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Churches Worth Seeing, XVII

May 25, 2015

HC 05The Church of the Holy Communion, Charleston, SC

An historic (and rare) Southern witness to the Anglo-Catholic tradition in the Episcopal Church, set amidst the warmth, charm, and grace of Charleston, South Carolina, the Church of the Holy Communion has borne witness to the Gospel and the Holy Sacraments since 1848. Part of the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the parish continues its vibrant, prophetic witness to the Beauty of Holiness through Daily Office and Eucharistic celebration  six days a week.

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The West End of the nave and the stunning wood rib-and-pendant hammer-beam vaults.

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The visitor of a Sunday morning is warmly — but not suffocatingly — greeted, offered a service bulletin, and encounters a congregation that gathers prayerfully and reverently before the Mass begins. In the pew rack, one finds a booklet for the Solemn High Mass (which includes pages for the Holy Baptism and Confirmation), the Hymnal 1982, Holy Bible (Revised Standard Version), and the Anglican Service Book, a version of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer completely done in the elegant Cranmerian-Tudor English Prose otherwise limited to the “Rite One” portions of the ’79 Prayer Book (and allowed by that selfsame Book, as set forth on page fourteen: “In any of the Proper Liturgies for Special Days, and in other services contained within this Book celebrated in the context of a Rite One service, the contemporary idiom may be conformed to traditional language.”).


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Good Signs.


From the Parish’s self-description on the back page of the Mass Booklet:

The Church of the Holy Communion was founded in 1848 and was from the beginning one of the pioneer Anglo-Catholic parishes of this nation. the first service was held on November 12, 1848 in the home of the late Bishop Nathaniel Bowen at the present 209 Ashley Avenue. The Commandant of the nearby Federal Arsenal was present and offered a room at the Arsenal for the purpose of divine worship.


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The Nave, following High Mass for Whitsunday


The main portion of the present building was consecrated in 1855, eighteen months after the Reverend Anthony Toomer Porter began his ministry as rector. By 1871 the building had reached its present proportions: transepts east, north, and south, a recessed and ornamented apse for the altar, the stone High Altar and altar cross, the tile pavement of the sanctuary, and the hammer-beam ceiling modeled after that of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, were all put in place between 1868 and 1871. On Easter Day 1871 Dr. Porter introduced the sweeping liturgical changes that were so noteworthy in his day: Eucharistic vestments and a solemn liturgy sung by a surpliced choir.

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Madonna and child, West end of the Nave


Dr. Porter’s founding work was not limited to the parish church. His vision included many educational and service enterprises, most notably perhaps the Holy Communion Church Institute, today called the Porter-Gaud School. The Holy Communion Day School continues that vision today.

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Two processional crosses, recently stowed, flanking one of the Stations at the West end of the Nave


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Baptismal font and Paschal candle, in the South transept, recently censed for Whitsunday and Holy Baptism


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Ikon of Gethsemane, by the North nave door


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Today our adherence to the faith of the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, grounded in a joyful Sunday High Mass, continues to be our witness in this beautiful place to the principles of our Father Founder and the Anglo-Catholic movement worldwide. Church of the Holy Communion proclaims the Faith once delivered to the Saints: Jesus Christ, God and Man, crucified and risen from the dead. Our devotional life embraces the best elements of the English religious heritage rescued by the Tractarians and their successors in the Anglo-Catholic revival in the 19th century. We use the same liturgy today that Dr. Porter used in 1855, that has nourished the lives of Anglican saints since 1549, and of Christians since the Resurrection.

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Nave, chancel, and sanctuary, with the decorated organ pipes, lectern, and pulpit in view (decked out for Whitsunday)


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The East window, apse, and High Altar, prepared for ad orientem celebration


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The distinctive early 20th-century pulpit with its unique abat-voix



After the Civil War, Church of the Holy Communion was the very first voice in the city to provide schools for African American Children.  And we have never wavered in this commitment to justice and open and loving inclusion.  Today, we are at the forefront in this city for ministries of both justice and mercy.  We have a bi-weekly free medical clinic, food pantry, meals-on-wheels.  There is a job for everyone, and an opportunity for all to make our community a better place…we do not minimize the intellectual calling of our faith.  Whether it is in the Montessori based curriculum for our children or the discussion groups for adults, we do not shy away from the hard questions.  We can say the Nicene Creed with sincerity AND host Darwin Week.  We are secure in our traditional Christian Faith, but we are not afraid of those with differing views.  All are welcome in this place, and diversity is a healthy gift.  We are enthusiastically a part of the National Episcopal Church, and therefore the worldwide Communion of Anglican Churches.  We are not distracted by local squabbles nor engaged in the rancor and litigation that others have chosen.  Sound like a place you would like to visit?  You are most welcome at Church of the Holy Communion!


The celebration of the nuptial mass (photo from the parish website)

Take a virtual tour of the church:

“Worth seeing” doesn’t quite do this parish justice, however. “Worth visiting” is a good start. “Worth attending” is even better. “Worth joining” might be the best, however.

Bonus points are awarded for that rarest of artefacts: a handsome, navigable, useful website.

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