Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Epiphany in Summer

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I stepped into the Cathedral before Evening Prayer in the chapel.  It was the time of quiet afternoon shadows, with the western sun streaming through the stained glass windows.  Flickering votive candles and the scent of incense remained from the morning celebration of the Eucharist.  All converged to focus and open the sacred.  (Choir member Dave Baxter took this photo of one of the west windows (a Tiffany) at a similar moment a few weeks ago):

Our buildings and even much of our liturgy are, to a great extent, ruins of Christendom, fragments of an earlier era that have survived to this one.  Not unlike the candlelight and incense left from a Sunday Mass.  And yet these things still have the capacity to be signs of the Resurrection.  Thank God for those who work, pray,and give to keep them going in our midst.  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

So what is it about Call the Midwife and Rev?

I am one of those Anglophile types who enjoys many of the programs that come to us from the BBC or ITV.  Most Sunday evenings eventually come to Sharon and me sitting down to watch one or two of them.   I have come to expect that the Church of England in general, and the clergy in particular, will not be presented in these programs in a very flattering light.  In fact the clergy are frequently portrayed as strange and ineffective, as lazy, or alcoholics, or hiding some dark secret, usually of a sexual nature.  Those of us who live closely to this world know that sometimes such things are true, but we also know that these dramatized stories are way out of proportion to the real world of ecclesiastical and clerical life.

What a relief and happy surprise it is, then, to see positive, healthy, and realistic depictions of church people and ministry in two current and popular British programs, Call the Midwife and Rev.  Midwife is about the work of Anglican Sisters and Nurse Midwives in the East End of London in the 1950's.  Rev. portrays the life and struggles of an Anglican Vicar in the inner city today.  Of course both are made for television, but they are recognizable to me as the Anglican/Episcopal way of being Christian that I know, live in, and love.

It is a happy surprise as well to read that the gritty and unglamorous ministry of the inner city church world is actually appealing, an appeal that reaches to younger folks preparing for ordination to the priesthood.  Count it another sign of resurrection in the ruins of Christendom.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Restore the Ruins? Why the Question Mark?

I am just finishing up a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching through the A.C.T.S. program in Chicago and Bexley Seabury (which is why this blog has been so quiet for a while).  It has been a great experience for me, including the Oral Review last Thursday with my adviser Ted Curtis and Seabury faculty member John Dally.  As we came toward the end of the review, John asked me about the title of my thesis, "Restore the Ruins: Cathedral Preaching on the Other Side of Christendom."  Did the title reflect the tone of irony in the text?  The title came from signs I had seen around the ruins of Coventry Cathedral in England while I was there last summer.  A capital campaign was underway to "restore the ruins" and the Coventry web site page about this concludes with the wonderfully evocative phrase, "Without your help these ruins may not be around for future generations to enjoy."  Well, I decided to add a question mark in my thesis title to make it "Restore the Ruins?"

This is not a satirical or cynical question, but an ironic one.  I believe that cathedrals are indeed ruins of Christendom, in metaphorical sense.  They are remnants of a culture which saw itself as Christian through and through, a culture now gone, though pieces of it remain.  And remain in many cases, with continuing or renewed vitality.  Our post-everything time includes, for many, a longing to learn from the past (which is not the same as longing to go back there).  Cathedrals, as ruins, draw a wide range of people for a wide range of reasons.  There remains a public perception, hopefully somewhat accurate, that cathedrals (like ruins) have porous boundaries which enable access for both coming and going.  What does it mean, not just physically in Coventry, but generally to "restore the ruins?"  It is a provocative question, and not only for cathedrals.

The Church is dead; long live the Church.  Or, better, "Much of the Church as we knew it is dead or dying; long live the Church as it will be."  Cathedrals and other "ruins" will not lead us back to Christendom, but, for the time being, it looks like they will be part of carrying us forward to what God is stirring up.