FROM THE RECTOR: ACCIDENTAL CHURCH
“Accidental church” is a phrase that came to my mind this week as I followed the reports of the General Convention, the governing body of our Episcopal Church. I’ve just about finished reading Lawrence Powell’s The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans (2012). Powell’s book is a reminder that cities and institutions, like human beings, can be said to have something like a genetic makeup that predisposes, but does not predetermine, their development over time.
I was on duty here on Independence Day. For the Noonday Office, we use the short non-biblical reading about the day from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980). As always, it brings smiles to faces in the congregation when people hear that the Episcopal Church did not celebrate Independence Day until the revision of the Prayer Book in 1928. But, a celebration had been proposed in 1786 before the adoption of the first American book in 1789. Lesser Feasts and Fasts explained, “Though himself [Bishop William White of Pennsylvania] a supporter of the American Revolution, he felt that the required observance was inappropriate, since the majority of the Church’s clergy had, in fact, been loyal to the British Crown” (page 260).
The leadership White displayed and the acceptance other leaders gave him on this issue were not unrelated to the worship of the church. It formed them. It called for a high intellectual standard and a high standard for charity and affection to each other. The way in which people worship always shapes their lives.
The Episcopal Church has only had four Prayer Books since the American Revolution. The 1789 book was revised in 1892, 1928, and 1979. There was also a serious attempt for revision beginning in 1883 that prepared the way for the 1892 book.
The first American Prayer Book can be distinguished both theologically and linguistically from the 1662 Prayer Book of the Church of England in many ways. The language of the Lord’s Prayer was altered in 1789—American English was already recognizably different from British English. More important was a statement of who we were. The Prayer Book “Preface,” reprinted in all subsequent revisions, stated “this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require.”
The preface concluded by urging the church’s members that the new book should be “received and examined . . . seriously considering what Christianity is, and what the truths of the Gospel are; and earnestly beseeching Almighty God to accompany with his blessing every endeavour for promulgating them to mankind in the clearest, plainest, most affecting and majestic manner, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour” (The Book of Common Prayer  11).
If I have long-term concerns about our church’s future, my list starts with what seems to be a loss of Prayer Book worship and Prayer Book loyalty by a large portion of our church’s leaders, that is, our General Convention. In 1985, just six years after the adoption of the current book, the General Convention asked the Standing Liturgical Commission to develop new rites for “trial use.” The General Convention has continued to authorize materials for “trial use”—“trials” which never seems to end—and to ask for new rites. Count me as one who is pretty sure this is not a good thing for us as an institution. Too many have never had a chance to live into the present book, to experience its priority for us as a community. Far too many clergy ordained since the advent of trial use have been formed to think continuous variety and experimentation is normal for Episcopalians. It is not.
Our Prayer Book gathers us for Word and Sacrament. It calls us to service to others in Jesus’ name. It invites us to growing conversion in Christ across the years of our lives. It lays us to rest when we die. No book is perfect, but our Prayer Book still calls us to clear, plain and majestic worship—and to charity. All of this is not an accident, but of a response of faith and love to the gift of life we know in Jesus Christ. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Mary, Robert, Nicholas, Linda, Casey, Angeline, George, Ben, Anna, Jeanne, Wayne, Barbara, Joseph, Jan, James, Helen, Arpene, Joyce, Betty, Sharon, Chandra, Dorothy, and James, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Elizabeth, Nicholas, and Matthew, and for the repose of the soul of Gail . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 15: 1882 Charles Stone Timson; 1885 Anita Taylor Mills; 1912 Marie Tompkins Spelman; 1979 Curtis Henry Waite; 1987 Allen Satterfield; 1989 Robert Fox Davis.
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 . . . Saint Mary’s to hear NY Philharmonic in Central Park: Friday, July 13, and Monday, July 16. For more information, or to get a cell-phone number so you can locate the Saint Mary’s group on the day of the concert, please contact Grace Bruni via e-mail . . . Father Stephen Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, July 14, Father Pace on Saturday, July 21.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Donations are needed for altar flowers for the following Sundays: July 22 and 29; and August 5 and 19. Flowers are also needed for the Feast of the Assumption, Wednesday, August 15. If you would like to donate flowers on one of those dates, please contact the parish office . . . Father Jay Smith is on vacation and away from the parish. He returns to the office on Monday, August 6 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 219.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The prelude at Solemn Mass on Sunday is the chorale prelude on Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV 731, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). I am the cantor this week. At the ministration of Communion, I will sing the Benedictus from Messe in h–Moll (Mass in B Minor) BWV 232 by Bach. The Postlude is the Fantasia in G Major, BWV 572, also by Bach. The work was probably composed around 1712, when Bach was organist at the ducal court in Weimar (1708–1714), and is commonly entitled Pièce d’orgue, a name given in one of the source manuscripts. It is in three distinct sections, which may be seen to represent the Holy Trinity, with further symbolism of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in the chromaticism and resolution of final section. James Kennerley
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Major Feasts in July: Monday, July 23, Saint Mary Magdalene; Wednesday, July 25, Saint James the Apostle . . . Major Feasts in August: Monday, August 6, The Transfiguration of Our Lord; Wednesday, August 15, The Assumption of Mary; Friday, August 24, Saint Bartholomew the Apostle.
HOSPITALITY AT SAINT MARY’S . . . If you would like to make a donation to help cover the costs of the reception on August 15, please contact the parish office. We are also happy to receive donations to support our hospitality efforts on Sunday morning!
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We continue to collect non-perishable food items for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please consider making a regular donation to the Food Pantry. Look for the basket in the back of the church or in Saint Joseph’s Hall. You may make a cash donation as well. If you would like more information about how the Food Pantry works or if you would like to volunteer, please contact Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B., or Father Jay Smith . . . We recently updated and printed a new edition of our brochure, “Resources and Assistance for Those in Need.” (Thank you, Deacon Mary Jett, for revising and re-designing the brochure!) Look for copies on the ushers’ table and in the sacristy.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . Bill W.: A documentary film about the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, at the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, 212.255.2243, www.quadcinema.com. Visit the theater website or call ahead to make sure that the movie is still playing at the Quad, since the schedule changes week to week, apparently without a great deal of advance notice.