcendence, a mystical, ineffable, sense of floating gift, by which we can come together more and have a new attitude in one's step and underline the ethical way we should reach out to one another.

One of the difficulties in Anglicanism today is that for many this simply is not good enough. It is not good enough to recreate and indulge to release a sense of transcendence. Like early scientism, it all has to be believed as true. The Archbishop of Canterbury in his Advent Letter last year told us there is but one way to read the Bible according to how some Anglican Churches expect of all others - meaning the demands of the most literalist and magic-bound. There is this drive for selective literalism, signs and wonders and all sorts of godly interventions out of the sky. Others, for whom the world is a little more ordinary and regular, are accused of inventing a virtually new religion, as stated by the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester (England) last year.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm probably guilty of this, though many in leadership seem terribly constrained and display their obedience of the boundaries. Many people now on both sides of the pond seem to be frightened. But I don't care. The Sunday following the service to mark the return of the bones was also, for us, a Sunday of readings about bones putting on skin and living, which is ridiculous as any sort of biology or history, and about a person, still bound up, who presumably woke up to the light of a removed stone and waddled his way out of his tomb entrance before others took away all the bindings, which is equally ridiculous to any biology or history and produced - in my head at least - a bizarre imagery. To me this is theological writing of an embellishment linking Jesus's ministry to a central resurrection belief.

I spoke to a Barton lass (all her life in the town), who I've known since 1994, on the afternoon of the big Friday Requiem event. Like so many, she dismissed religion and she also has little time for history. That's why only a reasonable crowd was there. The town did not descend on the event. Somehow religion functions by suggesting a mythic past, using the means of a past world's thought processes, to produce a sense of transcendence and ethics that we can but puzzle about. Most people these days now find (or do not find) their ethics directly, but I suppose I am an odd one out who in my virtual religion prefers to draw on the artistic, the shapely and the reflective in spending a few moments thinking about past worlds and this world in which I live (for a short time) and wondering how I should be in the company of others.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.


By Melody Shobe

There is no question about it; the Episcopal Church has a “lingo.” We have almost as many acronyms as the United States government, from LEM (Lay Eucharistic Minister) to EYC (Episcopal Youth Community). We like to give perfectly ordinary things new and complicated names. The church’s lobby becomes the “narthex.” An ordinary plate, when it is put on the altar, becomes a “paten.” And, let’s be honest, our liturgy has the tendency to get fairly wordy. I doubt that most college graduates could explicate the phrase from our Eucharistic liturgy “…who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world…” I have trouble on Sundays reading it aloud without garbling the words, let alone attempting to break apart the syntax and meaning. In fact, we have so many special words and terms that Don Armentrout and Robert Slocum have published a 578-page book of them: An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians.

There is a part of me that worries about the impact of all of these words and terms on our identity as a church. Is it helpful to tell a newcomer to the church that there is coffee in the narthex, if they don’t know what a narthex is? Our church websites and printed mission statements may proclaim that we are an “open community” that we “welcome all” or that we “reach out” to those outside our walls, but is that reflected in our language? What does is say about our church that you might need a 578 page dictionary to understand what goes on during worship? How many of the people in our pews week in and week out actually understand many of the words we are using?

These are important questions that remind us of the need to continually reexamine our words, and see which of them are inviting and which are exclusionary. And yet, while I wonder about the impact our sometimes obtuse language might have on visitors, I also have a deep attachment to our exalted language and wordy liturgy. I am, without question, a word person. I love the way that some of the beautiful words of our liturgy embrace mystery and poetry. The words of this church, for all the baggage that they might carry, are a vehicle through which I experience the holy. Somehow, if I let them, words like “salvation,” “incarnation,” “grace,” and “hospitality” speak a truth of my soul that can’t be captured any other way. As Kathleen Norris said in her book Amazing Grace, “our words are wiser than we are.”

Words are not idle things, especially not in Christianity. We believe in a God who came to us as “the Word made flesh;” a God who empowers and indwells the words that we use in ways beyond our comprehension. And thus I think that the answer to our vocabulary difficulty is not to eschew the words of our faith that are difficult or confusing, but to explore them. As individuals and as a community, we need to take the time to sink in to our words, to see what they say for and about us.

The Rev. Melody Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.

A varied liturgical portfolio

By Margret Hjalmarson

At St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Reston, Va., we are pretty proud of being a welcoming, inclusive community. To that end, we’ve created a diverse portfolio of services to accommodate a variety of tastes, generations, and time slots. We have a 7:45 a. m. Rite I with no music service, a 9:00 a. m. Rite II service, and a 5:00 p. m. contemporary, Come as You Are service.

Sunday School for the kids happens around the 9:00 a. m. and the service includes a mix of
traditional hymns, gospel and contemporary music. We have just been re-vamping our 11:15 a. m. service to add more traditional Anglican music (think chanting, a professional
organist, and choir robes). All this diversity means we have a wide range of age groups
and people represented on any given Sunday.

For a few years, the 11:15 didn’t have much music. Attendance was waning. Energy was
lacking. But, we noticed that we got a lot of newcomers at 11:15 and then they moved to
9:00 (where the all the action was in the morning). So, we struggled for a long time
about what to do. We talked about reggae, jazz, theme services, and folk services.

The rector wrestled with what to do with 11:15 and the need for an identity for the service. I began to call it “7:45 for people who like to read the newspaper and drink a cappuccino on Sunday before church.” It was definitely quieter than 9:00 where all the kids were. It was filling a need, but we had some trouble pinning down how to capitalize on what people wanted from 11:15 to keep them coming to it. We also know that we are an exciting, dynamic church and the service was not giving that impression to newcomers.

Then, the music director got energized at a conference over the summer about doing
traditional Anglican music. When the rector first told me this was the plan, I said
something like “we’ve been hearing that people think 11:15 is boring so we’re adding stuffy music and chanting?” with a quizzical raise of the eyebrows.

However, I’m now convinced this was the right choice because it rounds out the portfolio. A few people have said to me, “You know we got started in a coffee house in the 1970s and people would have left the church a few years ago if we had purchased choir robes.” I then quote Bob Dylan and say “the times they are a-changin.’” The 11:15 has been re-energized. This is particularly important since it is the entry point for many of our newcomers including folks who want something a little more peaceful and reflective with music. By going back to our Anglican roots, we are going forward. If we believe that diversity is good in terms of the people who come in the door, then we need diverse ways for those people to worship.

Can we keep what was good about the coffee house and still have choir robes? Yes. We can. Inclusion means not just welcoming all people, but welcoming new ways of doing things. We’ve welcomed a new way of worship (for us) back into the Sunday line-up. We still have a coffee house feel at 5:00 where the sermon is a dialogue, communion happens in a circle around the altar, and the jazz trio plays after the service during wine and cheese hour. But, we can also be a church that has Rite I and Anglican chanting. These are all ways we encounter God and worship together on a Sunday. More importantly, we are expanding our opportunities for inclusion and recognizing the opportunities that diversity brings.

Margret Hjalmarson is senior warden at St. Anne’s, Reston. She is an assistant professor in mathematics education at George Mason University, and blogs at Progressive Pragmatist.

"Public work" at Ground-Zero

By Donald Schell

For two wonderful days at the beginning of this month, I helped lead a workshop on Music that Makes Community at St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church Wall Street, the colonial church that fronts on Broadway and whose churchyard faces the World Trade Center/Ground Zero site. Sunday after the workshop I sat in the congregation at St. Paul’s for their 10 a.m. liturgy. It was one of the most powerful experiences of our church’s work and worship I have ever had. The murmur of visitors, the impossibility of handling four to five hundred pilgrims an hour with greeters, the pilgrims themselves finding their own way and having their own private reasons for their visit all destroyed any hope that the church could be a place of seclusion, refuge or pious meditation. This was the great work of the church, the public work of liturgy.

When I first visited St. Paul’s in the late 1960’s, it was essentially a museum, George Washington’s Church in New York City. The stunning human losses of 9/11 changed that beyond recognition. When Trinity’s staff saw that St. Paul’s Chapel was undamaged by the fiery collapse of the twin towers next door, they boldly chose to dedicate the historic chapel for the duration of demolition and recovery as a holy place of hospitality to the New York firemen, police, and construction workers at the Ground Zero site. Trinity staff and hundreds of volunteer chaplains from around the country offered rest, comfort, counsel and help for those whose brutal work was combing through hot rubble for genetically identifiable fragments of the dead that grieving family members might bury.

Trinity’s hospitality to a nation’s heroes made St. Paul’s a pilgrimage site. Something like a million and a half visitors a year - imagine an unbroken stream of 400 strangers an hour - wander through to remember, see and reflect on 9/11 displays. As at the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington D.C., some do come to pray, but few kneel or make any outward show. Others seem to be tourists, muted tourists who want to include this bit of history in their trip and tell people at home, ‘I was there.’

For any who remember the pre- 9/11 St. Paul’s and haven’t been there recently, I should add that less than a year ago, Stuart Hoke and the other Trinity staff took another bold step to make the chapel’s welcome more evident – hoping to gather people into a circle of prayer, they removed the long forward-facing pews from the 1960’s to make space for a barrier-free oval of chairs around a central altar. St. Paul’s website has a good slide show picturing the changes and giving its rationale at

Twenty of us, clergy and church music leaders from around the country gathered in this open space round the table for our workshop to talk, and reflect and make music, specifically developing a practice of the most traditional and modern kind of church music – singing we learn by ear and by heart, singing without books. All day our workshop sessions, our worship and even our mid-day meal was at the center of a swirling sea of people, all of America, the world. When we were singing we could feel the music touch them (and sometimes we forgot they were there and lost ourselves in music-making and praise). Sometimes we saw curiosity, joy or even healing on people’s faces. It came in swells, both for us and in their response. Sometimes they walked with their backs to us, continuing their quiet murmur of background conversation as they surveyed the 9/11 displays and the story of workers and a city who turned the terrorist attack into a sign of mutual support and courage. Then a piece of sacred song, something hearty or haunting, maybe some improvised bluesy jazz on a text from the Bible, or even our laughter at a shared discovery, something drew their attention and they were with us in church – both the community of people and the place of worship. So it went all day, hundreds of people an hour and flashes of grace and glory as our little group joined our Public Work to Trinity’s.

In the evening I thought of how strangely intimate and public the days were. Trying to describe our experience on the phone to my wife, I said it felt like street preaching on Times Square, or maybe like participating in a life drawing class with a nude model in the main rotunda of the Metropolitan Museum. We were aiming for truthfulness and Gospel, but we were unequivocally doing intimate, heart work, speaking and singing our faith, in a very public place. The work itself guided us from our fear and self-consciousness.

Even two full days of our workshop didn’t prepare me for the joyful wonder of 10 a.m. liturgy in this place of pilgrimage. I sat in the third or fourth row of the oval seats so I could both join in and watch the congregation and the pilgrims on the perimeter. The busses don’t stop just because it’s Sunday, and as a worshipper and part of a larger, more diffuse group, I felt the strangeness (and joy) of it very strongly. We were a hundred or so people, a solid, diverse congregation, and we were together in faith, in prayer as publicly as if we’d made our circle in Grand Central Station.

Marilyn Haskel, the musician, offered us welcome, guided us through the service leaflet, got us singing with piano and a capella and encouraged us. The Rev. Mark Bozzuti-Jones, a Jamaican Anglican priest new to Trinity’s staff presided and preached his first liturgy at St. Paul’s. His sermon and the way he engaged us all was breath taking, bold and comforting, confrontive and sweet. And even as he drew our hearts into the center of the circle to hold one another in our reflection on scripture, he might generously, and without the least notice, lob a word or prayers over our heads to the sea of pilgrims.

The liturgy was an even stronger magnet than the music workshop. Strangers slipped into the circle to join us. Many stopped to listen and pray and seemed to wish they could linger longer. A few seemed perplexed to hear a Gospel of such forgiveness, inclusion and challenge. Many blessed themselves with a touch of water from the front.

I wish everyone thinking about inclusion and welcome in our church could spend a Sunday with St. Paul’s, Manhattan. Having experienced it as a blessed and unequivocal Public Work, I don’t think our liturgy will ever look the same to me again.

Public work, as it turns out, may be a better translation of ‘liturgy’ than the ‘public work’ I learned in seminary in the 1960’s. In the 1960’s and 70’s our church was beginning to make our liturgy shared, collaborative work in new ways. ‘The work of the people’ was a useful etymology. It turned our attention to from the priest’s performance to what WE were making together.

Now friends who teach liturgics and history have been telling us that leitourgia (‘liturgy’) in the first century Mediterranean world was ‘public work,’ more like we think of with a DPT, Department of Public Works making or fixing a road or a bridge. In fact in the ancient world public work often referred to the generous works of public-minded rich people, like the medieval queen of Spain who built a bridge at Puente la Reyna for the pilgrims walking to Santiago or like Andrew Carnegie building libraries across America.

Today in 2007, we’ve found enough shared authority in liturgy-making to begin recovering this other, earlier sense of liturgy as work for or on behalf of the people. What we have to offer is holy, vibrant, and flexible enough that it can truly be public work. At St. Paul’s the ‘public work’ made very good sense. For me every question we can frame about welcoming strangers to liturgy will look different to me after three days of singing and praying at St. Paul’s Chapel.

The Rev. Donald Schell is founder St. Gregory's Episcopal Church, San Francisco and consultant and creative director of All Saints Company, San Francisco.

We never pray alone

By Derek Olsen

As a student of how the Scriptures have been interpreted through the ages, the reconstruction of early medieval liturgies is one of my tasks. And this task is much more complicated than it might first seem. One of my constant concerns arises from the basic technology of manuscripts—hand-written texts. The process of copying is never a simple one and scribes are sometimes known to be creative in curious ways… To make a long story short, the reality of copied manuscripts means that we can never properly speak in generalities about medieval this or that—we can only talk in terms of particulars. This is what the texts show us was done at a given place and a given time.

The manuscript technology problem wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the division of our sources. I’m never just trying to find one book. When I pull together the pieces of a tenth-century Mass, I need to collect materials from at least five different books! And, if I intend to construct a reasonable picture of the lengthy Night Office where the most liturgical exposure to Scripture occurred, I must consult no less than eight different kinds of sources, hoping and praying that I can draw together materials from roughly the same time and place that exist within the same strand of liturgical tradition.

It’s a complicated task: sacramentaries and tropers, antiphoners and collectors, each book having its own materials, its own internal logic and—quite often—no sign of how they are intended to relate one to another. As the liturgies proceed, sometimes a word or two scribbled in a margin will give me an indication of how a scribe thought the next portion of the liturgy will start, so I constantly scan the sides of pages looking, hoping, for clues. I breathe a sigh of relief as I move to later sources. Especially when dealing with materials from cathedrals or other communities of canons (non-monastic priests who lived in groups) the more I move into the eleventh century and beyond the more I find the fore-runners of today’s breviaries and missals where all of the texts are conveniently gathered into one place. It makes my job so much easier—but at the same time, I feel a note of sadness.

Why the multiplication of books? Why so many different pieces to juggle? The answer is actually quite simple. According to the early medieval scheme, each set of participants had their own book that contained the material they needed. So the celebrant would have his sacramentary, the cantor would have his troper, the choir, their gradual, the deacon his Gospel-book, and so on and so forth. Unlike me in my modern pew juggling a Book of Common Prayer, a hymnal or two, a service leaflet, (and a preschooler) trying to follow all of the parts at once, the liturgy flowed from part and section—going now to the cantor, then to the halves of the choir, passing to the celebrant, then to the choir once again—each liturgical actor having only the pieces they needed to perform their role in the grand dance of the liturgy.

And that’s why the breviaries and the missals make me sad.

They show a shift in the liturgical culture, a movement away from this vision of the whole community gathered in prayer together. The culture and piety of the eleventh and twelfth centuries began to move to individual priests praying masses and offices on their own. Architecturally, altars proliferated in cathedral sanctuaries and side-chapels, each a niche for a priest on his own. And, in so doing, something of the notion of “common prayer” was thereby diminished. Because, from that point, we had to remember rather than see one of the great truths about Christian liturgy.

One of the great liturgical truths is that when we pray, we never pray alone. Even when we are physically alone, our prayer is never solitary but is woven into the greater garland of unceasing prayer that surrounds the throne of God and of the Lamb, the chorus of—as the Book of Revelation shows us—the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, the choirs of angels, the great throng that none could number and, ultimately, every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the seas.

Speaking truthfully, our prayer, our praise, our worship, doesn’t truly begin or end; rather we simply rejoin ourselves to the hymn without end. Like the medieval books, all prayer is local prayer rooted in a particular time, a particular place, yet these prayers are the threads of sound in a greater tapestry that ascends to the Father of Lights, an offering of joy, of pain, of sorrow, and of hope. When I juggle my books in the sanctuary, when I sit with my daughters at bedtime, even when I sit in the early morning with breviary and Raisin Bran, I know I join in the greater liturgy even if I have to strain my eyes and tune my ears to hear it.

Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I need reminding—and the reminders are there. Sprinkled here and there in the liturgies themselves I find the reminders that even when I sing in the car on my commute I never sing alone. The Te Deum reminds me of the “the glorious company of the apostles,” “the goodly fellowship of the prophets,” “the noble army of martyrs” and I recollect and find myself in “the holy Church throughout all the world acclaiming.” Or I locate myself among the mountains and hills, the fruit trees and cedars, the creeping things and wingèd birds of the Psalter.

This is part of what the communion of saints communicates to me: the breadth, the depth, of our praise and worship of the ineffable, the Holy God. It’s what I find in the dusty books of monasteries long since perished and in the parishes down the street from my house. On the lips of my children, and scratched in rusty ink from stylus long since lain down. And the words of Fr. Franz’s hymn come back to my mind: “And from morn to set of sun/ Through the Church the song goes on…”

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.

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