11.10.09

Worship (Anglo-Catholic and Forward-in-Faith)


This morning I went to Anglo-Catholic Church, St Laurence's in Long Eaton, presided over by Father Simon. It is a Forward-in -Faith church under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet.
On entering the building, I was struck by how old it is, parts of it are Norman. I was warmly greeted and handed a hymn book and a couple of printed pieces of paper, one about the church notices and another with supplementary hymns. I noticed that one of the hymns we would sing would be the one about Samuel: 'Is it you Lord, did you call Lord? I have heard you calling in the night'. I looked forward to this.
We opened with the Gloria and then prayers, particular in content to what had gone on in the week and sung by the priest in charge. They were about the dedication of the building which had been celebrated as a living temple to the Lord for over one thousand years.
2 Chronicles 5 was then read by a woman at the front from behind a golden eagle lectern. A psalm was then sung and the congregation joined in with the words: 'The waters of a river give joy, give joy to God's city (1078)'
We then sang 'hallelujah' whilst the members of the choir with extra functions such as holding the candles at the side of the Bible (there is a name for them which escapes me) and swinging the incense, processed to the middle of the aisle so that the priest could read from the gospel according to John. 'Hallelujah' was then sung again and the Bible was replaced onto a special stand where it sat in full view of the congregation. Father Simon then ascended the pulpit to preach.
There was humour in his sermon. His aim was to unpack what had happened in the week with the procession through Walsingham of the relics of Saint Therese of Lisieux , who had made her way throughout the country attended by large crowds, 5000 people in Walsingham according to this blog. (Therese was a young cloister nun who lived in the North of France at the end of the 19th Century. She died young after two years of suffering).

Father Simon wanted us to wonder about how and whether the veneration of relics contrasts with our modern sensibilities? Do we struggle with it? After all, we are a resurrection-people! And yet there is a place for this too.

St Laurence is a Norman church and a house of prayer so when we think of the relevance of relics, we think of the building of these temples of God. The relics would have sat in the alter places of newly consecrated churches. In Rome you can visit the tomb of St Laurence if you should so wish. The church was built over his tomb there because people wanted a tangible link with the saint. Saint Polycarp 157AD spoke of these martyrs of the faith as being not so much chained with metal but with diadems because in their martyrdom they were professing with confidence that they had been truly chosen by God. Ignatius of Antioch wrote on the day of his martyrdom that he was God's wheat being ground by the wild beasts so that he might be found purely in Christ.
I think at this point about how Father Simon is attempting to redeem for us how we feel about relics and have us not revere too much those who have come before us so that the sufficiency of Christ is compromised (not that it ever could be) but also bid us have respect for our fore-fathers and mothers, without whom our churches wouldn't be what they are.

Father Simon goes on to tell us how Laurence was mentioned by Gregory in the 6th century because Gregory received the parts of this martyr's bones. King Knut, (who tried to part the waves unsuccessfully) had a wife who had the bones of the arm of Saint Bartholomew amongst her most treasured possessions. Between 500 and 1500 AD ladies and lords would have treasured such bones or fragments of the saints. How different are we? Father Simon asks this, suggesting that when we display photographs of the generations that have preceded us or cling on to precious china bequeathed, valuing it priceless for its sentimental value, we are not so different. However, we had the reformation and there is a little laughter here to demonstrate that it was a right and necessary thing, for I think Father Simon is being careful that we shouldn't make too much of these saints of the past.

Here now is where we turn to application from 1 Corinthians 3.
Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
We are, in the words of St Peter 'the living stones'. (1 Peter2:5)

Relics are important for the consecration of churches and we should not scoff at them but we should also not attend too much to the value in these things – we are the people of the resurrection! The Church understands this. Rome would not pay ransom money to the thieves who stole the bones of St Lucy because they know they are a resurrection people.

So what makes this building Holy? It is consecrated – yes, but it is us who are sacred! As St Paul tells us, we are the living temple.
I think this is where the emphasis of the sermon lies.
No matter what respect you give; this veneration you give, it is more important to respect and revere the person who sits right next to you, Father Simon insists.
Anselm is mentioned because we celebrate his 900th anniversary. He had been given relics as a gift and rejoiced in the gift but returned them to the sender. Anselm's own relics are not venerated to the same extent as those of Thomas of Canterbury's and yet Anselm's prayers form an important part of our devotions.

So what do we think about relics? We have them in our time, even now in Oxford you can purchase a small vial containing the sweat of Marilyn Monroe, should you wish!

How would we behave if we were to visit the temple at Jerusalem? We certainly would not play football there.

And so it is right to give the due respect. However, respect more fully the person sitting right next to you and on this dedication Sunday, thank God for the saints who have come before us but also that you have been called by God to be a Holy people! Amen.


The sermon therefore ends on this high note before we chant the Nicene Creed and complete the intercessionary prayer asking the Lord to 'graciously hear us'. Prayers end with
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.
And somehow I find myself saying this until I refrain half way through because it doesn't feel quite right. I know now not to say the Angelos at the end, which I can see is coming up and indeed, when the congregation turn to face the statue of Mary and speak their words to (through?) the Theotokos, I turn just half way around but address my prayers instead to Jesus by focusing on a plaster icon which hangs of him on the cross above my head. I am hoping that there was no churlishness in me at this point for I rather prefer to think that I was being true to my evangelical insistence on Christ Alone.

I need to further inspect my motives.

However, between the 'Mary sandwich', we partake in the Eucharist. A hymn is sung and incense is swung as the elements are prepared. The organ plays in the background. The peace is signaled but not enacted with a handshake for we move on quickly as words are chanted about what God has accomplished for us in Christ and we sing that it is 'right to give thanks and praise'. We then hear a bell ringing as the elements are made ready and we sing 'O Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world', the singing of which never fails to move me in a deep part of my being. The Eucharistic prayer is chanted and bells ring at the mention of the bread and the wine and perhaps to signal the descent of the Holy Spirit, which is something else that leaves me in a bit of a theological tangle. I have much more thinking to do about what I actually think happens at the Eucharist. The priest remembers in his prayers not just Rowan but the Pope too, which I find interesting, and also Mary and the saints and all of us gathered, in the hope that our lives might be a worthy offering. Communion is shared and we drink from the cup despite the ruling against it from Rowan that we shouldn't because of the spread of swine flu.

The blessing finishes the service. 

Notices and thanks to the choir are given after the banns of marriage are read and then we are off to the church hall for coffee and tea where I am very moved by one woman, who gives me an enormous hug and a kiss on the cheek and tells me that I am very welcome.
Father Simon is an affable, approachable and humble man, who doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. It transpires that he frequents New Wine and when I rather foolishly suggest that perhaps there is an evangelical within him ready to burst out (why did I say that?!), he assures me quite passionately that he is an evangelical and what does it all mean anyway? Think, Rach!!

So there we are. I felt at ease and loved in that place. I felt that I was honouring God in all his otherness and mystery and taking part in something very special. I thought about the Holy Spirit and felt his presence and taking the Eucharist in that place felt awesome and solemn. However, I missed Jesus a little and I would have liked for more to have been made of the gospel reading from John. I am pretty convinced, however, that this would have happened had it not been dedication Sunday.

I felt indebted to the great heritage of the Church but also that if someone had entered from the street, someone unchurched, they might have missed the message of God's love for him/her in his making us the living stones because that person would not have been able to access allusions to Polycarp and Ignatius, Saint Theresa and Anselm unless they had been a part of the crowds which had accompanied Theresa's procession, of course.

I felt as though the gospel was being proclaimed but not afresh for this generation, it was instead directed to feeding the faithful who were present and already mature in their faith. Perhaps there are churches for whom this is to be their role. Local people are provided for, though. The church does run Alpha and have activities occurring in the week for the unchurched and it obviously has a presence in the local community as it involves itself in fund-raising campaigns and opens its doors to people on a Saturday.

So I am left with some questions. Do those who do not sit happily with the ordination and consecration of women more often become incumbents of Anglo-Catholic churches? Where else is there a safe haven for traditionalists outside of Anglo-Catholicism? How does the oversight of a flying bishop work in practice? What does it mean for the theology of the episcopate when the Bishop is supposed to symbolise unity?

I was pleased to see this church welcoming us so warmly into the fold. There are people within the church who do and do not believe in the ordination of women. It transpires that my friend who invited me there would be happy to receive communion in my church from a woman but not in his own church from a woman.

Father Simon was a very warm, intelligent and godly man. I didn't ask him how he felt about the two integrities because it didn't seem to matter at the time. It doesn't. I realised how I have grown. I felt no concerns about being there as a future ordained woman amongst people who would choose not to take the Eucharist from me. I just felt at peace about it.

So this morning I felt very held by God, comfortable with every element of the liturgy and worship but less so about the veneration of Mary. It will not be a place in which my own ministry can flourish because there are the obvious barriers. However, I would not find it too difficult to go on placement there. I feel as though I would learn a lot.

Looking at Father Simon, I was able to imagine myself properly for the first time wearing all the gear and reciting all of the correct things. The vicars dress less formally where I woeship. At the same time I was thinking that I am probably seeking to integrate a more charismatic, joyful expression of worship, an intimacy with Jesus to be celebrated, not to the exclusion of the awe and reverence with which we approached God this morning for that I dearly value but with a little more emphasis than there was today on God's immanence as well as his transcendence.
Thank you Father Simon!
Update fr Simon joins the Ordinariate

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.