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A word about worship

February 13, 2009

StJsFrom St. John’s in the Village, Baltimore, Md.

At Saint John’s, worship is central to our life and mission. The primary purpose of worship is not to entertain, inspire, motivate, edify, or instruct. It is to render to God the praise, adoration, and sacrifice which is God’s due. In the process of worship in spirit and in truth, all of those other things may or may not occur. The point is not what we get, but rather what we offer — ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to God, together with our praise and adoration. In so doing, we are transformed daily into the person we were created to be — a holy witness to the transforming power of the Spirit of God in Christ.

When Saint John’s was founded in 1843, the tradition of worship established for the parish by Bishop Whittingham of Maryland was patterned on the full Catholic tradition of the Church of England/Episcopal Church as expressed in the Tractarian and Oxford Movements of the nineteenth century, which were Reformed reclamations of the Catholic principles (Tractarian) and expressions (Oxford) of the ancient liturgies of the Church. These were a deliberate challenge to the meagre offerings found in most Maryland churches, where both the Holy Communion and the daily prayers of the Church had fallen into widespread disuse. This older tradition of worship was meant to restore the “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” which are the marks of the worship of the Church.

Saint John’s, together with other parochial foundations by Bishop Whittingham in the same period, evolved to become a leading exponent of what later was called “The English Use” in both liturgy and music. The ancient Catholic liturgies of the Church, zealously truncated and purged of many traditional elements during the Reformation, were restored using the English Book of Common Prayer, together with authorised material from the ancient English liturgical Uses of Sarum (Salisbury), Lincoln, London, Westminster and others. These restorations came to full flower in the English Church in the scholarly liturgical masterwork called The Parson’s Handbook, by Dr Percy Dearmer, published in 1899. It was widely disseminated in America almost immediately. This book, continuously revised and updated, had gone through seven editions by 1905. Its use continued through the fourteenth edition in the late 1960’s well into the modern liturgical reforms in England and America, which resulted in the full incorporation of its principles in the revised Prayer Books of the 1970’s (America) and 1980’s (England). Some variation of its principles and ceremonial were at use in many, if not most, parishes throughout the Episcopal Church until quite recently.

The period from 1965 to the present has been one of great liturgical foment with many experimental liturgies and theories of worship coming and going, and everything from fads to true liturgical reform leaving its mark on our worship. Saint John’s is now one of the very few remaining parishes in the United States where an evolved modern English Use ceremonial and music is maintained. Using the Book of Common Prayer 1979, we present the full Catholic round of worship:
I. Sung Holy Eucharist on Sundays and major holy days
II. Holy Eucharist on all Prayer Book feast days; choral services on every principal feast of the Church.
III. Morning and evening Daily Office, Sunday through Friday (Choral Evensong is sung monthly and the other Sunday Evensongs are sung to plainchant).
IV. A variety of Bible studies, extra devotions, mission Alms, and outreach

Dr Dearmer would easily recognise our relatively simple, dignified, traditional ceremonial and vesture, even as it is adapted to modern American worship. For those curious, our liturgical color scheme follows an old English usage:

Advent: Sarum Blue (navy), trimmed in violet
Christmas: Gold or White
Epiphany (Feast day): Gold, or White
Epiphany Season: Green
Lent: Ash (unbleached linen), trimmed in Red and Black (unbleached candles)
Holy Week: Passion Red (oxblood) and Black wool (unbleached candles)
Maundy Thursday: Sarum (brick) Red and Gold
Good Friday: Black (unbleached candles)
Easter Day: Gold
Easter Season: White
Ascension-tide: Royal Blue and Gold (a liturgical equivalent of White)
Whitsun/Pentecost: Sarum Red and Gold
Pentecost-tide: Green
Feasts of Our Lord: Gold, or White
Feasts of Our Lady: Royal Blue and Gold, or Sarum Red and Gold
Feasts of Martyrs: Sarum Red and Gold
Michaelmas: Royal Blue and Gold
All Saints: Gold
All Souls: Black and Gold (unbleached candles)
Funerals: Sarum Blue, or Black and Gold (unbleached candles)

Our liturgical life still has a strong English accent, and our choral program is based on the English collegiate tradition, divided into two terms: Michaelmas and Easter. There is a “Short Vac” (vacation) after Easter and a “Long Vac” after Trinity Sunday during which choristers train, perform, and earn money elsewhere. During the Long Vac there are some singers and soloists, and the liturgical and social life of the parish slows to a crawl as the hot, humid Baltimore summer sets in. The choral Eucharist of Michaelmas Day (29 September) is our big autumn “homecoming” celebration and rivals Easter in attendance.

We strive to preserve the best of our Anglican heritage while avoiding “British Museum” religion. We are traditional in worship, but fully engaged with modern realities. We are not “precious and mechanical”. We are not “Anglo-Catholic”, in what has become that term’s modern sense: importing the customs, ethos, vesture, and style of the nineteenth century Roman Catholic Church into Anglican services. We maintain the distinct English Catholic heritage of the Anglican liturgy, vesture, pastoral tradition, and ethos as valuable to the present generation for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all races and clans today.

The public worship we do is the model and corrective for what we do privately as we follow the Catholic rule of the spiritual life: 1) Holy Communion on Sundays and Holy Days, 2) daily prayer with the Church in the Daily Office, and 3) a personal rule for a private devotional life based in study of scripture, almsgiving, and service to others. Our liturgical service is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not a performance and our music is not a concert. It is all meant to be used for the worship and the glory of God. We invite you to be a part of it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 2, 2012 09:57

    I should love to see their services broadcast online.

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