I have allowed the past week to scoot by without making the time to reflect in writing on the day. Too much has happened to recap the whole week: a guest preacher to be entertained last weekend, bedbugs in the church, ice storm, two house blessings, men’s gathering, Bible Study, finance conversations, Priest and a Rabbi, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria!
I sometimes feel like Jacob wrestling with an angel when it comes to my relationship with my schedule. Just when I feel like I might be getting the upper hand, my socket is pulled out of joint and I’m again at a disadvantage. The difference is Jacob was wrestling an angel of the Lord; wrestling with our schedules is more a bout with the demonic. Sometimes we are just in demand. The nature of our work or lives makes it so. But more times than not, we are just poor at making our schedules submit to our will. We like to be busy and we like to be in demand; it makes us feel like we are needed and have worth. We do, of course, but that worth is found in Christ and not the calendar. I’m preaching to myself. Can I rise a bit earlier? Can I eliminate a few more minutes of idle time? Do I schedule rest?
One of the highlights for this past week was the 64th anniversary of the consecration of the first St Timothy’s Church, now used as our chapel. The date of January 16 is not seared in the memory of the parish and I didn’t know it was the consecration anniversary until we found the Sentence of Consecration hidden away in an ancient filling cabinet. There are no consecration crosses on the walls or memories of celebrating the anniversary.
The “new” Prayer Book does not give a liturgy for the anniversary of a church’s consecration (the 79 BCP does have propers, but not a stand-alone liturgy), save a Litany of Thanksgiving for the Church that could be incorporated in a celebration. Since the church was consecrated according to the 1928 Prayer Book, it seemed meet and right to celebrate the anniversary with the same and from the original missal used in 1955. Two things struck me from both the Sentence of Consecration and the propers from the 1928 Prayer Book.
First, there was the use of the word “branch” in describing the Episcopal Church. Anglo-Catholics have long promoted the “branch” theory in our ecclesiology, namely that Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church has three branches: Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican. That part isn’t new. The Diocese of North Carolina has Anglo-Catholic roots, but I somehow doubt that was the piety of the bishop in 1955.
Fast-forward sixty plus years and the unofficial tagline for the Episcopal Church is the “Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.” I love Bishop Curry and I’ve never said otherwise, publicly or privately, but I’m not a fan of this slogan. What works rhetorically in sermons does not always translate well into marketing. While it does not necessarily differ from the branch theory espoused by my ilk, here’s what I don’t like about it: it’s a little too provincial (why not the Anglican branch?) and the Jesus Movement is not descriptive. What does that mean? We have the four notes of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. That is descriptive and prophetic. We are, and are called to remain, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
Listen to the old language of Bishop Penick:
on this Sixteenth Day of January, in the Year of our Lord 1955, being the Second Sunday after Epiphany, in the presence of divers of the Clergy, and of a public congregation, in accordance with the provisions of that Branch of Christ's Catholic and Apostolic Church here on earth now known and legally designated as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, and in the Diocese of North Carolina, consecrated and set apart
ST TIMOTHY'S CHURCH, WINSTON-SALEM
The second thing that hit me was how much of the anniversary propers were focused on the transformation of the people. The first lesson was from 1 Peter 2: Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. The second lesson was from Matthew’s version of the cleansing of the Temple: you have made my house a den of thieves (n.b., the same readings are in the 79BCP for the anniversary of a consecration).
In the Sentence of Consecration, Bishop Penick wrote
And We do hereby pronounce and declare the same to be from this time forth set apart from all unhallowed, worldy and common uses, and dedicated to the Worship and Service of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, for the Administration of His Holy Sacraments, for the Reading of His Holy Word, and for the performance of all Holy Offices, agreeably to the terms of the Covenant of Grace in our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the provisions of that Branch of His Holy Catholic Church, afore-mentioned.
The declaration that the church should be set apart from all “unhallowed, wordly and common uses, and dedicated to the Worship and Service of Almighty God” isn’t just for the building – it’s also for the people. Buildings are vitally important. Yes, church buildings can be made into idols if we aren’t careful, but let’s be careful and get off the narrative that the future of the Church is outside the building. This space is set apart and stands consecrated for the express purpose of setting apart and consecrating ordinary things for holy use – water, bread, wine, and me. And you.
Last night at Priest and a Rabbi, a gentleman (and I don’t know him) approached me afterwards and pointed to an image that I had handed out where the mass is connected to the Crucifixion. He believed we should use the image of Jesus as Good Shepherd instead of the image of Jesus as Crucified. I reminded him that the conversation was about what we are remembering and making present in the mass, and he doubled down on the image of Jesus as Good Shepherd, “because Jesus was all about social justice.”
Jesus was about justice, but that justice emerges from holiness. The Sermon on the Mount wasn’t against governments but against the wicked platform of the soul. Without the Church – one, holy, catholic, and apostolic – and without the Sacraments and Prayers, how is one’s soul to be transformed?