Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Never Say Never: Exploration in Anglo-Catholic Liturgy

Never say never.   That was never truer for me than yesterday when I was presiding at St. Peter’s which is the Pro-Cathedral in Charlottetown.  St. Peter’s is the high Anglo-Catholic church on the Island.  Having been introduced to Anglican worship in mid-life at churches which are definitely not Anglo-Catholic and worshipping primarily with the new liturgy of the Book of Alternate Services — which I though was quite ‘high’ compared to my experience in the United church — St. Peter’s is quite a different world of Anglican liturgical worship.  St. Peter’s uses the traditional Book of Common Prayer which I had a little experience of and less experience of the Anglo-Catholic form of the service.  Finding myself processing into the worship service at 10:00 o’clock behind three servers with candles, a crucifer and a lay reader was something I would have said I would never experience.

How I ended up in this interesting and not entirely comfortable position is definitely a case in point of never saying never.  Lorna and I have attended St. Peter’s a few times in the past during our many vacations on PEI.  Lorna and I (especially Lorna) do enjoy the Book of Common Prayer service as the language — although rather archaic — is beautiful symbolic and complements the mystery that we both believe is an integral part of worship.  St. Peter’s also has wonderful music and a very good choir which we both enjoy.  As I have mentioned once or twice in previous editions of these emails, we have been attending services at the small Anglican Church in nearby Montague and the smaller (smallest) Anglican Church in nearer by Souris.  Both of these churches are missions of St. Peter’s and are served by the clergy from St. Peter’s.  Consequently they both use the Book of Common Prayer liturgy with an Anglo-Catholic (but not as high) form of worship.  In the last two years I have been helping out  by presiding occasionally at St. George’s Montague and St. Alban’s Souris.  I was asked by the priest from St. Peter’s, Fr. Peter Harris (the priests are all referred to as Father which I will discuss later) to preside at St. Peter’s as Peter has traditionally taken some time off at the Labour Day weekend.  His assistant who is the priest at the nearby Milton and Rustico parish was not available for the 10:00 A.M. service. 
I agreed to preside at the service with some trepidation as it was (as I noted) a liturgy with intricacies that I had no experience leading.    In anticipation Lorna and I attended the service the preceding Sunday and I paid particular attention and took copious notes on the up’s and down (lots of genuflecting) and ins and outs (lots of other actions) and the smells (incense) and bells (of the Sanctus variety).  I was planning to meet with Peter (the person not the church) after the service, however, his elderly but vigorous father died unexpectedly but peacefully and the visitation was that Sunday afternoon.  The funeral was Monday and Peter was going to be leaving for his well-deserved and now most necessary mini-holiday on Tuesday.  Peter did send me detailed notes on the intricacies of the liturgy as a sort of Coles Notes for Anglo-Catholic worship.  I must say preparation was very much like studying for a final exam in University.  Fortunately I had my sermon prepared well in advance.

With prayer book, notes, and sermon in hand I headed off to Charlottetown quite early Sunday morning.  When I arrived I found the vestments nicely laid out for me with a note to the Altar guild that the alb which had been worn at the 8:00 service should be replaced as one more suitable to my height.  Well, I was faced with a number of vestment which I was unfamiliar with having used a simple cassock-alb or a cassock and surplus throughout my Anglican ministry along with occasionally a chasuble for special occasions.  I was soon greeted by the member of the altar guild on duty for the morning who unfortunately was not able to shed much light of the intricacies of Anglo-Catholic vestments.  She was a woman of about 70 years of age who was a long service member of the altar guild but had always followed the instructions of her mother (the source of all altar guild knowledge) who had unfortunately died recently and she was soloing for the first time.  However, the lay reader arrived fairly soon after and was able to introduce me to the mysteries of the vestment.  I was able, with the assistance of a dresser, to vest with a cassock and alb (rather than a surplus), a maniple (as far as I can determine), a stole and a chasuble.  I decided not to use the maniple which is carried on the left arm.  You may not be too interested in the details of Anglo-Catholic vestments but I hope you have a taste of the intricacies involved. 

After saying a much needed prayer with the servers, crucifer and lay reader and taking a deep breath I launched into the worship procession.  The choir processes separately from the opposite side of the building.  I won’t go in to many more details of the service itself as it is already too late to make a long story short.  However, I will say that I did not have to incense the altar as occurred on the previous Sunday as it was not a feast day or special service — just the eleventh Sunday after Trinity.  The lay-reader, servers and organist were very helpful and guided me through the service so I didn’t make too many missteps. 

I enjoyed the experience and the people.  However, there is the tensions of the Anglo-Catholic tradition — particularly in this part of Canada which is still in the early part of the twentieth century for church polity and does not believe in women priest.  It would be awkward to call them ’Father’.  However, that is not the reason they don’t agree with ordaining women — St. Peter’s does not have women in any liturgical role including servers.  Of course same-sex-blessing is out of the question.  However, with I have discovered there is often a benefit from living in tension of such things as belief and practice and holding that tension which will produce interesting results.  It is unfortunate that wonderful liturgy and music seem to be incorporated with theology which seems to be missing what I see as the truth that Jesus Christ lived and taught.  That is a whole other issue which I will leave to another day.




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