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Decently habited, CCIV

March 23, 2017

The Dean of St Paul’s installs the Revd Helen O’Sullivan as chaplain in 2016.

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The excellence of Common Prayer

March 21, 2017

We must admit frankly that the Offices of Morning Prayer and of Evensong, as they are performed even today in St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, York Minster, or Canterbury Cathedral, are not only one of the most impressive, but also one of the purest forms of Christian common prayer to be found anywhere in the world.

Even the RCs recognize.

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Source: Louis Bouyer, Liturgical Piety (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1955), 47.

The Lord’s pot

January 15, 2017

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The Lord’s pot must be kept boiling, even if it takes the Devil’s kindling wood.

Endicott Peabody, famous as the founding headmaster of Groton School, spent six months in 1882 as minister in Tombstone, Arizona, arriving three months after the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. On his watch, St Paul’s Church – now the oldest Protestant church in Arizona – was built for $5,000, its stained glass imported from Belgium and its pews from New England. He was able to raise the necessary funds in so short a time by going door to door, including to the town’s saloons and gambling houses. In response to any eyebrows raised over the source of the funds, Peabody would reply, “The Lord’s pot must be kept boiling, even if it takes the Devil’s kindling wood.”


Source: Marshall Trimble, “Endicott Peabody: Religion Arrives in Helldorado,” in In Old Arizona: True Tales of the Wild Frontier! (Phoenix: Golden West Publishers, 1985).

A different plane

January 1, 2017
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Dr Coit.

Never forget, my dear, that in the life to come the Presbyterians will not be on the same plane as the Episcopalians.

– the Revd Dr Henry Augustus Coit, to a young Episcopalian.


Quoted in Cleveland Amory, The Proper Bostonians (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1947), 107.

Come adore the new-born King

December 25, 2016

On Christmas morning, Sherborne Abbey does it right.


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Decently habited, CCIII

December 19, 2016

Instructing the children of St Luke’s School, New York, 1970.

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A brief defense of Prayer C

December 3, 2016

eso-alien-planets-milky-wayTHIS BLOG may seem like an unlikely venue in which to advance any defense so titled. But in hearing the much-maligned “Carl Sagan prayer” read this past week, your humble blogger was struck by this ugly stepchild of the 1979 Prayer Book.

Although Prayer C was a favorite of mine when I was a child, I will admit that all of the criticisms levied by its detractors are true. Its language is clunky and distinctly sci-fi inflected, reminding listeners of Dune or, yes, any of the works of Carl Sagan. The prayer bears the stamp of a certain kind of mid-century, space-race modernism that has not aged well. The call-and-response format disrupts the opportunity for devotion. Prayer C is, for all these reasons (and probably more), not especially lovable.

And yet.

What I used to look forward to as a child was that most Carl Sagan of moments: “the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.” This had much to do with my affection for Star Trek and Star Wars, and for the possibilities of life beyond the confines of our small blue planet. The idea that the God of Jesus Christ was the author of creation writ large, not just the stuff of our daily lives but of the whole cosmos, was profoundly exciting to me. The God who created the universe, of which we are but the most infinitesimal fragment, that was the God who could raise Jesus from the dead, the God in whom we could put our trust.

Hearing it all these years later, Prayer C sounds naïve now, even touchingly innocent. And yet, even in its fumbling inadequacy, Prayer C points to a quality of wonder, of imagination, of hope that we have lost over the past 40 years.

One is reminded of John Gillespie Magee’s 1941 poem High Flight:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

OUR EYES no longer look to the heavens; we have become distinctly earth-bound. Prayer C is a curio of a time when the God of Abraham was above us, beyond our comprehension, and we recognized the human race in its proper scale: small, meek, and marooned on “this fragile earth, our island home.” In response, we replied that it was by God’s will, not any human effort, that all things “were created and have their being.”

These days, we quibble over what exactly it means even to be a human being. Our perspective, even in the church, no longer includes a God of majesty, at least not in any meaningful way. Having forgotten the lessons of Babel, we are stuck determining which of the countless categories of human identity are the most deserving of worldly justice. Race and class may be social constructs, but we accept those constructs as valid avenues in which to order the church.

The perspective of Prayer C, for all its mid-1970s situatedness, reminds us of a time when the human race, living under the spectre of nuclear annihilation, was mindful of its shared vulnerability. These days, any idea of commonality is increasingly called in for scorn: no green man could ever understand a blue man. But the perspective of Prayer C was one which placed humanity before a God who was larger than the cosmos itself. The God of Prayer C was powerful enough to conquer sin and death, to raise Jesus from the dead, and to overcome even the slow heat death of the universe. For all the flaws of its creators, this was an admirable perspective, and one which we would be well to remember in this age of fracture, despair, and moral entropy.

Have mercy, Lord, for we are sinners in your sight.