A Note from the Rector – 3/10/19

Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent.  This morning we join in the prayers of the Church using a very ancient form of prayer—the Great Litany.  The Great Litany is the real deal; the big time; the major leagues of prayer.  This prayer was first assembled in response to a 4th century volcanic eruption.  It was further shaped by political uncertainty, war, and medieval outbreaks of the Black Plague in Europe.  In 1544, the Great Litany was the first part of the Liturgy to be translated (and heavily edited) into vernacular English by Thomas Cranmer.  Five years later Cranmer finished the first Book of Common Prayer, which stands at the fountainhead of our own style of worship.  Cranmer’s version of the Litany melded medieval catholic spirituality with the theological concerns of the Reformation.  Martin Luther’s hand can still be detected on the version of the Litany that is in our prayer book.

At one time, the Great Litany was prayed by every Anglican parish every Sunday.  These days, even though it is included in our version of the prayer book, it has fallen into disuse.  This is a real shame. As one scholar writes, the Litany is “a most careful, luminous, and comprehensive collection of the scattered treasures of the Universal Church.”  It holds together the reformed and catholic strands of our tradition, and it articulates the needs, anxieties, and suffering of humanity with a power that is rare.  More than that, the Litany is a profound reminder that we need to rely on the grace and mercy of God.  This is equally true today as it was in the 4th century, or the 14th.  Our life depends on God, whether we recognize it or not.  And the fact is, we often don’t recognize it.  Lent is a good time to correct that, so let’s do it with style.

This morning’s service is going to feel different.  We will begin the service by chanting together this ancient, beautiful prayer. The choir is going to march around the church really slow, and any children present might feel like joining in the march, which would be ideal as far as I am concerned.  My experience is that children intuitively understand the grandest and most sublime parts of liturgy, even if their response to them don’t always strike us adults as appropriate.  It’s going to take some time to chant the Great Litany, which is okay.  Don’t be anxious.  This is an opportunity to lose yourself in the mystery and the majesty of something bigger than you, something more important (really, it is) than the busyness and anxieties and luxuries of everyday life.  I promise it will be worth it.  I also promise to keep my sermon short.  🙂

For more on the history and use of the Great Litany see this excellent article from the Living Church magazine.

A Note from the Rector – July 22

Last week I mentioned two historic actions of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church—a plan for liturgical revision, and the reunion with the Episcopal diocese of Cuba.  This week I want to fill in some of the other important things that happened.  As always, it was a two-week frenzy of worship, legislation, discussion, and debate. What distinguished it from recent General Conventions, however, from the reports of many attendees, was the spirit of grace and the evangelistic energy that characterized the gathering. Here are some of the highlights:

The Way of Love: Our Presiding Bishop. Michael Curry, has introduced The Way of Love, a way for Episcopalians to think about their lives of discipleship in terms of a rule of life. You will be hearing more about this in the coming weeks and months, and you can read more about it here.

Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Creation Care: The budget for the national church reflects our priorities of evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care. Especially worth noting is a significant investment in church planting as well as redeveloping struggling congregations.

Responding to the Concerns of Women: The House of Bishops heard the stories of many women who had experienced harassment or serious discrimination while working in Episcopal churches and other institutions, and committed itself to making concrete changes in the way we work as a church. Some of these changes that have already been implemented include alterations to the disciplinary process and the creation of task forces to address compensation differences, pensions, child care, the call process, and other personnel issues.  This is really important work.

Responding to Impaired Clergy: The Episcopal Church is strengthening its screening processes for ordination as well as creating intervention procedures for clergy who suffer from addictions.

Same-Sex Marriage in Traditionalist Dioceses: Before this Convention, there were eight Dioceses whose bishops prohibited same-sex marriage from taking place anywhere in the diocese. Another compromise resolution passed by this convention makes it possible for congregations within these dioceses who wish to offer the rite of marriage to same-sex couples to do so, under the pastoral supervision of another bishop. This is a form of what is usually called DEPO: Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. Precisely how these arrangements are lived out in the eight affected dioceses will become more clear in time. In the meantime, I ask your prayers for all those who will be discerning how to move forward, even as I rejoice that our church has found a way to walk together in unity.

Trial Use Liturgy:  In the absence of immediate and total prayer book revision (see my note last week), General Convention did pass a resolution which allows for trial use of our well beloved Rite II service with a number of changes to introduce more expansive and gender neutral language into this prayer. This liturgy is not perfect, and will have to have some rough edges knocked off of it.  It is unclear when and how this will be implemented, but you will be hearing more about this.