From the Rector, May 22, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part VIII.
You will recall my prediction that going forward, those interested in having church life will want Christianity in a community context. Over the past few weeks, I have turned from overarching principles to the characteristics of the oikeios, the household’s domestic life, and what community life will look like in a post-modern, post-COVID world.
Last week I wrote of stability, living our lives rooted in a specific place, pursuing a specific vocation, with specific companions. I finished by saying that going forward, this and every parish is going to have to be very intentional about the way we ask people to commit to our common life.
Closely related to stability in community is obedience in community. Obedience, says St Benedict, “comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all” (Rule of Benedict 5.1). For Benedict, obedience is the outgrowth of both emotional and physical stability.
This, again, is very countercultural, and for many “obey” is a four-letter word! We are independently-minded people, and obedience would seem to limit our doing what we want to do. We have images in our mind of oppressive institutions and people, yet at the same time feel comfortable in seeing “obedience” in terms of what other people owe us.
Our word “obey” comes from the Latin obaudio, obaudire, which means to listen thoroughly. And indeed, the first words of the Prologue to the Rule are “Listen carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart” (Prov. 4:20). To listen is to attend, not just with the mind as an intellectual exercise, but with the heart which is the root of love.
We might call this “putting on the mind of Christ”—thinking and acting as Jesus would. Paul describes it thus in Philippians (5:2-8):
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
If we love Christ, obedience follows: Unhesitating obedience … comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all. (RB 5.1.2).
In a Benedictine Community, it is the abbot/abbess who is the head of the community, because the Church is by nature a hierarchical (from the Greek “holy rule”) kingdom with Christ as the Head. But in the Church there is also to be “mutual obedience” to one another. If obedience is listening and responding in love, then obedience needs to be part of any healthy, caring relationship and community, especially when we disagree with one another. We act, not in our own best interest, but in the interest of the community.
I have been a parish priest for over 25 years, and in that time have learned that parish ecosystems are very fragile things indeed. Divisiveness is always a danger. Part of “bearing one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) is to treat one another with charity, taking into account the welfare of the whole body, building us up together in faith and love, despite our own personal opinions.
Obedience is meant to be spontaneous and joyful, given gladly. But we know this is not always the case. Benedict does not tolerate grumbling, or to use the biblical word, “murmuring.” Murmuring (either verbally or in the heart) may make us feel good temporarily, but is injurious to one’s own soul and to the community as a whole. Indeed murmuring is mentioned more than anything any other single item in the Rule.
Here are some ways to recognize grumbling:
- negative thoughts towards a person or situation
- obsessive thoughts about a person, situation or issue. One is reminded of the quote attributed to Churchill: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind, and won’t change the subject.”
- suspicion--seeing people and situations as a part of an intrigue or plot
- comparisons between ourselves and others that make us feel superior
- expressions of envy, jealousy, inferiority
- justifying our bad behavior
- talking negatively about certain people
- persistent negative feelings about life
- absence of a sense of humor.
The antidote to grumbling is humility. Humility and obedience are linked because we cannot listen or respond if we believe that we are the center of the universe, or that our way is the only way.
Sister Joan Chittister organizes Chapter 7 of the Rule into a ladder of humility:
|Bottom rung - RB 7.10||to accept that God is present in my life|
|# 2 - RB 7.31||to make doing the will of God the first thing|
|# 3 - RB 7:34||to recognize that I cannot always be in control|
|# 4 - RB 7.35||to be patient and steadfast when our obedience places us in a difficult or unfair situation|
|# 5 - RB 7.44||to practice self-disclosure with a trusted friend|
|# 6 - RB 7.48||to be willing to do the most menial tasks, and to be at peace with them|
|# 7 - RB 7.51||to truly believe in my heart that others are better than I am|
|# 8- RB 7.55||to take no action except those endorsed by people who show wisdom and understanding|
|# 9 - RB 7.56||listen more, talk less|
|# 10 - RB 7.59||do not laugh excessively|
|# 11 - RB 7.60||speak quietly, briefly, and with restraint|
|Top rung - RB 7.62||know yourself, know your sinfulness, therefore be humble both inwardly and outwardly.|
A good exercise might be to try taking a step every week, or every other week, and consciously reflect and work through the list, cultivating obedience. “Cultivating” is a good word: it takes weeding of ourselves to root out those parts of us that rebel against the very idea of obedience.
I am prayerfully confident that a positive effect of the demise of the Christendom model is that we will realize that the vying, strife, and internecine conflict that has characterized the Church in recent years must come to an end. If Christianity going forward is going to be less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of the culture, one of the things that will characterize believers is going to be mutual submission to one another in common life.
As part of our response to the COVID 19 virus, The Church of the Advent will offer daily webcasts of Choral Evensong alternating with brief meditations by our clergy. We extend these broadcasts to our own people as well as to the wider world as an opportunity to join in daily prayer as we intercede for the sick, the lonely, the anxious, and for healthcare providers.
From the Rector, May 15, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part VII.
St Paul speaks of the Church as the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone … (Eph. 2:19). The Greek word for household is oikeios (οἰκεῖος), from which we get the English word “economy,” which you might think fits in well with the theme of the commercialization of American religion. However, the Biblical use of oikeios refers to the household’s intimate domestic life, of things pertaining to the family.
Under the Christendom model, the Church of the culture, the local parish ceased to be seen as a family, and instead more like a clinic, from whence various spiritual remedies, the Sacraments, were dispensed as “isolated signs, performed by an isolated individual for an isolated individual”. Such acts might have made sense when the whole of society was presumed to be Christian, but that is not the case now. This model reduces the Church to a factory, grace to a product, and the Sacraments as magical rites unrelated to everyday life. (William Bausch, A New Look at the Sacraments, Twenty-third Publications, 2003.) No, the Christian religion is authentically found in the oikeios, the family. St Benedict saw this clearly (RB 1).
Benedictine monks and nuns take a vow of stability: “The one thing we can hold onto is the certainty of God. Our stability is a response to that promise which reassures us that he is faithful and steadfast and that we should never lose hope in God’s mercy” (RB 4.74). Stability is derived from the Latin stare, meaning to stand, to stand up, to be still. There are connotations of resting on a solid foundation and being rooted. Monastic stability is a commitment to the belief that this place and these people will help me find God.
Stability in community is profoundly countercultural. The culture says “don’t get tied down, keep your options open, be free. If it doesn’t work, give it up, go on to something or someone else.” Translated into the realm of religion, one still hears echoes of the old Christendom/clinic model: “If my particular religious service provider doesn’t meet my needs in x (liturgy, music, clergy, preaching, etc.), I will do y (quit, withhold my pledge, gripe/complain/be divisive).”
In contrast, the communities envisioned by St Benedict see stability as “sacramental” - the outward and visible reflects the inward and spiritual: I am where God wants me to be. Stability, I would add, means living in the present moment and accepting and loving whatever God gives us in the present situation, regardless of how difficult this might be.
- Stability calls us to work out problems with the people who are part of our lives. When we flee physically or emotionally, we bring our old problems with us into the new situation or relationship. As the saying goes, if I don’t work out my problem with this person, I will visit the problem on the next person.
- Stability allows us to grow, and growth involves pangs. It is very important that we not project our inner dissatisfactions and issues onto the community.
- Stability encourages the skill of looking for the best in the other person. When we choose to be in community there are bound to be differences, quirks and personality conflicts. Living in community enables us to practice forgiveness.
Basil Cardinal Hume, late Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, writes: “We give ourselves to God in a particular way of life, in a particular place, with particular companions. This is our way: in this community, with this work, with these problems, with these shortcomings. The inner meaning of stability is that we embrace life as we find it, knowing that this, and not any other way, is our way to God.”
If it is true that going forward those interested in having church life will want Christianity in a community context, this and every parish is going to have to be very intentional about the way we ask people to commit to our common life. Stability is a big part of this.
Links. I had a question from last week on Christian world-view. One good source for this is www.barnagroup.org, which publishes incredible amounts of research on this topic. Three specific studies I referenced last week are:
From the Rector, May 8, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part VI.
I wrote last week of the Rule of St Benedict, and the Rule of the Fraternities of Jerusalem, the latter a modern application of that how the Church might manifest itself in a modern urban setting and how to do the opus Dei: worship, order, stability, discipline, community, mission, hospitality, and formation among them.
The latter is particularly important because I believe that the Church in the West has a crisis of formation. Benedict sought to found what he called “a school of the Lord’s service” (RB Prologue): using spiritual disciplines to grow into the image of Christ.
A recent survey indicates that only 9% of the American population has a Christian worldview, while 70% of Americans profess to be Christians. That is a significant disconnect, to say the least. And by Christian worldview, we’re not talking about thinking one way or another on hot-button cultural issues, but on much more basic questions like whether Jesus is God, or whether there is absolute truth or if “truthiness” is conditioned by time, place and circumstance.
Increasingly, when the Christian worldview comes into conflict with the culture, it is not the assumptions of culture that are questioned, but the faith itself, even by those who profess the name Christian.
The culture is very strong, so in these days the proper formation of Christians is of critical importance. Over the past 30 years or so the formation of children especially has become clinical, compartmentalized, and outsourced to professionals: the Church is meant to teach children about God, the School does their education (and communicates the values of the Academy), and the Media teaches them (and communicates the values of the prevailing culture) about relationships and how the world “really works.” Is it any wonder then, that 70% percent of youth who attend church in high school will drift away or drop out of church in college? We have not formed them, we have not given them the tools to evaluate the prevailing culture, or to use the Biblical word, to “ponder.”
How does Christian formation take place? St Benedict was quite clear that Christian formation takes place in the community of believers. It takes place—again—in the community gathered at worship [for which we wait and pray with longing], where we get a glimpse into the very throne room of heaven. Rose Macaulay’s quintessential Anglo-Catholic novel The Towers of Trebizond gives a wonderful picture of this. She writes:
I would go to High Mass … and the Church would build itself before me and round me, with its structure of liturgical words and music which was like fine architecture being reared up into the sky, while the priests moved to and fro before the altar in their glittering robes and crosses, and the rows of tall candles lifted their flames like yellow tulips, and the incense flowed about us. Here was the structure, I would think, in which the kingdom was enshrined, or whose doors opened on the kingdom, and sometimes the doors would swing ajar, and there the kingdom was, clear and terrible and bright.
Christian formation is meant to happen in the community of the home, what John Paul II called the “Domestic Church.” A place where the Christian faith is taught, but more importantly modeled, a place of prayer, a place where the Scriptures and spiritual works are read and discussed, a place of fraternal love and correction, a place of forbearance and peace. But if we adults lack a biblical world view, how can we teach and model the truth to our children and to one another?
Christian formation takes place in the community of classes and groups. Every single one of us, be we young or old, neophyte or veteran, ought (that’s a moral word there, ought) for the sake of our own soul, for the health of the parish community as a whole, ought to be in some sort of ongoing Christian formation.
The goal of this is what Benedictines call the conversatio morem, a Latin phrase that can be seen in two different ways, depending on the context. The first way is “Death to the Status Quo”, which embodies the counter-cultural aspect of discipleship to which Christians are increasingly being called in this post-Christendom world.
The second sense of conversatio morem is “Constant Conversion.” Conversion involves a gradual, daily transformation, and this takes place not by happenstance, but by deliberate, intentional formation into someone who is like Jesus, and closer to someone who is fit for heaven. The Ash Wednesday Exhortation speaks of “the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith” (BCP, p. 265). We hear these words at the beginning of Lent, but they are equally applicable at any time.
If Christianity going forward is going to be less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of the culture, one of the things that will characterize faithful believers is going to be intentional Christian formation, and one’s participation in this conversatio morem.
From the Rector, May 1, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part V.
Anglo-Catholics, and the Tractarians before them, have been the conscience of the Anglican Way for more than a century. This is not to say that others have not done so too, but Anglo-Catholicism has a particular vocation in this regard. One thinks of people like Fr Stanton of St Alban’s, London, who ministered amongst the ignored poor, and brought the beauty of holiness to people in dire conditions. Or of the early ritualists, people like Fr Arthur Tooth, who was prosecuted and imprisoned under the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 for using prohibited liturgical practices like adding water to the chalice at the offertory, or wearing Eucharistic vestments. We recall the Malines Conversations of the 1920s, led by Lord Halifax who sought to bring about understanding and perhaps even the reunion of the Anglican and Roman Catholic communions, or missionary bishops like Frank Weston, who was bishop of Zanzibar from 1907 to 1924.
Weston is best known for these words:
You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.
One could give countless other examples down to our own day, but suffice it to say that we have been the conscience of our part of the Church because we have held up a 40,000-foot vision to the wider Church of what she should be, and what she should do: worshipping God in the beauty of holiness, evangelizing the world, and making saints out of the members of the Church, with an abiding concern for Christian unity, a just society, and a profound respect for the apostolic tradition that we are called to guard. We have been known for a theological approach to the questions of the day, an approach that has sometimes been unappreciated by the uber-kirche which has been largely concerned with tinkering with “process” and a consumer-based approach of giving the customer what he or she wants.
I wrote last week of the Rule of St Benedict, and the Rule of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, the latter a modern application of that Rule showing how the Church might manifest itself in a modern urban setting and how to do the work of God, the opus Dei: worship, order, stability, discipline, community, mission, hospitality, and formation among them.
In looking at the big picture, consider worship, participating both in public worship and private personal prayer. St Benedict prescribes seven times of daily corporate prayer for his community. Obviously, that is not workable for us who live in the world. For us, the most obvious manifestation of our corporate prayer is our weekly celebration of the Eucharist. Ever since Pentecost, the Christians have come together weekly to devote “themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The “breaking of bread” is the earliest name we have for the Eucharist, and “the prayers” likely refers to set liturgical arrangements. The Church is fundamentally a Eucharistic community; it is the Eucharist that makes the Church.
John Mason Neale was a priest and scholar in the Victorian era. Working for the catholic revival in the Church of England, Neale is known for two things: first, he was a noted hymn writer—writing dozens of hymns such as Good Christian Men, Rejoice, and Good King Wenceslas. He translated many other hundreds of ancient Latin and Greek hymns, and rendering them into English; O come, O come Emmanuel and All Glory Laud and Honor, among them. He was known, secondly, for founding the first Anglican sisterhood since the Reformation.
In preparation for this, Neale went to the Continent to research religious houses for women. When he told some Roman Catholic nuns that he wanted to found a sisterhood to work with the sick and the poor in the slums, they told him it couldn’t be done in England. Why? he asked. Because, said the French, such hard work could not be accomplished by Englishwomen, because they did not have the frequent celebration of the Mass as a source of strength. This was in a day and age when the Holy Communion was celebrated perhaps once a month in the Church of England, or maybe even only once a quarter—whether it was needed or not!
Neale proved them wrong. He founded the Sisters of St Margaret in 1855, with their rule of life centered around the weekly, then daily celebration of the Mass, the source of their strength and God’s presence in their midst. Those in the power structures of the English Church did not share his catholic vision, and certainly did not share his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He was suspended from priestly ministry by his bishop, and subjected to mob violence. The Eucharist was his pearl of great price, for which he was willing to give all that he had.
If the Church is fundamentally a Eucharistic community, if it is the Eucharist that makes the Church, then our Sunday celebration must be an absolute priority in our lives. It is the thing from which all other things flow. What is it we pray each Sunday after we have received our Communions?:
(Rite I) We most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us … with the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ … so that we may … do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in …
(Rite II) Eternal God, heavenly Father … you have fed us … in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you …
The Eucharist cannot be an add-on or adjunct to our lives, but the source and summit of our life as Christians, which makes this time of pandemic all the more difficult. If Christianity going forward is going to be less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of the culture—as I think it is—one of the things that will characterize believers in the new landscape is going to be our faithfulness at the Lord’s own service on the Lord’s own day.
From the Rector, April 24, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part IV.
In the past decade, I have read two books that have had a profound effect on my thinking. The first is Rod Dreher’s 2017 New York Times bestseller, The Benedict Option. It is not an uncontroversial book, and it is uneven in content -- some of it is very good; other parts I find maddening -- by which I mean both that the analysis is simplistic and the content drives me to anger. But it has been influential at 70K US copies sold, with translations into 11 languages. Suffice it to say that the book has provoked great debate about the intersection of church and culture, which has been making the rounds of articles and blogs for the past decade or so.
The Benedict of the title is, of course, St Benedict, who was born the son of an Italian noble around 480. He was educated at Rome, where the decay of society made him withdraw to a cave near Subiaco where he lived as a hermit for some years. Eventually a community grew up around him, and a series of monasteries were established, the chief of these being at Monte Cassino. Benedict’s idea was to recover the impetus of the pre-Constantinian Church, unencumbered by the culture.
In the aftermath of the demise of the Roman Empire, it was these religious communities, with their lives focused on prayer, Sacraments, and lifelong formation, that had the strength to preserve the faith when the Church of the culture collapsed. These communities carved out a space where Christians could keep the light of faith burning until it would burst forth again upon the world at the Renaissance.
The second is the Rule of life of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, a Roman Catholic religious order founded by Fr Pierre-Marie Delfieux in 1975. Delfieux had lived for a time as a desert hermit before returning to Paris with a call to live out the monastic vocation in the midst of an urban setting. The city, he writes, is the new desert, “where people thirst for spirituality and genuine love in the heart of urban metropolises.” The Rule is intended to articulate his vision of a Christian oasis in the midst of the loneliness, isolation and anonymity of the city. “We are therefore city-dwellers, living in and at the rhythm of today's urban centers ... without a cloister, but with real time and places set aside for silence and solitude, closely attached to the diocesan Church.”
Both of these Rules, the latter clearly based on the former, are concerned with how to do the work of God, the opus Dei: worship, order, stability, discipline, community, mission, hospitality, and formation among them. I think they might have something to tell us about how to get us to where the ball is going to be in this new landscape in which we find ourselves.
I am convinced that now is a very exciting time to be a Christian. We should not and cannot become chronically negative or reactionary or unduly fearful, much less panicky. The Good News is that God is a God who acts in history, and in the fullness of time, all things will be brought to their perfection in accordance with his will. Our task is to do the heavy lifting of discerning both the signs of the times, and God’s will for us as urban community of faith.
More about that next week.
From the Rector, April 17, 2020 (Friday in Easter Week)
One gift that we have been given in these days of shut-down is space to think about — or to use the biblical word, to “ponder” — the 40,000-foot view of things. Here is the gist of my thoughts thus far — not exactly an “argument,” but some observations about where we have been and where we are going.
- The Constantinian idea that Christianity should be the social and political norm in society has been in serious decline over the last 50 years, and this pandemic will likely be the final nail in the coffin of this model.
- Many of the social privileges that came with this Christendom model have been stripped away from the Church. The institutional Church in the West will be smaller, and more outside the mainstream of the culture. More positively, the Church will be less nominal and more defined, not “Christianity Lite,” but the Real Thing, in a community context.
- American Christianity is going to have to soberly consider the way we have turned Christianity into a product; just another product amongst many products, just another lifestyle choice among the myriad of lifestyle choices in our society.
A recent survey indicates that only 9% of the American population has a Christian world view, while 70% of Americans profess to be Christians. That is a significant disconnect, to say the least. And by Christian worldview, we’re not talking about thinking one way or another on hot-button cultural issues, but on much more basic questions like whether Jesus is God, or whether there is absolute truth or if truthiness is conditioned by time, place and circumstance.
Between 2008 and 2018, the USA-based dioceses of the Episcopal Church lost one quarter of their worshipping population. You can read the statistics in the aggregate and by diocese here:
Other mainline denominations have, to a greater or lesser degree, seen similar declines. So the General Convention (or the General Conference of the United Methodist Church or the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, etc.) — governing bodies all populated largely by delegates who were formed in this post-war consumer-driven society — have embarked on a two-fold process to address this problem. The first is to improve “process”: if we can reform our governing body, its composition, its meeting schedule, its priorities, etc. that will stop the bleeding. The second is, again, to give the customer what she wants — usually couched in terms of “if we offer/do/make change x, y, or z,” the people will flock in our doors.” This has not worked.
In the case of the megachurches, this x, y or z is often based in popular American culture; in the case of the mainline denominations, it is often based in the concerns of elite American culture. But in both cases, the Church in North America is going to have to soberly reflect on the way we have twisted Christianity into a product to be consumed. Spiritual potage does not feed people, especially those who will be looking for the Real Thing as we go forward.
The problem is that “process” and ad hoc issue-based tinkering are more at the 4,000-foot view of our situation, instead of the 40,000-foot perspective that is needed. It is clear that parish life will be very different when we emerge from this pandemic, and big thinking is vital. We have to get this right.
Having shared my thoughts on the lay of the land as it is, next week I will turn to the way ahead and what that might look like for us.
From the Rector, April 10, 2020 (Good Friday)
Dear Parishioners & Friends of the Church of the Advent,
As I write, we are in the midst of the Paschal Triduum, the Great Three Days, which are the hinge upon which the whole Christian year hangs. It has been well said that without experiencing the Triduum, one can’t really understand what it is we’re doing the other days of the year! Normally, you would have received a letter from me exhorting your faithful attendance at the various Liturgies of Holy Week, but this year you will be spared that letter! Needless to say, the suspension of public worship is strange and disconcerting, and if I may add, a great disappointment.
Mark Dwyer has been busy producing the webcasts you hear, and I know you join me in thanking him for his efforts. We’ve had some very encouraging emails from far and wide, and a number of you have emailed (thank you!) or put a note in with a check to the church (double thank you!) to thank and encourage us. Your appreciation means a great deal! The Advent even got a brief shout-out today on WGBH Public radio. Listen here: https://www.wgbh.org/news/news/2020/04/10/massachusetts-christian-churches-ready-for-an-easter-unlike-any-other
Our webcasts are available on our website and Facebook page. This week, you will have heard your clergy give a meditation on each of our Lord’s words from the cross. For the Triduum Liturgies themselves, the Maundy Thursday webcast has already been published; Good Friday will be available this afternoon. We will not broadcast a Vigil webcast, but an archived version of the Exsultet (with commentary) will be put up on Saturday. The High Mass will be up on Easter Day. Clergy meditations will continue until we are back in church, and this coming Wednesday we will publish an Easter hymn festival, again with commentary.
Know that while the times are strange indeed, your priests continue to pray for you, and I know you are praying for us. The clergy of the Advent join me in wishing you a very happy Easter.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don't want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy three dollars’ worth of God, please.
From the Rector, April 3, 2020
- The Church will be even smaller and even more outside the mainstream of culture. But, more positively, Christianity itself will become less nominal, more dedicated and more defined.
- For the foreseeable future, many in our society will have no interest in the life of the institutional Church, but those who do will want not a “Christianity Lite” that simply mimics the culture, but the Real Thing.
- Those interested in having church life will want Christianity in the context of authentic community. I see this very visibly amongst people here.
From the Rector, March 27, 2020
Dear Parishioners & Friends of the Church of the Advent,
This is my regular Friday “COVIDtide” update.
As expected, the Bishop has extended the suspension of public liturgies until Pentecost, May 31st, or until any time before that the public health experts allow us to resume services. At the same time, a priest offers the Mass here daily as an act of intercession for the world, and in particular for the sick, the lonely, the anxious and health-care workers. Please do make an act of Spiritual Communion and join your prayers with ours. While we are separated by geography, we can most certainly be united in prayer.
This suspension of worship is also an opportunity to remind ourselves that our identity as catholic Anglicans does not consist solely in beautiful liturgical events or “high churchery.” The liturgy rather, is an outward and visible expression of our faithfulness to the teaching that comes down to us from the Apostles. As Cranmer taught--and you will forgive me for not having the source in front of me--there is no such thing as catholic worship, only catholic theology expressed in worship.
I am also thinking about what things will look like, both for this parish and the wider Church. at the other side of this pandemic, and specifically how we get to “where the ball is going to be” post-Covidtide in terms of programming, staffing and our community life. I will write more about this on another occasion, but these are very much in my mind, and the mind of the leadership team here.
Speaking of worship, by now you will know that we are posting regular webcasts on our Facebook Page and parish website. Our aim is to present the Mass for the Sunday, a Choral Evensong on Wednesdays, and a couple of short meditations on other days. These have been very well received, both by our own people, and indeed the wider Church. If you would like to watch a Sunday Mass, I have suggested Stephen’s Church, Providence [https://www.sstephens.org/sermon-archive] and will add the Church of the Resurrection, NYC: https://vimeo.com/resurrectionnyc. The Liturgy at both of these places will be familiar to us at the Advent, with sound gospel preaching.
I will endeavor to set up a Zoom meeting so that the Lenten Bible Study can resume, albeit virtually. Look for a separate email about this in the coming days. If you wish to put Zoom on your smartphone or computer now [https://zoom.us/], go ahead, but you will also be able to call in to the meeting by telephone.
Fr James is spearheading our efforts to reach out to those parishioners with whom we especially need to check on at this time. An update from him appears below. Know that your clergy are always available by telephone to address needs, or simply to visit with you. It’s been a pleasure to visit with people this past week by telephone, some of whom I have not yet met in person!
We’ve had a number of calls and emails asking about the implications of COVID-19 for the parish finances. The Vestry met on Tuesday night (by Zoom), and heard that while we do have a satisfactory cash position at this time, the Finance Committee is closely monitoring the situation. Many of you have sent checks into the office (thank you!), and we will soon add an online giving option to our website.
And again, on behalf of my clergy colleagues, and the lay staff, I thank you for those of you who have reached out to assure us of your prayers, or simply phoned to check in on us. We’re all in this together!
Update from Fr. James:
From the Rector, March 20, 2020
From the Rector, March 17, 2020
In light of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, and the various directives of the civil authority, the Bishop has directed that “all public worship services are to be cancelled through and including Palm Sunday, April 5th.” The Bishop further cautions that it is entirely possible that this cancellation will continue beyond that date.
Accordingly, all public liturgies, including Sunday Masses at the Church of the Advent, are suspended at least until that date. Needless to say, this is a disappointment to me, as I am sure it is to you, but the concern is for the common good of society, and we must all do our part. This directive includes rehearsals, non-essential meetings, and any Lenten events. Off-site visits by the clergy will be for urgent reasons only. The Tuesday night community supper will continue, albeit with additional precautions and as a take-away meal.
At the same time, your clergy are committed to maintaining the sacramental life of the parish. Each day, one or more of us will pray Morning Prayer at 9am, and a priest will offer the Mass at 9:30am for the living and the departed, and particularly for the sick, the anxious and lonely and health care workers. Wherever you may be, we invite you to join your intentions with ours at that time, and to make an act of spiritual Communion such as the one here. I also would ask you to add the Supplication to your daily prayers. The Prayer Book enjoins the Supplication for “times of war, or of national anxiety, or of disaster” (p. 154).
The parish leadership team are working on ways for us all to be connected during this time, and for the clergy to provide you with spiritual resources. If you have not done so, please subscribe to/like/follow our Facebook page and check the parish website for these resources as they are posted.
Finally, I remind you that the Church ministers to the whole person, body, soul and spirit, and your clergy stand ready and willing to assist you in any way we can. If you become sick, we need you or someone around you to let us know. If you are isolated and down of spirit, we are most willing to talk to you. If you are homebound and need medication or provisions, we need to know.
You will hear more from me as the situation develops, but do be assured of my prayers, even as I ask for yours.
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will surely help you; I will uphold you with my right hand of righteousness.--Isa. 41:10
From the Rector, March 13, 2020
At Morning Prayer today, those present heard the story of Jesus calming the storm (Mk 4:36 ff) where we read, “Jesus arose, and rebuked the wind and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” I found these words particularly meaningful in light of the public health situation in which we presently find ourselves.
This communication will bring you up to date on the Advent’s response, both practical and pastoral, to fast-moving events. It’s a longish missive, but please read it carefully.
You will have read the Bishop’s first and second communications to the Diocese. If you have not done so, I commend these to your attention. In writing to the Diocese, the Bishop has had the assistance of a task force, to which he has appointed me, and which has been in daily contact since late last week. This small group consists of the Canon to the Ordinary, a representative of Episcopal Relief and Development, two epidemiologists, two disaster preparedness experts, and me. I see my role as providing a pastoral perspective to the Church’s response.
Liturgical response. Needless to say, the sacramental life of this parish is of paramount concern to the clergy. The Mass and the Offices are the heartbeat of what we do here. We must also remember that the Mass is not just a meal of fellowship, but a propitiatory Sacrifice, the Great Prayer of Jesus himself, whom we solemnly offer and re-present to the Father for the sins of the world, and an act of intercession on behalf of that world.
In light of the Bishop’s mandates, the following changes will be made to our liturgical practice:
- Holy Communion will be given in the form of the Host alone; no one other than the Celebrant at Mass will receive from the Chalice. Please be assured that it is perfectly acceptable to receive Holy Communion in one kind only. Holy Tradition teaches the doctrine of concomitance (from the Latin “together with”): the belief that the whole Christ is present in each Sacred Species. Receiving the Host alone is not somehow a “half Communion” because both the Body and Blood of Christ are present in the Host, and likewise both the Body and Blood in the Chalice. The Prayer Book affirms this tradition: if a person “cannot receive either the consecrated Bread or the Wine, it is suitable to administer the Sacrament in one kind only” (BCP, p. 457.)
- Communion will be given into the hand, and not directly onto the tongue. Receiving in the hand minimizes the chances of the priest accidentally coming in contact with your mouth.
- Offering plates will not be passed from person to person. Offering plates will be placed at the back of the church, and at the head of the aisle as you approach the altar, to receive your gift.
- The Peace has been relocated from the Offertory to the Fraction, as permitted by the rubrics of the Prayer Book: “... the exchange of the Peace may take place at the administration of the Sacrament …” (BCP, p. 407.) In practice, the celebrant of the Mass will break the Bread, then sing the Peace, to which the people will make their customary response, kneeling.
- Please continue to use the hand sanitizer available at the doors of the church. The clergy and other ministers do this before Mass and immediately prior to the distribution of Communion. While we look forward to greeting you after Mass, the clergy will refrain from shaking hands at the door. Where possible, please spread out in the church. Surfaces, including the altar rail, are sanitized prior to each Mass.
As I write this, the regular schedule of Sunday and daily Masses and Offices will continue. However, note the following:
- Solemn Evensong and Benediction scheduled for Sunday, March 15th has been cancelled.
- Thursday Stations of the Cross and Benediction are suspended.
If you are a liturgical minister, and are feeling at all unwell or otherwise unable to make it to Mass, it is vital that we hear from you sooner, rather than later.
We should expect further liturgical changes, and I will keep you updated on these.
Community life. The Bishop’s recommendations will also necessitate some changes to the fabric of our community life.
- Sunday Christian education offerings for both adults and children are suspended until Easter.
- Professional nursery care is suspended until Easter. Our caregivers are largely university students, and have departed or will soon depart Boston. Parents may wish to make informal arrangements to watch children during Mass.
- Sunday coffee hour is suspended until Easter. I know this is a particular hardship, but food-service safety is of concern. You may wish to make an informal grouping to go to lunch or a drink after Mass.
- Clergy visits to hospitals and nursing homes will be on an urgent basis only. We will keep up with you by phone, or ensure that you have the ministrations of in-house chaplains where such are available, but by visiting areas of risk, the clergy do not need to themselves become purveyors of viruses to others.
Prayer and Pastoral concerns. The Church ministers to the whole person, body, soul and spirit, and your clergy stand ready and willing to assist you in any way we can. If you become sick, we need you or someone around you to let us know. If you are isolated and down of spirit, we are most willing to talk to you. If you are homebound and need medication or provisions, we need to know. But you must let us know--clairvoyance is not one of the graces given at ordination!
If you are in such a group, or are feeling unwell, you are dispensed from your obligation to be at Mass, and indeed are encouraged to stay home and rest. In such a case, you may wish to make an act of Spiritual Communion (see below).
Know that the rest of us, who will be at Mass, will offer prayers and praises on your behalf.
We would all do well to add the Prayer Book Supplication (also below) to our daily prayers during this time of trial, as the chief work of the Church is prayer.
Finally. Needless to say, this is not how I thought the first weeks of my rectorship at the Advent would be spent! As St Paul says, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). We shall all have to lean on one another during this time, and will emerge on the other side stronger and more united for the experience.
“Jesus arose, and rebuked the wind and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:36f)
O Lord, arise, help us;
And deliver us for thy Name's sake.
O God, we have heard with our ears, and our fathers have declared unto us, the noble works that thou didst in their days, and in the old time before them.
O Lord, arise, help us;
and deliver us for thy Name's sake.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
O Lord, arise, help us;
and deliver us for thy Name's sake.
V. From our enemies defend us, O Christ;
R. Graciously behold our afflictions.
V. With pity behold the sorrows of our hearts;
R. Mercifully forgive the sins of thy people.
V. Favorably with mercy hear our prayers;
R. O Son of David, have mercy upon us.
V. Both now and ever vouchsafe to hear us, O Christ;
R. Graciously hear us, O Christ; graciously hear us, O Lord Christ.
Let us pray.
O most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succor. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts to that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.