FROM THE RECTOR: DIMINUTION
While away from the parish earlier this year, I ended up attending the main service of a significant urban Episcopal parish in a significant town. As I entered I was handed a bulletin that identified the service as “Holy Eucharist, Community & Song.” Before the service the celebrant spoke to us about the special service we would be having that day. We learned there had been a workshop the day before and that the content of the workshop would be shaping our morning worship. This announcement seemed to assume that everybody present knew and understood the parish’s liturgical traditions and customs. There was no acknowledgment that visitors might be present; it was very much what I call “club religion.”
The service began with “Gathering in Song.” The tune was beautiful and very singable; the text was short, just sixteen words. We sang until we were quiet and focused. That was lovely. But, I made it through the song only once: it wasn’t a Christian hymn. It wasn’t a hymn “authorized by this Church”; the words were not “congruent” with Scripture or the Prayer Book (The Book of Common Prayer , 14).
The text was labeled as a translation of “words by Hafiz” with no further identification. Well, though I didn’t know this particular text, I do know something about Hafiz (also spelled “Hafez”) because I studied Urdu in graduate school before seminary. He was a fourteenth-century Persian poet. To speak Urdu well is to know and quote, not only Urdu poetry, but also a great deal of Persian poetry. You can win an argument by quoting Hafiz correctly and on point. The text of the hymn is below. Hafiz is using mystical language here. It is unitive language, passionate language, and the language is lovely; but, from the point of view of Christian theology, this is not what God has revealed to us about himself. I trust you can spot the problem:
And God said, I am made whole by your life;
Every soul, every soul, completes me.
The God we proclaim never said this. In our tradition, God may complete us, but we do not complete God as we understand God. Thus, it did not really surprise me when I read in the bulletin insert:
Open Communion: From whatever tradition you come and wherever you are in your journey of faith, you are welcome at our table.
When I was ordained deacon in 1983 at Saint James Cathedral, Chicago, the seven of us ordinands had no part at all in the planning of the service. However, when I was ordained priest later that year I was ordained in the parish where I was serving in Dallas. I did have the opportunity to help plan that liturgy. In doing so I learned many things, one of which continues to bear fruit: when you bring people together from different congregations for worship, it is best to use familiar texts and hymns. This is a sensibility that is shared, it seems to me, by fewer and fewer members of the clergy and church musicians. This is not to say, however, that I resist all things new. For example, I enjoy learning new hymns—but I would normally only program one such hymn in any given liturgy. In other words, I try to give the hymn and us a chance to like each other.
I’m careful about using the Prayer Book and following the rules. Full disclosure: at Saint Mary’s there are a couple of exceptions to this practice. I realize that most Episcopalians don’t pray the Angelus in church; I know that most Episcopalians would not even know what Eucharistic Benediction is. And, we will be observe the Beheading of John the Baptist on Tuesday, August 29, even though it is not in our calendar. (After all, our resident sisters are from the Community of St. John Baptist.) I also know that rigid conformity to the present and previous Prayer Books is not possible—none of them is perfect. That said, what we lose when we discard our Prayer Book and Hymnal is the teaching contained in those books. We also begin to lose a sense that we are participating in a wider community that is being formed by and shares the same words and the same music.
For a while the Episcopal Church—was it in the late nineties?—was trying out a new tag line, “The Episcopal Church. We’re Here For You.” That language reminded me of the final scene in A Streetcar Named Desire when the ambulance and the men in white coats arrive to take Blanche Dubois away. The national church has gone back to “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” However, unlike the older signage, the new signs have the name of the parish between “church” and “welcomes.” The focus seems to be on the local community, at the expense of the larger church. It’s a subtle, but a significant change.
One of the great things about working at Saint Mary’s is that every week, and sometimes every day, I greet visitors who tell me that they are happy that they have joined us for worship. The building speaks powerfully to most who enter. Our services are conducted knowledgeably, and with care, by our priests and lay readers. The welcoming smiles of ushers and other members of the parish are an important witness. Here there’s been no diminution of “the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church”—to use a phrase which seems to have lost a lot of its meaning over the course of the years I’ve been ordained. I think what we do and offer invites us, and all who enter this church, into the worship of God. It all helps us on the journey of living, dying, and rising in Christ. —Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Julie, Penny, Brenda, Sally, Abraham, Suzanne, Jean, Barbara, Juliana, Margaret, David, Heidi, Catherine, Donald, Sam, Burton, Toussaint, Dennis, Arpene, Takeem, Sidney, deacon, Horace, Paulette, David, Gaylord, Harry, Louis, priests, and Russell, bishop; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark and Nicholas; and for the repose of the soul of Carmen Bonadie . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . August 28: 1905 Frank Temple Reamer; 1914 Walter John Murrell; 1922 Felix Ansart.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Former parishioner Sean Cassidy died on Saturday, August 20, in New Jersey. Sean, and his longtime partner, John Patrick Higgins, who died in 2013, were faithful acolytes here at Saint Mary’s for many years and made important contributions to our common life. Friends and family are invited to gather to remember Sean at Saint David’s Church, Kinnelon, New Jersey, on Saturday, August 27, 2016, between 9:00 and 11:00 AM. A memorial service at Saint David’s follows at 11:00 AM. Please keep Sean, Pat, their close friend James Alden, and their family and friends in your prayers.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . The Irish love their saints. One sign of this: the national airline, Aer Lingus, places each of its planes under the patronage of a particular saint and emblazons that saint’s name on the plane’s fuselage. One such saint is Saint Aidan, whom we commemorate on Wednesday, August 31. Aidan of Lindisfarne (died August 31, 651) was an Irish monk and missionary credited with restoring Christianity to the medieval Kingdom of Northumbria (northeast England/southeast Scotland). He founded a monastic cathedral on the island of Lindisfarne, served as its first bishop, and traveled throughout the countryside, spreading the gospel to both the Anglo-Saxon nobility and to the socially disenfranchised, including children and slaves . . . On Wednesdays, the daily 12:10 PM Eucharist is a Sung Mass; on Thursdays the daily 12:10 Eucharist is a Mass with Healing Service.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Altar Flowers are needed for the following Sundays and holy days: Sunday, September 4; Thursday, September 8 (Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary); Sunday, September 18; Thursday, September 29 (Saint Michael and All Angels); and Sunday, October 16, 23, and 30 . . . Homeless Ministry: We are looking for donations of clothing for distribution to the homeless in our neighborhood: jeans and slacks in a variety of sizes for both men and women; packs of new underwear and socks for both men and women; sweaters, sweatshirts, jackets and coats; dress shirts and outfits suitable for job interviews, and other items. Cash donations are also welcome! Please speak to Sister Monica Clare, Father Jay Smith, or Clint Best if you would like to make a donation . . . Hospitality Ministry: Donations are needed to support our offerings on Sundays and holy days. We especially appreciate help with our feast-day receptions. Next up: Tuesday, November 1, All Saint’s Day. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the Parish Office . . . Sister Laura Katharine is away from the parish on vacation. She returns on Thursday, September 1 . . . Father Gerth will be away from the parish on vacation from Friday, August 26, through Friday, September 9 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 165.
MUSIC NOTES . . . Jeremy Hirsch, baritone, will be the cantor at the Solemn Mass on Sunday morning. During the Communion he will sing The Call from Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958). Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs are settings of several poems drawn from The Temple, the great verse work of the seventeenth-century Anglican priest-poet George Herbert (1593–1633). Vaughan Williams’s settings were written for baritone soloist, chorus, and orchestra. The work received its premiere performance at the 1911 Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, England, under the composer’s baton. The Call, the fourth of the five songs, is the most compact and the only one that does not include chorus. Its elegant simplicity has so endeared it to hearers that it has been adapted as a congregational hymn, the three stanzas of the poem being set to a single accompaniment. This hymn version is found at 487 in The Hymnal 1982 . . . Sunday’s organ voluntaries are both by Dieterich Buxtehude (1637–1707) whose compositions include many sets of variations on repeating bass themes. Typically in the Baroque Passacaglia the bass theme remained in the same key for all variations. Buxtehude’s Passacaglia, however, consists of four sections separated by brief transitions. Each section transposes the bass melody to a new key. The first section establishes the key of D minor, the second section moves to the relative major key of F, the third is in the dominant key of A minor, and the final section returns to D minor. The Praeludium in G Major is a bright piece and, for Buxtehude, an unusually straightforward and succinct pairing of a prelude in typical free style and a fugue with a rather formal subject. —David Hurd
ADULT EDUCATION . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class begins its fall semester on Wednesday, September 21, at 7:00 PM, after the evening Mass, in Saint Joseph’s Hall. This year we will be reading Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The class will be led by Father Jay Smith. No prerequisites are necessary, and drop-ins to the class are welcome. No homework is required, but if you would like to receive a copy of a short commentary on the letter, please contact Father Smith . . . The Adult Forum resumes on Sunday, October 2, at 10:00 AM, Seminarian Matthew Jacobson will discuss his summer internship in Rome. Matt worked at Rome’s Episcopal parish, Saint Paul’s Within the Walls, helping out at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, teaching English, among other things. Matt returns to Saint Mary’s in September, and it will be good to have him back. On Sunday, October 9, at 10:00 AM, parishioner Marie Rosseels will make the first presentation in our series “Learning How to Live and Pray with Holy Men and Women.” Marie will be talking about the Beguines. The Beguines were Christian laywomen who were active in Northern Europe, particularly in the Low Countries, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries. They did not marry and lived in semimonastic communities, but they did not take formal religious vows. Thus, they were free to leave their communities at any time. The Beguines (and their brother Beghards) were part of a larger spiritual revival movement of the thirteenth century that stressed the imitation of Christ’s life through voluntary poverty, care of the poor and sick, and religious devotion. The Adult Forum meets on the second floor of the Mission House on Sundays at 10:00 AM. All are welcome. —Jay Smith
LOOKING AHEAD . . . Monday, September 5, Labor Day, Federal Holiday Schedule . . . Sunday, September 11, 2016, 5:00 PM, Choral Evensong on the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Attacks of September 11, 2001. The service will be sung by the Charter Choir of Homerton College, Cambridge, England . . . Wednesday, September 14, Holy Cross Day, Sung Mass at 12:10 PM and 6:00 PM. The Rev. Alison Turner will preach at 6:00 PM . . . Wednesday, September 21, Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, Mass 12:10 PM and 6:20 PM . . . Thursday, September 29, Saint Michael and All Angels, Mass 12:10 PM and Sung Mass 6:00 PM. Father Jim Pace will celebrate and preach at 6:00 PM.
A GENTLE REMINDER . . . As you have read in countless church bulletins, “Our costs do not decrease during the summer months. There are still bills that must be paid.” We urge all those who have made financial pledges to the parish to do their best to stay current with their pledge payments in order to prevent cash-flow problems. We are grateful to all those who continue to support Saint Mary’s so generously.