Monday, October 12, 2015

Then, Now and Will Be: 1892 and 120 Years of Stewardship

On the Occasion of the 120th Anniversary of St. Clement’s
Scripture Found Here

For context, the liturgy used on the 120th Anniversary of the Founding of St. Clement's was that of morning prayer with communion from the 1892 Prayer Book (American).  An online version of the 1892 prayer book can be found at

On the bookshelf in my house I have a copy of my Mother’s 1928 Book of Common Prayer--my brothers thought I should have it after she died, you know, since I’m the religious one.  It has her name in it, and every time I look at it, I am reminded of her.  I’ve never used her prayer book for my own prayers, but it becomes a means of connecting with my memories of her and grounds me more firmly in who I am.  

And, then, there is my home communion kit. Gifted to me by Jean Hoover, it belonged to her husband, the Reverend Henry Hoover.  Both Jean and Henry have died, but in using their gift I am reminded of the love that endures all things.  In the kit is a note--detailing its origin as Henry’s father’s kit, a gift from his Bishop.  I am the third generation of priest to carry this kit on visits.

We are all carriers of memories, of objects we deem sacred, we keep the traditions and pass them on to the generations to follow.  And, it is a gift to be able to turn a page and see for ourselves what those who’ve preceded us in this life of faith held dear. To kneel as they kneeled, to say the words they would have said, to be in this space and know the love and care that has gone into the preservation of what could be a museum piece alone--but is instead a vital and busy place of prayer, fellowship and service.  

Today we mark the 120th Anniversary of St. Clement’s and just as described in the carefully preserved newspaper clippings in the Service Register kept that year, we celebrate with 1892 morning prayer followed by communion.

“At the close of the consecration service, Morning Prayer was said by the Reverend Ernest Dray, the Lessons being read by Archdeacon Appleby. Bishop Potter delivered an able and appropriate the conclusion of the sermon, Bishop Gilbert, who was suffering from a severe cold, made a very brief address, calling for the need of unity and cooperation on the part of all who proposed to make St. Clement’s their church home.  Holy Communion was celebrated, Bishop Potter acting as celebrant.” (newspaper clipping, found in Parish Service Book).  

Unity and cooperation...

And, so 120 years of unity and cooperation (mostly!) have brought us here--to a place many of us call our church home.  And, our own unity and cooperation is just as essential now as it was then--we bring a variety of gifts to this place, and it is that very diversity of gifts that enlivens the body of Christ and allows us to continue on in this place for the people of the now and the people who are yet to be.  

And, so, 1892 in 2015--then and now. And I wonder how we, the people of the now, hear the words of the people of the then.  Words like render, dissemble, goodly, vouchsafe.  Phrases such as, “the place of departed spirits” and “dispose the hearts of all rulers.”  

And, then the scripture, King James Authorized--no longer authorized for our regular Sunday observances!  How will we hear the good news if the words no longer make sense to us?  

A word by word explication seems necessary.  But, then, I begin to feel a bit like the Humpty Dumpty of Alice’s encounter in “Through the Looking Glass”.  Humpty Dumpty assures her that he knows the meaning of all poems and so Alice requests an explanation of the opening verse of Jabberwocky...

''Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
   And the mome raths outgrabe.'

'That's enough to begin with,' Humpty Dumpty interrupted: 'there are plenty of hard words there. "Brillig" means four o'clock in the afternoon — the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.'

And, so, Humpty Dumpty and Alice continue through each word of the opening verse of Jabberwolky, concluding

“'what does "outgrabe" mean?'
'Well, "outgribing" is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle...Who's been repeating all that hard stuff to you?'

'I read it in a book,' said Alice.” (Carrol, Through the Looking Glass, 1971)

I read it in a book...and here we are with our books, and these words, and our history. 

From the first American Prayer Book in 1789 to the current 1979 version.  

So, what do we see in these words and phrases...what needs opening for the meditation of our hearts? When I asked myself, what one thing do I want each of you to hear in the midst of all of the words of today, I found myself drawn to one simple sentence from the Gospel.  

 “Then Jesus beholding him loved him”.  

Jesus loved him--even though he didn’t get it, even though he walked away distraught at the notion of giving out of his abundance, Jesus loved him. I’ve often thought of this text as an indictment against the accumulation of wealth at the expense of others—and it is (and next time this Gospel appears on a Sunday you’ll hear more about that!).  But, what I’d never noticed was that despite this young man’s inability to let go of the wealth that he has been told is keeping him from living up to God’s standards…despite this, he is loved by God.  When we fall short, Jesus loves us.  When we are unable to do what we should, God is present and we are loved.  

And, perhaps this, perhaps this is what unifies and allows for our cooperation--this shared knowledge that no matter how we might fall short, we will be loved.  And, no matter how our fellows fall short, they too are loved.  

The generations preceding us at St. Clement’s would have heard this text in the course of their own worship here.  And, I wonder if they too were drawn to the knowledge that Jesus loved him, and in loving him demonstrates that we ourselves are loved. I wonder, if someone sitting in that pew there, might have underlined that phrase and found comfort in it for another day.  

These are our books, these are our things, these are our inheritances.  And, they remind us both who we are, from whence we have come and of the God of love to whom we belong.  And, so the invitation today is to enter into this service with a sense of wonderment, wondering at what our ancestors in this place thought and held dear, wondering at our ability to pray these prayers that they prayed, wondering at the stewardship, and trust that was extended in order to make this place this place.

We are here because they were then.  

They will be because we are now.

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