Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Christ Church Anglican Revisited.

Last year, while making my annual pilgrimage to the Arnold Sports Festival, I discovered a really cool Anglican parish in Columbus, Ohio.  I blogged about it here.

This year, I was able to attend two Holy Communion services at Christ Church Anglican, one on Saturday evening, and the main one on Sunday morning. 

Several friends had asked me, after I posted last year's blog, what a "Contemporary 1928 BCP" service was.  I told them that I didn't know, but I now have the answer to that.

As walked up the sidewalk to the church door on Saturday afternoon, my heart was heavy.  I always try to invite my fellow bodybuilding fans to church, and nobody ever shows any interest.  It makes me sad that so few people in the world seem to truly love church.  I love it so much that it puzzles me how others cannot like it at all.  It seems a burden to them.  Perhaps that is because they are not Anglicans; since I have been Anglican, I love church so much that I would attend even if I ceased to believe in God.  So, anyway, I was a bit sad and lonely as I walked up to the church door.

As I opened the door, however, my heart was lifted straight up into heaven, by the sheer smell of the place.  I love a church that actually smells the way a church is supposed to smell!  Inside, I met Doug, the music minister for the contemporary service.  Then, once in my pew, I met Shaun.  In a breach of Anglican etiquette, Shaun and I chatted before the service started.  I found out that he was from a town in Michigan half an hour's drive from my home.  I also found that we had a mutual friend in Fr. Robert Kerr.

The music used throughout the service was very reminiscent of that used at my local AMiA parish, so was not really my cup of tea.  I commented afterwards that it was a bit like being at a Counting Crows concert.  But, of course, I love the Counting Crows, so it is all good.  Rather than be my usual Music Snob self, I humbled myself and entered into the singing with all my heart, an act of will which God immediately rewarded.  I felt my soul transported again into the presence of God.  The service was a full 1928 BCP Holy Communion liturgy, except that the language was modernized (which thing I abominate, as you can probably guess).  No "thee", "thou", or "thine".  No "vouchsafe".  And "people" instead of "men".  I stumbled badly at several points.  Any time, in fact, that I started to go from memory instead of reading the page.  I found this, frankly, to be very distracting.

I had a good talk with several parishioners and the priest afterwards, and I hope to attend this service again during the 2012 Arnold.

Sunday morning, I arrived at church early, hoping to capture some photographs of the building beyond what I'd taken last year.  Alas, I had left my camera battery in the charger back in my room.  So, no new pictures this year.

The 10:00 am was fairly well attended, considering that there had been an unexpected overnight snow in Columbus.  For the number of parishioners, and the size of the building, the singing was very strong, filling the worship space nicely.  Unfortunately, my own singing was not very good, as I was suffering the last phase of a head cold.  The hymns we sung were interesting.  All were from the Hymnal 1940, but I was not very familiar with most of them.  It made a nice change from singing the familiar ones over and over again.  There was also a very fine Anthem from the choir.

I always give "extra credit" to any parish at which the Passing of the Peace is omitted, and Christ Church got the full amount of the extra credit.

But the one segment of the service which touched me the most was a simple reading of two Collects from very near the back of the 1928 BCP.  They occur on pages 596 and 597, if memory serves.  They were said by the priest just after the Nicene Creed and just before the Sermon Hymn.  They were these:

For Joy in God's Creation.

O HEAVENLY Father, who hast filled the world with beauty; Open, we beseech thee, our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness; for the sake of him by whom all things were made, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Those We Love.

ALMIGHTY God, we entrust all who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come; knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Each of these Collects was like a bullet of love straight through my heart.  Each spoke with incredible precision to a need I had at the moment.  It reminded me once again of the amazing wisdom that is contained in the Book of Common Prayer!  It also reaffirmed my long-standing belief that formal, structured liturgy is no impediment whatever to the Spirit of God.  The Holy Ghost found His target (my heart) with these two arrows!  The first Collect I needed to hear because I have been in a rut (which as an artist occasionally befalls me) of finding beauty only in one certain person I am painting, and not being able to see the beauty in "all thy works".  This prayer is one I've often used to help break out of such an aesthetic bondage.

The second prayer is one that I hardly remember having seen or prayed before, but again it was exactly what my heart needed.  For I have been fretting many months over some friends who are in a hard situation.  I have come to the end of my ability to help them, and have had to yield them over to God's care.  This has been very difficult for me.  But this Collect assures me that God is doing better things for them than I can even think of!  How great is that?

Oh, I almost forgot my other favourite part:  the General Confession.  As Prayer Book Anglicans, we often rush through the liturgy, as if speed were a prime virtue in worship.  Sunday was the slowest I have ever heard a congregation read through the General Confession (same with the Prayer of Thanksgiving on page 83)!  Normally, we cut through the Confession so quickly that phrases like "the burden of them is intolerable" might as well be "two eggs, over easy".  But by slowing down the cadence perhaps 30 to 40 percent, Christ Church Anglican gave me the blessing of feeling, evaluating, embracing, ratifying, and embodying every word and phrase in the Confession.  I cannot tell you how wonderful this felt to me.  I earnestly entreat any Anglican clergyman reading this blog entry to take this challenge:  Slow down the General Confession!  Read it so that it feels almost too slow.  Pause at every punctuation mark.  I have never seen this issue discussed, but it made a night-and-day difference to my worship that morning.

Just as last year, the service was concluded with a beautiful Organ Postlude, which made me wish my wife could have attended.  God willing, she will be there with me next March!