Wayne Smith's occasional blog of pilgrimages and journeys

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday, July 13. Two Celebrations of the Eucharist.

The parish Church in Dorridge and Bentley Heath has two venues for worship. St. Philip's, Dorridge, is a nineteenth-century structure in need of some repair. Although not strictly neo-gothic in design, it would seem familiar enough to most Missouri Episcopalians. St. John's in Tower Grove comes to mind, although St. John's is much larger. People at St. Philip's complain about the cold, and the sight-lines are not good at all, not to mention the structural issues. It also is nearly invisible from the road, little “curb appeal,” as we would say. There are some initial conversations about renovating the property, but any work with an older building, whether rehabbing the current structure or developing a completely new site plan, boggles the mind with the expense.

But St. Philip's is not where I worshiped this morning; I was at St. James', which worships in a local school's multi-purpose room. Bright, not overly large (sometimes worshiping communities in the USA get lost when they have to use a public school's gymnasium), the room draws out an informal style without forcing irreverence. I liked it.

The seeming distance between Evensong at Salisbury Cathedral last Sunday and the Eucharist at St. James', Bentley Heath today shows the breadth of practice in the Church of England and indeed Anglicanism everywhere. The Eucharist today took its shape from Common Worship, the Church of England's most recent step in liturgical revision. Common Worship is a collection of resources and not simply a Prayer Book, and you can peruse what it has to offer here. Indeed, no Prayer Book is to be found at St. James', all the texts for worship and song being projected onto a screen. No organ, no choir. A small band, an electronic keyboard, an acoustical guitar, and a drum set, accompanies the singing.

Not a vestment in sight, the Vicar, Duncan Hill-Brown, presided wearing a simple clergy shirt. There was a single reading, from Acts 10, the story of Peter and Cornelius. Duncan then preached a fine expository sermon on the text, a style of preaching not all that common in the Episcopal Church but very familiar to worshipers in evangelical Churches in the USA and in the evangelical wing of the Church of England. Expository preaching treats the entire text, section-by-section (sometimes almost word-by-word, as I remember well from my Baptist upbringing) to set forth insights and explanations directly from the scriptures.

The liturgy of the table was reverent but uncomplicated, and would have been recognizable to any Episcopalian. But this sort of low ceremonial, Evangelical Anglicanism is not very often seen in the Episcopal Church.

Then after lunch with the Hill-Browns, Duncan drove me into St. Philip's Cathedral in Birmingham, England's second largest city, after London. At 1.5 million population, it is about the size of metro St. Louis. There at 4:00 p.m., the Bishop of Birmingham, David Urquhart, presided at the Eucharist. Birmingham is a “modern” diocese, not one of the historic ones, so St. Philip's, once a parish church, became the cathedral in the early twentieth century, a process not unlike our own Christ
Church Cathedral, itself previously simply Christ Church. The Anglican cathedral in Birmingham is actually a little smaller in scale that ours in St. Louis.

The style of worship was more toward the recognizable mainstream of the Episcopal Church—procession, choir, organ, and vestments. The liturgy once again came from Common Worship, very similar to the American Prayer Book Rite II. But in place of a sermon, one of the cathedral canons interviewed two of the visiting bishops, Peter Lee, bishop of the Diocese of Christ the King in the Church in Southern Africa (not Peter James Lee from Virginia in the Episcopal Church) and me. The questions were three: What is it like to be a bishop in your diocese? What are your hopes and concerns for the Lambeth Conference? How might we pray for you specifically and for the whole Conference? The congregation in the nearly packed cathedral received our comments graciously.

Besides Peter Lee and myself, there are three other bishops enjoying the hospitality offered by the Birmingham Diocese: James Tengatenga, Bishop of Southern Malawi; William Anderson, Bishop of Caledonia in the Anglican Church of Canada; and Peter Beckwith, bishop of Missouri's neighbor, the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

And I now find my thoughts and prayers turning more directly toward the Lambeth Conference, with the service this afternoon and a few serious conversations with my colleagues from around the world, over drinks and dinner at the bishop's palace in Birmingham, a phrase that properly sounds odd to almost anyone outside the United Kingdom.

I leave for Canterbury Wednesday, and I am not likely to post an entry again until I arrive there.


Todd E said...

Bishop, I am enjoying keeping up with your pilgrimage via your blog. I find the 3 questions asked of you by one of the cathedral cannons of particular interest. Maybe in a future posting you could share what your answers were and how they compared to the answers given by Bishop Lee. You remain in my prayers.

michael d said...

Bishop Smith: Thanks so much for giving us back home this "inside" look at the Lambeth Conference, and the events happening around it. You and all the participants are in my daily prayers.
M. Dunnington

Kathi said...

Bishop Smith, I find myself in a similar space as Todd; I too would like to know more about your responses and the responses of the other bishops. Thank you so much for sharing your pilgrimage with us; I find that I check to see if you have written everyday when I get home. You and the others assembling at Lambeth are in my prayers. Shalom.

Wayne Smith said...

Fair enough, Todd and Kathi. I won't try to speak for the Bishop of Christ the King, but I can tell you my own responses. The answer to the first question was more demographic in nature than substantive--who I am, where I was born and have served, the size and composition of the Diocese of Missouri, and where in the world it is. Most people whom I have met in the UK have no idea where we are on the map! My response to the second question had more meat to it. I remain cautiously hopeful about the outcome of Lambeth, especially if we are to follow the protocols established by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Design Team. The agenda, at its core, calls for Bible study and finding ways to support one another in the mission and ministry given to us bishops. My concern is that this rather holy agenda might be sabotaged. Finally, the prayer I ask for myself is the capacity and discipline to listen, listen, listen; for the Conference, I pray that the truth might be spoken in love, and heard in love.

Missy M said...

Wayne, thanks for providing a place to follow you and your pilgrimage to Lambeth. It is a treat to have and a great way to inspire prayer. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Lisa Fox said...

I am intrigued by your account of the first service. Given that one of the bishops has said that our BCP isn't even Anglican ... I wonder about those English parishes that do some version of a praise service.

But I am grateful for your report about the questions you were asked and the answers you offered. It is astonishing to me that some people in the Anglican Communion have such a wacky view of how we worship here. I thank God for your witness.