Sunday, November 11, 2007



‘Mystery-worshipper’ report on the church in my back yard
Years ago this obviously would have been my geographical parish — I can see the top of the tower from my bedroom — though I may have joined the city Anglo-Catholic ‘shrine’ church where I’ve been a happy non-communicating part-timer for four years, with the King James Bible, the psalm translations by a certain heretical Bishop of Exeter I read daily and the New English Hymnal and the Hymnal 1940 but the Knott Missal, the Breviary, novena prayers and Benediction most Sundays (never the Prayer Book as printed!), or, closer to home, gone one town over where starting around the 1950s there was an Anglo-Catholic parish with a mostly black congregation.

(I can also hear bells on the hour, every hour, even at night, but I’m fairly sure that’s from the Presbyterian church, in another English Gothic masterpiece, north of here.)

As you can see it’s a lovely building. A fairly authentic interpretation from about 100 years ago of a mediæval English parish church (like the ones I was acquainted with or the nearly 1,000-year-old one up north where a friend was once vicar — the Saxons started and the Normans finished it). Among the few clues inside that it’s not, besides the Victorian-ish stained glass, is... the marvellous early-1900s high altar, wide as a house with gradine and six candles in a roomy sanctuary one could have High Mass in. Chances are in the good old days they didn’t. St John’s was good high-and-dry Prayer Book in the day: Central Churchmanship. One curious accoutrement is whilst they’ve got flags on either side of that altar American fashion (not traditional and not really liturgical including when American RCs do it with the papal flag) one is the generic Protestant church flag not the Episcopal one that looks like the Royal Navy ensign.

There are modern-art Stations of the Cross that work (don’t clash) because they’re small.

So, as I had about 45 minutes before going off to my church (all I’ll say is it’s European immigrants at a place where the best of the Middle Ages are not a re-enactment but a living reality; been there over 10 years), I walked over and popped in for most of the eight o’clock service, which true to form was a Low Mass, commonly called the Quiet Eucharist or Quiet Service. (There’s a piano to one side of the crossing — a sung Mass is the historic norm throughout Christendom but no music is better than unliturgical tunes.) And it is advertised as Rite I (the one that retains the Godward, orthodox turns of phrase in Cranmer’s prose — I’ll admit some of his collects top the Roman Rite’s! — but is best known for keeping the thous and thees), closest to the forms I know, which was... almost true. For example the ICEL modern-language Creed threw me so I had to open a book.

The congregation numbered about five people; the rector (in a nice alb with gold embroidery on the cuffs and a silk green crossed stole; a decent chasuble was on the altar rail, not worn till the offertory, a bit of 1950s moderate churchmanship) had no server. Friendly, very pleasant. Older people.

The whole fore-Mass is done from the choir stalls. (Beats the Novus Ordo’s curious cult of the chair.)

I knew exactly where Father pinched the carrying of the gospel book! Actually in that rite the deacon carries it that way dramatically over his head (as he does the veiled paten at the Great Entrance). Later somebody told me he could have got that from Novus Ordo practice so it was passed on.

There was a long, detailed sermon... the Sadducees strike me as rather like the liberal including neocon mainstream today, fashionably sceptical and minimalist (Torah/Pentateuch only, rather like Protestant sola scriptura), and willing to go along with the powers that be, whoever they are... Father called them conservatives but anyway... (They were ‘the establishment’.) It’s always good to remember that ‘Pharisee’ isn’t synonymous with ‘bad guy’; sure there were bad ones but Jesus may have been a Pharisee too! Many Jews were. The Sadducees died out a couple of generations after the destruction of the Temple; modern Judaism comes from Pharisaim.

There is a table in the crossing to celebrate ‘westward’ but like the architecture and vesture overall it’s got mainline culture/charm.

A tasteful shrine or two with votive-candle stands like this place used to have would work.

P.S. A sometime rector, English-born William Manning, as Bishop of New York helped scuttle the attempted Episcopalian-Presbyterian merger in the 1940s and was friends with Fr Franklin Joiner, the rector of Clem’s at the time... at his cathedral there were Prayer Book Masses with Eucharistic vestments and three sacred ministers.

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