The spiritual nature of our Anglican tradition is a blending of history and cultures. Christianity landed on the British Isles very, very early, so early that there were British bishops at the Council of Arles in 203 of the Christian era. It spread throughout Roman Britain, right up to Hadrian’s Wall. It was the Christian faith of the day, filtered through Roman British culture.
In the 5th century a young Welsh Christian, son of a priest, was captured by Irish slavetraders. He spent several years in Ireland, learning Irish and tending his master’s sheep. When he escaped and returned to Wales he had a dream like St. Paul’s that he should go back to Ireland to evangelize the Irish. He was ordained priest and Bishop and sent over-and the legendary work of St. Patrick is as magnificent as it is fantastical! His work and that of the early Irish Christians, Brigid being one of the major ones, established the faith on that Island filtered through the Irish heart and mind. It became a church of humble scholar monks and nuns who valued creation, creativity, and art. They valued women in the Church and they weren’t too concerned about whether a cleric was married or not. Their authority structure was very flat, a bishop or abbot, monks and nuns and lay people. The monastery in the center of the village was the heart of the village, often made of wood and not very ornate, it was, in a very Celtic sort of way, the spiritual heartbeat of the community.
In the meantime the Roman Empire began to crumble, and as one writer put it, the Empire began amputating its outlying provinces as the resources necessary to maintain them dried up. England was one of the early ones, being so remote from the Italian peninsula. Hadrian’s Wall proved no barrier, and Christianity was all but expelled by the Celtic Bretons and Picts by the end of the 6th century. Into this scene Pope Gregory the Great sent a Benedictine monk bishop named Augustine to England to re-evangelize the land. He landed in Kent and set up his base of operations in Canterbury. From there he successfully pushed the faith northward. He brought Roman hierarchy, architecture, discipline and order, and he brought the historic heritage of the ancient Church.
In the meantime the Irish, well-established in the emerald isle, began to carry the faith to the Scottish Pictish people. The Irish custom moved south out of Scotland and met the Roman custom moving north out of Canterbury in Northumbria in the 7th century. After a lot of haggling and negotiating the Roman custom became standard, but the Irish heart and mind continued to influence the faith in England right to this day. Anglican spiritual roots around the world are to be found in this Benedictine synthesis of the hierarchy and order of Rome and the earth-centered, heart-driven Christianity of the Celts. It has created a stream in the river of the Christian faith that has several outstanding characteristics of which two deserve our attention today.
History: In line with Augustine and the Roman strand in our tradition, we have a value for the historical. In the Chicago Quadrilateral of 1886 established the value of the historic Episcopate, and the value of Apostolic Succession. (See BCP, p. 877-879.) We have a hierarchical structure, with bishops, priests, deacons and lay people. We are not Congregationalists. Good Shepherd is part of a larger entity, the Diocese of the Rio Grande, that is part of the Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican Communion worldwide.
We have historically rooted worship, which we will pick up in a minute.
Innovation: In line with the Irish church, we have a fascination with mystery. One sees in the writings of the first real Anglican writers a care in not scribing too hard and fast a line around the nature of the divine, the sacraments and the inner life of prayer. The earth, the role of women, art and creativity are important to us. We really like to believe that God is just beyond our grasp as people, a mystery into which we are being drawn.
We have a desire to adapt to the local setting. The English were among the first to use the language of the people in worship, and to translate the Bible into the local language. We’ve always seen marriage as a viable option for clergy. As the Puritan movement gained momentum in the Church of England Richard Hooker’s famous defense coined the phrase, “Via Media,” the middle way between Rome and the rising Protestant movement. The needs of the needy around us have always been compelling. In the 19th the Rev. Frederick Maurice began to work with the poor of London and began the Christian Socialist Movement. We have the Episcopal Relief and Development Department of our national church that last year disbursed almost 24 million dollars in 2015. We have innovation in programs, which we’ll pick up in a minute.
How do we live out those two strands of our tradition today? The forms of our worship trace back to the earliest days. Next week Sarah will walk you through the service itself, but I have a handout of liturgical vestments, colors, etc. that will help orient you. We use vestments, colors, drapings and pageantry.
- Green for growth,
- Red for the Holy Spirit,
- White for celebration,
- Purple for preparation and penitence.
- Blue as an alternative for Advent, with its traditional association with Mary.
On the Altar we have the holy hardware with its symbolism and function.
- Burse, Veil and Pall form the tomb of Christ that is spoiled by the Resurrection.
- Chalice, the blood of Christ in which we all share.
- Paten that, like the Cross holds the broken body of Christ, which we are.
- Purificator, cleaning the chalice, reminds us of the purifying work of the Cross.
- The Corporal marks out the holy of holies on the Altar.
- Candles symbolize the light of God in our midst.
We have a liturgical calendar, color-coded by season to “redeem the time.”
Part of the liturgical function of the Church is expressed in its architecture. The church is cruciform in shape, with the side-arms of the Cross, called Transepts, in our church consisting of the Choir and the Organ. Liturgically the wall behind the Altar is the East Wall because it faces Jerusalem and the sunrise. (In our church we’re set exactly 180 degrees backwards so that liturgical east is geographic west, north is south, etc.) The Altar is at the crossing of the transepts with the Nave and the Chancel. The Church, then, becomes a building built around an Altar.
Religious art has enhanced our worship since the earliest days-in windows and hanging on the walls. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, is our historic tradition expressed.
Innovation can be seen in the changing focus of the Church through the centuries. The Church has always been involved in addressing social injustice in one sense or another. The ancient church was dramatically egalitarian compared to the highly stratified social structure of the ancient Roman Empire. Monasteries in the Medieval period were always places of refuge for fugitives and a meal and a bed for the destitute. Innovation carried us through Reformation concerns about Scripture and Reason, the challenges of the Enlightenment and the rise of the Modernist movement, to issues of social justice, like The Industrial Revolution and the social inequities created, Slavery, Women’s suffrage, Temperance, Racism, Sexism, Human sexuality, and now, international politics and religion.
At the same time, since the days of Emperor Constantine, it has been invited to participate in the power structures of government and society. Sometimes we have done it well, when bishops have stood up to inequities in the power structures of the world bravely and sometimes at great cost. Sometimes we have done it badly. We have been seduced by power and wealth lost sight of the Gospel of the Poor, and become a pawn, not of the Christ we serve, but of the Emperor and temporal powers.
There was a big shift in the Church in the 1960’s. Prior to that we were the church of the establishment. Historically we have been the Church of the influential class. Still more than half the presidents of the United States have been Episcopalians, and the National Cathedral is an Episcopal parish. Here at home there was a time when all the merchants of Bullard Street were members of Good Shepherd. We have sided more with the Emperor than the Bishops.
With the social upheaval of that decade we turned once again to issues of the day. We took on sexism and welcomed women into the priesthood. We participated in the human rights movements of the 1960’s, losing one of our own among the four martyrs in Selma, AL, Jonathan Myrick Daniels. From that has come movements in the church to combat racism, sexism, and to fight for the rights of immigrants, Native Americans, the liberation of modern-day slaves, the rights of homosexual people, etc. Recently I received a communication from the president of our House of Deputies, a lay person, who calls us to resist the emerging immigration policies of our executive branch of government. We have sought to regain the voice of the bishops.
A two-prong approach to anything is not simple. People have varying takes on how to live out one or the other. People have varying opinions about the relative weight of one or the other. But we are in this together. An emerging characteristic of the Anglican Tradition is a tolerance for ambiguity and plurality of thought. Somehow, if the God behind it all is truly a mystery, it makes sense that people will have varying experiences with that God, and varying interpretations of those experiences. For that reason alone read Scripture differently. So we have this undying idea that by listening carefully, lovingly and respectfully to one another we do not have to give up our own experience, but we may broaden our interpretation, and deepen our understanding of the unchanging God we see in Jesus Christ, and work out more and more faithful ways of living into that Gospel in our day and time.