As I sat in church this past Easter Sunday my eyes roamed across the stain-glass windows beginning with the one in the sanctuary which the bright morning sun was setting aglow as it streamed through it.
As I moved from window to window I was struck how they depicted the community around Christ as being up close and personal. In all of Christ’s ministry he moved amongst the people. He didn’t set himself apart. He was a part of the community which formed around him.
That’s one of the aspects of this church community I’ve always enjoyed. When I joined it some fifteen years ago there were about fifty people attending regularly. It wasn’t a close community of people who came together each week but it was a warm group.
Members of the congregation read the readings, the lay reader read the gospel. The congregation was either too small for a deacon or no priest felt the need to put one in place. Over the years the congregation has dwindled, through death, clashes with clergy or people just wandering away from church life.
A priest we had a few years ago opened up the gospel to any member of the congregation willing and able to read. He relaxed the need for the communion assistant (server) to be robed and seated in the sanctuary. The server would come up out of the congregation just after the peace was passed.
Being a small group of about twenty each week at that point, this seemed like good changes. The congregation was more like what those windows surrounding us depicted. A community of believers led by its priest coming together each week to worship.
Some where along the line a drift apart within the congregation had started. This increased sharing of the liturgy seemed to help to arrest that drift. People came back together, became more aware of each other as members of the community.
At one point we went eighteen months without benefit of an incumbent. Retired clergy were enlisted to provide Sunday services for us and the community looked out for each other. Some of those clergy were impressed at the involvement of the congregation in the services, the congregation had taken on more confidence in our future.
A new priest took over. The first year she didn’t make any substantive changes. Then she announced to the wardens that in the ‘traditional Anglican way” the server would robe and remain in the sanctuary throughout the service. At that point only two members of the congregation were assisting at communion.
One was eager to robe and remain in the sanctuary the other would not. He was more than happy to assist but wanted to continue coming up out of the congregation. She would not bend, the parishioner left the congregation. We ended up with one server, a member of the community now separated by distance from the congregation.
Now, a year later, she has announced to the wardens that no longer will the lay people read the gospel. She as priest will be the only one as is “Anglican tradition”, notwithstanding that the longstanding tradition of this congregation is lay people reading the gospel.
In the early church the priest was the educated class, the reading of the gospel fell to him as the only person able to read. As education became more widespread the practise of licensing lay readers started. The license indicated the person was educated and literate enough to be able to read.
In the 21st century most people are able to read yet our current priest is now sending the message that those she is charged to lead are not worthy of reading the gospel. Wonder when she’s going to decide the congregation is no longer worthy of reading any of the readings?
I’m not against traditions, they are a part of what binds our present to our past. I uphold many traditions in carrying out my duties as Legion President. Sometimes though, I have had to balance tradition against barriers that tradition creates and make choices or alterations based on current needs. Sometimes tradition has to evolve.
In her drive to be a ‘traditional Anglican’ I wonder how far she is going to push? Will she impose the antiquated language of the Book of Common Prayer? Will she revoke her own priestly orders in order to follow the tradition which denied her access to the priesthood?
Time will tell.