“Episcopal” worship

Every Wednesday night this year, I’ve been involved in the team at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale that has put together the weekly Eucharist for the community. We’ve done all kinds of stuff—historic prayer books, no prayer books, prayer books from around the world, Eucharistic prayers where we—gasp!—change the words (and, for instance, replace all male imagery with female imagery). Each service, we believe, is authentically Anglican or Episcopal and yet there has been wide variety between them.

Last night was our mega-mondo, supa-spectacular, everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink, blow-em-out, LAST and FINAL community Eucharist of the year. (I’m working on patenting that phrase, by the way.) It lived up to its billing. We had Anglican chant, a beautiful choral anthem, a major organ prelude, a french horn, and—to top it all off—the steel band from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in New Haven.

All I can say about their performance is that it is a really good thing the chapel doors have good hinges. Otherwise, they would have been totally blown off by the sheer quality of the music. (You can hear some sample clips here but nothing compares to the real thing, especially in a place with acoustics as good as our chapel’s.)

And it all raises a really interesting question: worship is supposed to be a unifying feature for Anglicans. But what makes worship Anglican or Episcopal? And how can we tell when we see it?

(And another question: how much does the music used in a service have to have a certain “unity” to it? Based on last night, hardly any at all!)

St. Luke’s is the wonderful church I’ve been a part of during my time in New Haven and it was wonderful to have them at Berkeley where we have our own chapel dedicated to Luke.

Demographics is Destiny – Evangelicalism and Anglicanism

Last night, our community service at Berkeley Divinity School was in the style of Anglican evangelical worship—think Holy Trinity Brompton or Holy Trinity Cambridge: praise band, a Eucharistic prayer I wrote which only quoted the writings of St. Paul, the whole works.

The idea behind the service was to challenge our understandings of what constitutes distinctively “Anglican” worship. Evangelical churches may worship in ways other than those set out by the prayer book but still consider themselves Anglican. (I experienced something of this when I was studying in England a while back.) There was some, predictable, grumbling about the service. Evangelicalism, for a variety of reasons, has historically been weak in the American church so it can seem particularly foreign to us.

By chance—and this is the kind of thing that happens when you go to a place like Yale/Berkeley—we had with us last evening principals of two English theological colleges, Martin Seeley of Westcott House and George Kovoor of Trinity Bristol. (Rev. Kovoor is also the international general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion, which, I think, raised the stakes for our praise band a bit. They rose to them. Of all the guests to have on all of the nights, this was pretty ironic.)

Westcott is a moderately Anglo-Catholic place where I once spent a term. It has maybe 70 to 80 students training for ordination. I was chatting with Rev. Kovoor after the service and learned Trinity Bristol has 160 students training for ordination in the Church of England. Now, these are not the only training colleges in the Church of England, but these numbers should, I hope, give pause to those of us who sometimes are eager to dismiss evangelicalism as not truly Anglican (as if we can somehow get to decide that). If demographics is destiny, it seems like the evangelical wing of the church is certainly in a good position.

And, if one purpose of our seminary training is about learning about the breadth of the church and preparing for the future church, then a single evening of evangelical worship seems like a very good thing.

Our senior student preacher, Josh, put his sermon on YouTube

Tenebrae in Commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tonight at our weekly community chapel service, we read these words for Martin Luther King, Jr. Speaking in his “Eulogy for the Martyred Children,” he says:

So they have something to say to us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism…. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about WHO murdered them, but about the system, the way of life and the philosophy which PRODUCED the murderers…. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as the redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city.

As we heard these words, this is the picture that was projected on a screen at the front of the chapel.

It was one of the many powerful combinations of word and image we had in this evening’s service of Tenebrae at Berkeley Divinity School. Tenebrae is one of those rare gems of in the Episcopal (and other) liturgical tradition—the service of “shadows” that marks the Wednesday of Holy Week, the moment before the holiest three days of the Christian year begins. It’s a non-Eucharistic service that allows the congregation to dwell in the readings and psalmody and let the force of the coming events wash over us.

This year, the Wednesday of Holy Week (the so-called “Spy Wednesday”), falls on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was 44 years ago today that he was killed on a balcony in Memphis, preparing to mark with striking sanitation workers.

We meshed the two together—a Tenebrae in Commemoration of the Martyrdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. We situated the events of this week and the killing of Martin alongside more recent crucifixions that have occurred and continue to take place every day in this world—rampant sexual violence in the eastern Congo; a history of lynchings in this country; protestors dying in Syria; and, of course, too much else to name or number even in one service. We read some of the Scripture readings appointed for the service but also listened to words from Martin and others. In lieu of a single icon in the chapel, we used an electronic iconostasis, projecting images during the readings.

I’m on the team that prepares worship at Berkeley so during most of evening services I’m a bundle of excess energy trying to make sure that everything is going to go just right. But tonight I sat down and let things wash over me. And it was simply incredible. Just as the one crucifixion two thousand years ago convicts me of my sin and imperfection—I was the one who went from shouting “Hosanna” to crying “Crucify”; I was the apostle that abandoned Jesus in his hour of need—the ongoing crucifixion in this world convicts me of my own disgraceful ignorance, apathy, and self-deceit.

But here is the good news, and it is news that is at the heart of the Christian Gospel: the story doesn’t end tonight. Holy Week doesn’t end on Friday on the cross. It ends with an earthquake and an empty tomb on Sunday morning.

As we left the chapel in silence, there was one final candle burning, the light that has kept people moving at even the darkest hours, the promise that new birth can—and will—come from even the darkest and deadest of situations.