Anglo-Catholicism, Priestcraft

Forever Front of House: Why I Wear a Maniple.

When I was a transitional Deacon I worked in a restaurant. The significance wasn’t lost on me. The commissioning of the seven was read at my ordination, complete with that lovely line “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables.” (Acts 6:2)

I’m not much for literalism, but it was fitting to say the least.

Service industry work is hard. Its taxing physically and emotionally, and so, almost by necessity, Industry workers form this weird kind of closeness. You’re getting into work when the rest of the world is getting ready to go out for the evening. You’re getting off when the rest of the world is asleep. The people you get to know and get to love are the people who share your hours, and who share your stories. It’s weird and lovely and transitional and heartbreaking. Some people thrive on it. Some people just pass through. Some do it because they have to.

In a lot of ways its what the Church should be. Diverse people, all of whom are a little fucked up, uniting around a shared life, shared food, shared drink.

When I transferred to full time parish ministry it was a bit of a shock. I missed the sense of shared purpose. I missed the late night beer and bitching. There was a lot of temerity about sharing too much. About being too loud. About being too open. Eventually that wore off. Things started to open up. Folks started asking me to be a priest, but it still wasn’t quite the same.

One day I started looking through the Sacristy, just to take stock of what we had and what we needed to order. Hanging on a plastic hangar, buried behind unused acolyte albs was a set of maniples. It was pretty obvious that they had been hand sewn (the stitching was a bit rough) and there was one for every liturgical color.

I’ve made it a practice to pray while I’m vesting. I use the old Tridentine formulas that I taped to the door of the wardrobe in the sacristy. I always just skipped the prayer for the maniple, but now that I had some I figured I’d try them on for a few Sundays and see how they felt. I’d just run a small, mostly harmless experiment.

Putting on the maniple felt remarkably familiar, and remarkably right. It felt diaconal. It felt like I was getting ready to serve. Of all the vestments reserved for ordination, that’s the one that grounded me. It told me what I was there to do. I had a towel back on my arm. The rest of the vestments felt new and weird, but I could make sense of a towel on my arm.

When I started praying the vesting prayer for the maniple it added another dimension.

“Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris; ut cum exsultatione recipiam mercedem laboris.

May I deserve, Lord, to bear the maniple of tears and sorrow; that I may receive the reward for my labors with rejoicing.”

That towel was there for wiping tears. My tears? The congregations tears? It doesn’t say. We can be overly pious and say that the maniple originated in a handkerchief used to dry the tears of priests who burst out crying at the sight of the Blessed Sacrament. Maybe. I’ve said Mass with tears in my eyes once or twice. I think there’s more to it than that, though. For better or worse we wear the sorrow of our people on our sleeve. We wear our sorrow on our sleeve.

Or at least we used to.

What I loved about the Industry is what I want people to love about the Church. I want us to work hard, and then come to a place where we get to be ourselves. Where we get to come together for something that’s bigger than us. For somethings that’s meaningful and gives us life. No pretense. Just community.

This isn’t some Church-as-the-bar-from-Cheers metaphor. Its not about “everyone knowing your name.” Its about a group of people with a common life, coming together day after day and bringing all of themselves to the table.

Someone has to set the table. Someone has to serve.

If not using a vestment means forgetting that this is the exact reason why we ordain clergy, then lets wear the vestment.

(Or not. Because Adiaphora.)

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Anglo-Catholicism, Catholicity and Culture, Priestcraft

Catholicty and Culture: We Never Say Mass in a Vacuum.

I am the Rector of a black parish that self-identifies as Anglo-Catholic.They greatly prefer music out of Lift Every Voice and Sing. They are vocal in response to my sermons. They play Gospel pandora stations when they’re hanging out in the Sunday School rooms. It confused me.

I really struggled with the question “Is this an Anglo-Catholic Parish?” or is this just one of those “That word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” moments? But the more I talked with my parishioners, the more I got to know exactly what they believed and held dear about the Church and the Sacraments, the more I became convinced that they had their identity right. They knew what meant, and they meant what they said.

The identity issue was my issue. Before I got here the Catholic revival and Euro-centrism were inexplicably tied in my mind. A high expression of Anglicanism meant a high expression of Anglophilia. Instead of hinging my hope on Catholic truth, I had hung my identity on an aesthetic, and a remarkably culturally-specific aesthetic at that.  I had fallen squarely into the trap that I worry many of my young Anglo-Catholic colleagues have fallen into as well.

So for the sake of charity, and for the sake of the expression of the Catholic faith that we know and love so well, let me be clear; We are in danger of making the Anglo-Catholic revival a white man’s movement.

It’s going to take some real introspection, prayer, and effort to keep that from being the case. Anglicanism in general is no longer a white movement. Even if we limit ourselves to the Episcopal Church a recent report shows that black and multi-cultural congregations are growing at a rate that substantially outpaces their white counterparts. (Check the report here.)

I’m not saying that growth is unequivocally good. What I am saying is that our Church is changing in its cultural composition at what is arguably the fastest pace since Reconstruction, and if we’re going to be a viable, meaningful witness to a Catholic vision of the Church then we have to do some work in ourselves and check when our aesthetic is getting in the way of that witness.

Let Adiaphora be Adiaphora.

I will be the first to say that part of taking Church seriously is taking worship seriously. A liturgy that doesn’t act like the Blessed Sacrament is the center of our life and work is not worth anyone’s time, and it doesn’t serve any purpose other than to prop up a lifeless Christianity that is well on its way to irrelevancy. Worship that centers on Christ’s presence with us, that draws us into the mystery of the Altar and the holiness of God is worship that is worthy of our apostolic heritage.

There are things that are essential to that worship, and I’m inclined to believe that the list of essentials is longer than most folks in the broad church movement think it is, but that list is not all-encompassing.

I love a good Candlemas service as much as the next guy. It’s a beautiful, meaningful service that celebrates Christ’s light continuing to break into the world and into our lives. It is Anglican tradition at its finest. But if you’re serving in a predominately Hispanic context, then maybe you should throw that energy into and enthusiasm into a Mass around La Dia de Los Muertos or La Fiesta De Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. (The Story of Our Lady and St. Juan Diego is one of the best stories of grassroots Catholic revival I’ve ever heard.)

I know that vestments are near and dear to every Anglo-Catholic heart, but I grew up in Florida, and I serve in Georgia. Lightweight vestments are my friend. They aren’t nearly as pretty as anything heavier, silk-lined, or brocaded, but they keep me from being a sweaty mess in front of the people of God, and allow me to still wear what priests in the apostolic tradition have seen fit to wear for centuries.When the temperature outside is hovering near a hundred, and the HVAC unit is screaming to keep the nave at eighty degrees.

We are Only Ever Priests in Context.

It hurts a bit, to give up the things that we hold dearly. The feasts, the hymnody, even the language. But we have to do a better job of knowing what is essential to forming the people of God that we are called to serve and what are just our liturgical peculiarities and preferences. I’m not saying the two don’t ever fall in line, and we should always strive for excellence in worship, but we need to strive for excellence in worship that is speaking to people where they are.

In the Episcopal Church we have a very bad habit of saying “Wherever you are, you’re welcome here. But if you’re going to stay, then get on our level.” In High Church parishes that pressure can be amplified exponentially, and that is doing damage to our witness. We’re only priests because the people we serve make us priests, and unless we recognize that those people come with cultures and contexts that we can speak to, and live in, then we’re just a bunch of people in weird clothes speaking what may as well be the Latin Rite. (Except that there are some contexts where the Latin Rite is completely appropriate.)

We have to get out of our own way. That means recognizing the heart of Catholic truth, leaving what’s dead to bury their own, and taking that truth to the world.

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