Our story is God’s story

Last Sunday at Christ Church, we celebrated the Feast of Dedication, and in a slightly unusual way. My experience is that very few parishes celebrate this feast day, so I thought I’d share a bit about our celebration. According to the rubrics of the prayer book, “The feast of the Dedication of a Church, and the feast of its patron or title, may be observed on, or be transferred to, a Sunday, except in the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter.” I love this feast day, because it’s a great opportunity to talk about why we have church buildings, and perhaps about why we gather as a church at all. It is the consummate missional feast day, and yet it goes uncelebrated. It’s a great day for preaching, because the lections are fantastic.

For this program year, we have been celebrating our 175th anniversary, and so we thought we’d end with a historical service. By permission of the bishop, we used the 1789 prayer book with the rubrics that were in place in 1834, the year of our admission into the Diocese of Rhode Island (the first American prayer book was used up until 1892, but the rubrics and the texts were edited by General Convention quite a bit in that time). We read morning prayer, and within the limits of our building, we tried to create the liturgical feel of a pre-Tractarian service.

Check out our service leaflet (PDF). Our resident photographer took some great photos (thanks, Matt!).

I preached on this occasion, and my colleague, the Rev’d Melody Shobe ably officiated, mastering the cadences of early Cranmerian prose with early American edits. In my sermon, I said, “When we celebrate the dedication of this church building, we are not celebrating the holiness of stone, wood, and glass. We are celebrating God’s presence with us here, not in a lifeless temple of stone but in the living temple of God’s people.” That’s the beauty of the feast day. It celebrates the church building, but it also elevates God’s mission in the church above that very same building.

After the service, we went outside for a picnic, for which the rain miraculously held off. Everyone ate, kids played, and adults swapped stories. The crowning glory was the arrival of an ice cream truck for dessert. It was a grand celebration, from preaching scarves to water balloons.

The title of this blog post comes from a line in the sermon.

This is why we have occasions like this one. We remember where we have come from so that we know who we are and whose we are, and so that we can tell the story of God’s power in this place. If we think that Christ Church will flourish through our own work, then we are building our house on sandy ground, and it will not endure. Only when our church is firmly planted on the solid rock of God’s Word will we be secure.

The ancient Israelites did not tell stories of their past so that they could reminisce about the “good old days.” When God speaks about the past, again and again, it is to speak about God’s power to change people. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery into freedom.” There is nothing sentimental in that recollection. That is not just about the past, but it is a promise that God will continue to lead people out of slavery into freedom.

The story of Christ Church, from the 1830s right up until this moment, is God’s story. Let us fervently pray that we might have the grace and strength to continue to be the church that God calls us to be. Let us recall the blessings of our past as promises of a glorious future.

I am grateful to service a congregation in which they show up one Sunday for a completely different kind of church (no Eucharist, no brass cross, no acolytes, long prayers, very long hymn) and not a single person murmurs complaint. People were appreciative of our worship, even though they’ll be glad to return to our usual Sunday next week (mostly). If the joy at our picnic and the reverence at our ancient service of morning prayer are any indication, we’ve got a pretty great future coming. Thanks to be God!

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4 Responses

  1. Byron Stuhlman says:

    A well-done Morning Prayer. But before the Muhlenberg Memorial in the mid-nineteenth century, a Sunday morning service would have been Morning Prayer Litany Antecommunion — a longer service than most of us could take these days.

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    Yes, we did make a few accommodations (including offering *just* morning prayer) for 21st century attention spans. We tried, within the limits of what we could pull off and what our building would allow us to do, to give folks a bit of a sense of early 19th century worship. Hopefully we were reasonably accurate.

  3. Malcolm says:

    I guess you didn’t trouble them with the 1-3 hour sermon either, then?

  4. frcraig says:

    beautifully done. Is your parish accustomed to Anglican Chant?