Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Miscellaneous Musings Mainly on Holy Week

A few matters I have intended blogging about recently. It is hard to settle my mind to anything now that it is less than 3 weeks until I fly to Europe for 2 months.
The Annual Vestry meeting at St James, King Street is next Sunday. It will be the first I have attended for over 20 years, I never felt really part of a parish before. In all the papers we have been given in preparation there was a report on the National Church Life Survey which was carried out in 2006. I remember filling it out but had only been attending St James for less than 6 months. In fact it was the first day my sister began to regularly attend after our mother's death.
I was at first horrified to see that "Openness to social diversity" was only 21% until I saw that it is only 5% for the rest of the Diocese. In fact the core quality of wider community care and social justice was the top valued quality for St James (28%) while it was only in the top 3 for 8% of the Diocese. The main weakness for St James was in building a sense of community. This is understandable because the church is situated in the main office and legal section of the city and almost none of the regular worshippers would live nearby. The priests live in suburbs at least 10km from the church. Almost everyone would travel past several other parishes in order to attend yet numbers are growing. Also being in the city and being the oldest existing church, we have large numbers of visitors. Most visiting Anglicans would feel completely lost if they attended services at the cathedral about half a km away.

I received these papers on Palm Sunday. In many Sydney parishes there is only lip service paid to the Church year. One or two hymns might reflect the season or day, the sermon might be relevant if it is a really important day. The priest only wears a surplice and scarf (or perhaps a collar and tie)so no colours are evident, perhaps the book mark on the lectern. Some might find some palm leaves to place with the flowers for Palm Sunday. So it has been a unique experience for me to find the church full of palms and for each worshipper to receive a palm cross. Of course the vestments are in the correct colours. Most moving for me has been the exit procession in complete silence with the processional cross shrouded. One really feels that Holy Week has begun. This year the Palm Sunday service began by us meeting in the city square outside and processing around the city block trying to sing "Ride on Ride on in Majesty" in key with the choir way up the front.
I think it would be wonderful to attend every day during Holy week but far too difficult as I have a 2 hour train ride each way.
When I was young I use to attend the 3 hour "Words from the Cross" service beginning at 12 noon in the cathedral. I do not know when this was discontinued. Now all the cathedral advertises is "The Lord's Supper" even the term 'Holy Communion' seems to be out of favour.
I was glad the first year I went to St James we had this most moving service with seven sermons. Then last year they changed the format to just one sermon and many readings with the choir singing chants and leading the congregation in other hymns (no organ).
Some of the readings were very moving, not just scripture but other poems eg.
Bruce Dawe "And A Good Friday Was Had by All" which ends
"then we hauled on the ropes
and he rose in the hot air
like a diver just leaving the springboard, arms spread
so it seemed
over the whole damned creation
over the big men who must have had it in for him
and the curious ones who'll watch anything if it's free
with only the usual women caring anywhere
and a blind man in tears."
As we had some of the same this year it was a bit disappointing. For some reason they have also included the Eucharist although it is reserved from Thursday night (I did not think that was allowed in our Diocese)
As I have stated, while Holy Communion has been reduced in importance in the Diocese generally, they often cannot think of any thing else to do on Good Friday. We often had the Litany when I was young, the only time I ever heard it. At other times we had ante-communion. (which can be confusing if not spelt properly:-))
To me it is always meaningful to receive the Eucharist on Thursday evening and then not again until the wonderful celebration of Easter Morning.
I have stayed seated during the Eucharist on the last 2 Good Fridays and think next year I may attend the Last Supper service on Thursday and not attend on Good Friday.
As it is not possible to attend every day during Holy Week I have greatly enjoyed visiting the blogs on the right (even if they are a day late for me:-)) especially Father Jake with his readings and thoughts and both Susan Russell and Elizabeth Kaeton.
Just imagine, Jensenites, I am being spiritually fed by priests who are not only women but gay as well.
I felt particularly motivated by Susan's message on Tuesday. “The Spiritual Gift of Righteous Indignation” which included:
'And as we follow Jesus this week in the way of the cross may we also be given the grace to take up the cross of righteous indignation and take ON those religious authorities who presume to say who qualifies and who doesn’t to be gathered into God’s loving embrace.'

I will follow this up because I have received a reply to my letter (petition) from Archbishop Jensen (or one of his minions) and now that Holy Week is over I intend writing an answer which I am afraid will not be polite.
And on that topic please read the article in the Guardian about Bishop Gene Robinson. Wonderful wonderful man.


Melinda McJames said...

Holy week at SJKS sounds good and I'm way envious of your trip to Europe.

Interesting comment about righteous indignation and something I've been thinking about a lot lately. From looking at eg, SydAng website etc it struck me that by arguing against them, it affirms their self-righteousness in their own minds. "We are protectors of the truth from the nasty librul sinners" I am pondering if it is possible to show them "a still more excellent way" but do I then run the risk of becoming like them?

Brian R said...

Hi melinda. Good to see you join our little group of Sydney Anglican bloggers trying to witness to a Christianity of Love rather than the gospel of self-righteousness that prevails. Yes my reply to ++Jensen is likely to affirm their beliefs in my wickedness but hopefully it will help me get things off my chest. It is proceeding slowly with lots of prayer.

Boaz said...

Hi Brian, I really enjoyed this post. It is very similar to my own experince of recent years. It annoys me that I was blind to the richness of what Anglicanism offers for so many years before that.

Oh well better late than never.


Melinda McJames said...

I'll add a prayer to those ascending for your letter too :)

Good luck with it.

Davis said...

Brian, I suspect they didn't actually have the "Eucharist" on Good Friday, but rather communion from the reserved sacrament - an ancient custom. I believe the ceremonies of the three great days are based on the report by a woman named Egeria who travelled to Jerusalem in the 5th century and as such they represent the earliest complete liturgies for Holy Week. This was a time when Christians - East and West - were united, so it's an example of full Christian worship without the later divisions.

Have a glorious trip!

Brian R said...

Thanks Melinda for your prayers.
Yes Boaz we missed so much of the wonderful Anglican tradition growing up in Sydney although it was better during my youth than in most parishes today. I am glad we are both able to enjoy new experiences now and are the better for it.
Thanks Davis for the explanation. I guess my feelings derive from the fact that in those days of my youth Good Friday was the one day we did not have a communion service and it made the day so different (although my sister says it is too sad for her). It annoys me that most Sydney parishes just treat it as another chance to evangelise the masses. I do understand that St James is coming from a different perspective.

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian
I've been a lurker for a while here, and felt it's about time I introduced myself. I live in Brisbane Diocese, and my parish church would probably be a bit higher than most, however, I have had considerable experience a both ends of the spectrum.
It's my own opinion that whether the Good Friday service is Antecommunion or the Mass of the Presanctified, the whole point is that the experience of Communion is radically different from any other Day of the Church's Year. IOW, one is not "better" than the other, or "more authentic" for they each help us to focus on the awesomeness of Christ's self-giving.
The AnteCommunion uses absence of familiar signs by stopping the liturgical flow, while the Mass of the PreSanctified places the reception of the Host immediately after the Veneration, enabling the recipient to incorporate one experience (the Crucifixion) with the other (Christ's presence with us today in and through the Host.)
I'm fascinated that despite your anglicised form of your surname, you call Germany the Fatherland. Is that ascription metaphorical or literal?

Brian R said...

Thanks for visiting and commenting Lesley. I readily admit my ignorance of things liturgical due to my upbringing as an evangelical so am glad of any information.
I know my surname is of German origin but have no known German antecedents, it must have been a long way back. I developed a love of all things German when I studied it at school and will be spending a month in German speaking countries. However I was just making a feeble joke when DP mentioned Britain as the mother land.