Friday, December 31, 2010

Imagine standing against bigotry

In less than 24 hours, more than 100,000 revelers will be crammed into Midtown Manhattan, waiting for the “ball” to drop above Times Square. If this year matches previous years, the lead up to the final countdown will include John Lennon’s peace anthem, “Imagine.” Lennon described his Billboard #1 hit this way:
'Imagine' is a big hit almost everywhere -- anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugarcoated it is accepted. Now I understand what you have to do: Put your political message across with a little honey."
So before he gets to describing his socialist nirvana, Lennon first trains his caustic political commentary on the church:
Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
As a kid I sang along with most of the Beatles songs, but as an adult Christian I hold this song and similar sentiments anathema (in the New Testament sense of the word).

Still, I wonder how many nominal Christians will hear the song tonight — on TV or in person — and ignore this “sugarcoated” attack on their faith and (one would hope) their entire identity. And I often wonder why the Catholic League, Focus on the Family or some other group hasn’t complained about its use in a public setting — to me a more offensive choice than any moment of silence. (Apparently in 2005 the president of the Catholic League did complain in a TV interview about efforts to make Lennon’s prediction a reality.)

Christians here take their faith seriously, so perhaps there’s hope. Conversely, in May 2009 the Liverpool (Church of England) Cathedral allowed the song to be played on its church bells despite complaints that (as Lennon bragged) the song is anti-religious.

Words mean something — in TV ads, radio jingles, hymns, rap music and pop anthems. It seems that Christians have an obligation to consider all the words they come across in life and the culture, particularly when instructing their (and others’) children in how to live out a Christian life.

Update, June 29: According to a former aide, Lennon actually repudiated his former socialist ideals in the final years of his life and strongly: preferred Reagan over Carter:
"I also saw John embark in some really brutal arguments with my uncle, who's an old-time communist... He enjoyed really provoking my uncle... Maybe he was being provocative... but it was pretty obvious to me he had moved away from his earlier radicalism.

"He was a very different person back in 1979 and 80 than he'd been when he wrote Imagine. By 1979 he looked back on that guy and was embarrassed by that guy's naivete."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An end to one Anglican tradition in San Diego

On Sunday, the parishioners of Holy Trinity (ACNA) in San Diego held their final Sunday worship service in the sanctuary (a half mile from the Pacific) that they have called home for six decades. Having surrendered their legal fight with the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, on Thursday their rector will hand over the keys to the diocese.

A brief story ran last week in the neighborhood weekly, the Peninsula Beacon. On Wednesday, the San Diego Union-Tribune is running a major feature story on this, the last Schism II church in San Diego to surrender its building. (The next to last parish, St. Anne’s of Oceanside, gave up their property a year ago.)

Attending services on both Dec. 25 and 26 at Holy Trinity was very poignant for me, and not because this was the second time I witnessed an ACNA parish surrender their building to TEC. This one was more personal, because this is the parish that my father once attended.

At both services, Fr. Lawrence Bausch, SSC made reference to the move. The Christmas service emphasized Christ coming for our eternal salvation, and thus the need to focus beyond temporary and temporal concerns. The Christmas 1 sermon highlighted some of the history of the parish, which began worship at an Ocean Beach home on Trinity Sunday 1921. (A 95-year-old parishioner attended both the first service and Sunday’s final service in their longtime sanctuary.)

Despite the sadness, it was no surprise: this move has been a long time coming. Holy Trinity (along with St. Anne’s and a third parish in Fallbrook) was first sued in 2007. Other than St. James Newport Beach, I believe all the other California churches have given up on their fights against their respective dioceses. (TEC litigation against the Diocese of San Joaquin poses different legal issues.)

I’ve followed the Holy Trinity situation intermittently over the last three years. Last summer, the vestry and then an all parish meeting decided to abandon the legal appeals and hand over the building to the TEC. As I understand it, the expenditure was certain but the benefit highly uncertain, and at this point the church leaders decided that it was time to move on (both figuratively and literally).

Unlike in Oceanside, the diocese was in no hurry to get the building back. There is a very liberal parish, All Souls, less than two miles away. There is no rump “Episcopalian” membership of Holy Trinity — the entire parish is leaving lock, stock and barrel. Unlike the other disputed properties, the diocese does not even list Holy Trinity in its church finder. Plans to hold a Jan. 9 service as the nucleus of a new congregation seem unlikely to succeed. At the same time, the Union reports that the diocese wanted $2 million to sell the building and was unwilling to rent it to Holy Trinity.

Meanwhile, the “farewell to the building” service (with about 100 people present) was the most crowded I’ve seen since the litigation began. I only recognized a handful of people, in part because (as with elsewhere in California) people have been moving to lower cost locations as the economy has soured.

As the Union article notes, the Holy Trinity faithful are moving (literally) next door to the sanctuary of a much larger LCMS parish, Bethany Lutheran. Sunday’s service concluded at Bethany with a joint prayer between Father Bausch and Pastor Steven Duescher. The combined congregations sang “The Church’s One Foundation” from the Lutheran Service Book (words by Samuel Stone, tune by S.S. Wesley).

However, in the shared space, Holy Trinity will have a less than desirable Sunday worship time: 8:00, before the home parish (10:30), Immanuel Korean Church (12:30), and a non-denominational church (5:00). The facilities (especially parking) are spacious, but the time will be a challenge over the long haul.

Fr. Bausch was called to Holy Trinity in 1979, and he fits the parish so well that it’s hard to imagine the parish with anyone else. How many Episcopal (let alone Anglican) priests are regular surfers? However, his position at Holy Trinity is perhaps a fluke, since in 1979 he was also being considered at another Anglo-Catholic parish in the diocese, St. Michael’s of Carlsbad. The rector called to St. Michael’s in 1979 retired in 1995, and his replacement was forced out earlier this year by the Bishop of San Diego. Once the largest Anglo-Catholic parish in the diocese, St. Michael’s is now destined to become a bastion of high church progressives as its Anglo-Catholic members have formed a new ACA parish, St. Augustine of Canterbury.

In some ways, however, the San Diego ACNA parishes — even without permanent facilities — seem on a more sound foundation than much of ACNA — perhaps due to the mutual support that they provide to each other. Five San Diego area parishes are among 19 in the Diocese of Western Anglicans. These five in San Diego County (population 3 million) contrast with three in Los Angeles County (population 9 million). In part, this seems a testimony to two doctrinally sound (and one decent) bishops who preceded James Mathes, keeping them in the ECUSA longer than most of the West Coast — whereas L.A. and Bay Area are home to many Schism I parishes (ACA and APCK, respectively) that formed decades due to local heresies by people like Jim Pike.

Still, any parish without a building has a long row to hoe. Holy Trinity starts with their 1928 BCP (which the diocese had no use for) but will need to rebuild most of the other assets it had accumulated over the past 90 years.

Update: Photos taken during and after Dec. 26 worship service.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Grinch who ruined Advent

In eight hours, it will be Christmas Day. While the gift giving and receiving no longer provide the excitement of my youth, I do very much enjoy the chance to listen to (and sometimes sing) my favorite hymns of the year. Normally on Black Friday, I load up my 471 Christmas songs on my iPod and play them through the month of December.

But this year, Baptist-turned-Episcopalian-turned-Orthodox pedant Terry Mattingly (of GR and TMatt fame) has been on a tear to ban Christmas carols before December 25. If we were in a Antiochian Orthodox theocracy (fat chance), none would be allowed on the radio, malls or churches before 12:01am tomorrow morning.

It’s been part of his nonstop campaign this month to convince reporters to adopt his typology of American holiday observance: “The Holidays” (the politically correct aversion to the "C" word) vs. “Christmas” (the fat guy in the red suit) vs. "the Nativity of our Lord” (guess which one he thinks is genuine.) He posted on this theme on Dec. 7, Dec. 14 and Dec. 23 on GetReligion, and Dec. 13 on his personal website.

On one level, I see his point. I don’t think that Christmas carols should be sung on Sunday morning in church, when we observe the season of Advent. (And, in fact, made sure this was the policy at our church.) They are two different liturgical seasons for Anglicans, the readings are different, the theology is different — and we have a great selection of historic Advent hymns to choose from.

I could certainly endorse his 2009 column in which he called for keeping the two seasons distinct: the preparation for the coming (or second coming) of our Lord is different from the celebration of it. He quoted from an essay by a Baptist preacher and seminary professor:
Advent … comes to us from a Latin term that means ‘toward the coming.’ The purpose of this season was to look toward the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting. As early as the 4th century A.D., Christians fasted during this season.
However, I disagree with his current jiihad against premature Christmas revelry, on points both big and small.

The smallest point is on use of carols on Dec. 24. Yes, it’s not Christmas until 12:01am, and for years (centuries?) Christians observed a Christmas vigil to take communion after midnight. When I was newly married and in the choir, I went to the midnight mass and enjoyed it greatly. However, my new bride tried it once and concluded that she couldn't stay up that late and function the next morning.

I believe drawing from Jewish tradition, many Christian feasts are observed after sundown the night before. Most Anglican churches I know jump the gun by a few hours with a family Christmas Eve service around 4 or 5 p.m. Is it so doctrinally wrong to sing these carols two (or eight) hours early to accomodate the realities of young children and their sleep schedule.

TMatt also blasts the habit of Lessons and Carols to be performed on some Sunday in Advent, rather than during the 12 days of Christmas. What planet has he been on? I know that the December date has been the norm among Episcopalians for more then 40 years — since I sang at several such services as a choirboy. And I’d be willing to wager $100 that I could find such services during Advent in 19th century England, even during the height of the Oxford Movement.

But let’s set that aside and come to the real point: take your hands off my iPod — particularly the 228 of the 471 songs that celebrate Baby Jesus. (Or, if you prefer, “The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” as TMatt calls it.)

The exigencies of work are such that for more than a decade, I have frequently been out business travel the week before Christmas, up until Dec. 23 or even Dec. 24. One year on Dec. 24, I attended a Sunday morning Anglican service in Yokohama and then the Christmas Eve service at home in California. Christmas music — particularly the sacred kind — is how I prepare myself for the observance of the Christmas season.

Choirs sing Christmas songs in November or even earlier to practice their parts. Why not allow amateur hymn-lovers to remind themselves of the forgotten lyrics of verses 4 and 5 so they’ll be ready for Christmas morn?

Finally, let’s not forget the big picture: the point of Christmas carols — like any other hymns or sacred music — is to communicate and reinforce the faith. In an increasingly secular world, more time spent singing Christmas carols can’t be a bad thing, particularly with the generations growing up (unlike I did) in a world when schools and malls and radio stations no longer sing about the Christ in Christmas.

I was proud to hear my youngest explain to us today: “Christmas isn’t about the presents. It’s about the birth of Jesus.” After remarking on the role of music in celebrating His birth — and how the Christmas carols are her favorite church music of the year — she concluded: “You get to sing amazing music.” I’d say that carols such as The First Noël and Hark the Herald Angels Sing are doing a pretty good job of what the composer and lyricists intended, of preserving the faith across the generations.

As it turns out, we no longer attend service on Christmas Eve: the competing family celebrations make it impractical to get away, even at 4pm. So as we have for the past four or five years, tomorrow morning at 10am we’ll be in church singing our favorite hymns, at a time authorized by Metropolitan Mattingly.

But for the rest of you, enjoy your Christmas hymns today — on the radio, in your car, and of course in church this evening.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lo he comes

We went to two Advent 4 services this morning — one our regular service, one a baptism at another. This is the last of the four weeks where we anticipating the coming of our Savior: the next time we’re in church (either Friday night or Saturday morning), it will be the Christmas season.

The two parishes are Continuing Anglicans and within driving distance of each other. Otherwise, there’s not a lot in common: one was H40 and 28 BCP, the other H82 and 79 ASB.

But the one thing they had in common was two hymns about Jesus’ coming: “O come, O come Emmanuel” (H40: 2, H82: 56) and “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” (H40: 5; H82: 57/58.) By my count, these are two of the seven hymns that form the canon of Advent — the accepted Anglican Advent hymns of the past century.

While I’ve written about Veni Emmanuel, the Charles Wesley hymn I think is underappreciated and worth further mention. (Interestingly, Hymnal 1940 Companion lists it as an Advent 2 hymn, but neither of us got it “right.”)

The 18th century text has two 18th century tunes: St. Thomas and Hemsley, and each parish chose a different tune to end their respective services. The former is the one I grew up hearing as a child in ECUSA parishes, and the voice leading makes it pretty straightforward to sing. (Episcopalian refugees today at the early service also seemed to recognize the tune.) H40 companion says it’s attributed to John F. Wade, from the same manuscript as Wade’s Adeste Fidelis.

I find Hemsley (by Thomas Olivers) intriguing, but more than a little challenging. The choir at the 2nd service was strong enough to carry us, but I think it would have been beyond our abilities at the 1st service with a much weaker choir.

So the Wesley words are a worthy conclusion to Advent in either form, with the choice of melody depending more on musical ability than musical merit.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Halfway through Advent Year A

At church I’ve been helping to pick hymns for Advent, which somewhat makes sense since the music leaders are not Episcopalian or Anglican but also is a bit odd given we use Hymnal 1982, for which my feelings are well-advertised. (And no, this blog does not solely exist to knock H82.)

It’s also a little confusing because Hymnal 1940 has a built-in lectionary guide for hymns but ECUSA decided to make a buck selling ancillary products to achieve the same goal in H82. (Reviews of those products some other time.) Plus the 1979 prayer book has its lectionary and so the H82 guides are tied to that lectionary, but our Schism II parish is using the RCL which is slightly different.

Still, it’s a lot of fun to apply what little I know about hymns to weekly worship and I got many positive comments today from the hymn-lovers among our fellow parishioners. (In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.)

In trying to come up with four hymns each week — matched to three readings and a Psalm for each of four Sundays — it’s been a mixed bag. Sometimes the text is really really clear; in some cases, a hymn guide makes a linkage that I don’t see (but I used the hymn anyway); and in some cases, there’s no obvious linkage so the hymns all tie to one of the other readings.

I started by keeping out Christmas hymns and making sure the best Advent hymns got scheduled. I started from my list last year of the most consistently popular Advent hymns. I supplemented this with a very good (i.e. I agree with it) overview of the best Advent hymns in H82, from Full Homely Divinity (which like this blog seems to anonymously posted by a virtual online ministry.)

There is also the online cross-reference for choosing H82 hymns at the website of Dr. Shirley, using a lectionary cross-reference by Charles Wohlers and Rev. Richard Losch. The Isaiah readings were particularly difficult without this list.

One problem common to any season is that some hymns can be used at any time, not necessarily for a given Sunday. At least half of the hymns from my greatest hits list are of the “the Messiah is coming” variety which of course is the whole theme of Advent. Some hymns (or readings) may focus on the specific Baby Jesus aspect, or on Mary or on his second coming.

So some of what I did was organize the H82 hymns from a H40 sensibility. (This is after all our Rite I service, many of whom used the H40 for years.) At any parish that I’m at, I’m going to pick/lobby for the first hymn of the first week of the church year to be Hymn #1 from H40 (H82 #66): “Come, thou long-expected Jesus.” It’s appropriate to be sung at any time during Advent, but both by convention and its bright nature, it provides a strong (and reassuring) signal about our focus this time of year.

Conversely, it’s hard to pick the right time for Veni Emmanuel (H40 #2, H82 #56) because it fits so well through out the season. At least one friend joked that if I had my way we’d do it every week which is not far from the truth. This year, however, I advised using it to bracket the last Gospel of Advent in the RCL Year A (Matthew 1:18-25), the story of the angel visiting Joseph. In particular, verses 21-23:
21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).
(With a better choir, we’d use recitative and air from the Messiah.)

The other theme that comes up throughout the season — but particularly on Advent 2 — is John the Baptist. There are several hymns that talk about John, but the mandatory one is “On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry” (H40 #10, H82 #76) which fortunately is both familiar and easy to sing.

At times the choices were highly idiosyncratic. For Advent 3, both Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11 make explicit reference to opening the eyes of the blind.  To me, this suggested six words of “Amazing Grace” (“was blind, but now I see”) which seemed like a good enough excuse to lay on four verses of this congregation favorite.

Alas, a bridge too far this morning was to program Sleepers Wake (H40 #3; H82 #61). The Philip Nicolai tune is long and difficult and I don’t think it’s familiar to American Anglicans. I don’t recall hearing it as a kid, so I think I may have mistakenly classified it as familiar from my brief sojourn as an LCMS Lutheran (where it is much beloved). This is a very challenging hymn, and of the four Anglican (3 continuing, 1 TEC) congregations I have most often attended over the past five years, I’m not sure any of them could do it without a strong well-practiced choir.

I also learned that if there’s a three verse limit — four for the sequence hymn — that verses should be consciously chosen for each hymn. For “Creator of the stars of night” (H40: 6; H82: #60) — the John Mason Neale translation of the 1st millennial text — I picked the first verse and the last two. The final verse is a trinitarian ending that I didn’t want to omit, but frankly I thought the penultimate verse (of the H82-altered text) was the most germane to Advent:
Creator of the stars of night,
Your people’s everlasting light,
O Christ, Redeemer, save us all,
We pray you hear us when we call.

Come in your holy might, we pray,
redeem us for eternal day;
defend us while we dwell below
from all assaults of our dread foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
praise, honor, might, and glory be
from age to age eternally.
Now that I move from the theoretical to the practical, there are at least four dimensions for choosing a hymn:
  • Fit to the readings
  • Importance of the hymn (historically, musically, etc.)
  • Inherent singability
  • Site-specific singability, i.e. familiarity to this congregation
We’ll use these criteria next year for Advent, and will probably apply them next month when we re-open the Sanctus selection.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Episcopalians for H40

In looking for Advent hymns, I found a couple of unexpected tributes to my favorite hymnal in the blog of a TEC priest. Not a cradle Episcopalian, Fr. Daniel Martins notes the role that Hymnal 1940 played in his selecting ECUSA:
I became an Episcopalian in the early 1970s, and a semi-mystical experience with the Hymnal 1940 in a piano practice room at Westmont College played a big role in setting me on that path. I was so moved that I thought to myself, “Where have these hymns been all my life? If there’s a church that actually sings them, I need to be in it.” And so I am.
The first hymn he highlights is Hymn 451, which begins “Lord, forever at thy side Let my place and portion be; Strip me of the robe of pride, Clothe me with humility.”

In a subsequent posting, he talks about Hymn #438 (“Jesus, gentlest Savior, God of might and power”) by Anglican Catholic lyricist F.W. Faber. As it turns out, he has many posting on Hymnal 1940 across the years of his blog. It appears as though he’s a learned man of Anglo-Catholic tastes. The comments on his H40 postings seem to come from a mix of TEC and post-TEC Anglicans.

As it turns out, Fr. Martins is actually Bishop-elect Martins, 11th Bishop of Springfield — assuming he gets the necessary consents. Apparently having worked in San Joaquin has convinced some TEC leftists that he’s a closet schismatic, even thought the liberal faction of his new diocese takes him at his word that he won’t try (nor could he) take the diocese out of TEC.

There are certainly others like Fr. Martins. A few of my friends have stayed in the TEC; they haven’t changed what they believe, but don’t (as I do) think it’s a problem that the PB and the majority of the HOD and HOB key elements of the traditional faith. Or their institutional loyalty (or aversion to schism) outweighs any doctrinal differences with the majority faction.

I wonder if there will be a bridge for liturgy between Schism I, II and TEC near-traditionalists. The obvious stumbling block is gender-neutered language, supported by the high church faction of TEC and many in ACNA and adamantly opposed by the BCP28 Schism I. Still, I could see sharing hymns between us — although by definition, a BCP28 traditionalist isn’t going to be composing a lot of new hymns.

It may be that those of us who are theologically doctrinaire Anglo-Catholics will cooperate with those we left behind in TEC in South Carolina and a few other dioceses. Or perhaps when (if) Hymnal 1940 goes out of print, it will be up to a Schism I group to keep it alive forever as the politically incorrect language becomes anathema to TEC, even if it can make a buck from it.