Merry Christmas! (This is not a joke)

12daysof-christmasWhile my recent thread about rites on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day rolls on and on, please allow me to raise another seasonal issue that is dear to my heart.

As I mentioned the other day, it is hard for journalists to write fresh, newsy stories and columns about the major religious seasons to roll around year after year after year. It’s hard not to write about the same topics over and over.

Well folks, several years ago I decided to quit trying to do something new this time of year.

Why? Because there is a topic that I think is so important that I have decided not to dodge it. I refer, of course, to the whole upside down nature of how most modern Christians celebrate Christmas. This is to say, they do not celebrate Christmas. Instead, they join in the cultural train wreck called “The Holidays,” which turns a quiet, reflective season, penitential season called Advent — Nativity Lent in the Eastern Churches — into a free for all. Then, when the real 12-day festival of Christmas arrives, starting on Dec. 25th, almost everyone ignores it and moves on to the NFL playoffs.

So I write about this almost every year for the Scripps Howard News Service, either focusing on Advent, St. Nicholas, the Christmas calendar wars or the forgotten 12 days. Go ahead! Sue me. I think that it’s an important topic, involving thousands of churches, millions of people and billions of dollars.

This year’s offering opens like this, hooked into an online effort by one of the nation’s most powerful Christian groups:

Merry Christmas.

No, honest, as in “the 12 days of” you know what between Dec. 25 and Jan. 5.

If you doubt the accuracy of this statement, you can head over to the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. There you will find an interactive calendar that bravely documents the fact that, according to centuries of Christian tradition, the quiet season called Advent has just ended and the 12-day Christmas season has just begun.

So cease stripping the decorations off your tree and postpone its premature trip to the curb. There is still time to prepare for a Twelfth Night party and then the grand finale on Jan. 6, when the feast of the Epiphany marks the arrival in Bethlehem of the magi.

Click here to see that website, which wasn’t all that easy to put together, according to Joe Larson, the USCCB’s director of digital media. He was stunned how few resources there were online to, as he put it, “help tell Catholics what we believe about these seasons and why we do what we do — or what we are supposed to do — during Advent and Christmas.” They ended up with a rough draft that they hope to expand in future years.

I was stuck by the fact that many liturgical and mainline Protestant churches are trying to place more of an emphasis on Advent — only without the penitential themes that were at the heart of the ancient traditions. Why? Well, stop and think about it. It’s all about the cultural calendar, not the Christian calendar.

Here’s the end of the column:

While many Christians still observe Advent — especially Anglicans, Lutherans and other mainline Protestants — some older Roman Catholics may remember when the guidelines for the season were stricter. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the season is still observed by many as “Nativity Lent.”

“In a pre-Vatican II context, Advent looked a lot like Lent,” noted Father Rick Hilgartner, associate director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Divine Worship. “It was the season you used to prepare for Christmas, the way Lent helps you prepare for Easter.”

Today, it’s even hard for priests to follow the rhythms of the church’s prayers, hymns and rites, he said. Hilgartner said he tries to stay away from Christmas tree lots and shopping malls until at least halfway through Advent. He accepts invitations to some Christmas parties, even though they are held in Advent.

Now that it’s finally Christmas, he feels a pang of frustration when he turns on a radio or television and finds that — after being bombarded with “holiday” stuff for weeks — the true season is missing in action.

“It would be different, of course, if we all lived in a monastic community and the liturgical calendar totally dominated our lives,” said Hilgartner. “Then we could get away with celebrating the true seasons and we wouldn’t even whisper the word ‘Christmas’ until the start of the Christmas Mass. But the church doesn’t exist in a vacuum and we can’t live in a cultural bubble. …

“But it’s good to try to be reasonable. It’s good to slow down and it’s good to celebrate Christmas, at least a little, during Christmas. It’s good to try.”

It’s good to try.

So here is the next question: Did your church try?

Did your parish celebrate Advent or Nativity Lent as a penitential season? Did anyone try to avoid a few parties? Did anyone fast or take part in extra services of prayer and meditation? And, now that Christmas is here, the real Christmas, are any of your churches doing anything to keep celebrating? Is anyone planning, for example, 12th Night parties? Three Kings processionals?

Print Friendly

Putting the Mass in Christmas

table-of-oblation3During the past 25 years or so, I have written more than my share of mainstream news stories and columns about religious seasons.

It’s hard work, to tell you the truth, unless you want to write the same story over and over. I only write the same story over and over unless I am really convinced that the topic is valid and newsworthy. But more on that tomorrow.

I’ve always been interested in why some churches make a big deal out of worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and others do not. I once attended a Baptist “service of lessons and carols” on Christmas Eve — early in the evening — that ended with the Lord’s Supper. It was clear that the clergy were trying to offer their people something that felt like a Midnight Mass.

Meanwhile, the Catholic traditions of Christmas Eve are strong and vital. But what if people find it hard to honor the ways of the past? A Denver priest once told me that he knew times were changing when people started calling the parish office and asking this question: “What time is your Midnight Mass?”

Evangelical Protestants have tended to focus on spectacular musical offerings, in concerts, dramas and pageants. The problem, of course, is that these events require the efforts of many, many people and these people have to be in the same place at the same time. How do you do that these days during the craziness of “The Holidays”? Thus, these events began to creep further and further into the early days of December, further from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

All of this leads us to a very sad and mysterious essay in Time by Amy Sullivan, the professional progressive evangelical who is a popular commentator and political consultant. The blunt headline: “Going to Church on Christmas: A Vanishing Tradition.”

Sullivan’s angle? What about Christmas Day itself? She begins:

Millions of Americans go to church on Christmas Eve. They crowd shoulder-to-shoulder in pews to sing “Silent Night” and light candles and listen to soloists belt out “O Holy Night.” More than a few watch nativity plays that recreate the birth of Jesus with a cast of 10-year-olds in bathrobes. When the service is over, they exchange hearty “Merry Christmas!” wishes before getting in their cars and heading home.

And they stay home the next day. Or they drive to Grandma’s, or go to the movies. But however they spend Christmas Day — “the feast of Christmas” on the Christian liturgical calendar — one way most Americans don’t celebrate it is by going to church. While demand for Christmas Eve celebrations is so high that some churches hold as many as five or six different services on the 24th of December, most Protestant churches are closed on the actual religious holiday. For most Christians, Christmas is a day for family, not faith.

The key to all of this, of course, is that the Midnight Catholic Mass and the similar traditions in Anglicanism, Orthodox Christianity and some other churches offers worship on Christmas Eve and in the early hours of Christmas Day.

Sullivan mentions this:

Some traditions, including Catholics and Anglicans, hold midnight masses on the Saturday before Easter to usher in that holiday. But everyone still shows up the next morning for the traditional Easter celebration, just as Christmas Day remains a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics, who are likely to be found in church the day after attending a Midnight Mass. By contrast, the Christmas service everyone thinks of as “traditional” is the Service of Lessons and Carols that many Protestant congregations use on Christmas Eve.

This gets complicated and, yes, schedules and marketing figure into all of this.

However, it seems to me that what we are watching is two different trends, one among liturgical churches and one among Protestants, especially evangelicals. But this is a very important story, if you care about ancient traditions, the liturgical calendar, trends in worship and other matters of doctrine.

So let me ask our readers who are Christians: When did you go to church? When was the real Christmas service, for you?

At my own Orthodox parish, Holy Cross in Linthicum, Md., the Matins service started about 10 p.m. and the Divine Liturgy began just before midnight. Throw in a happy mini-feast to break the Nativity Lent fast and we arrived back home around 2:30 a.m. That’s Christmas Day, isn’t it?

Print Friendly

The war on Advent

jesse_tree_lgOf all the seasons of the church year, the first — Advent — is definitely the one that leaves me feeling most out of touch with my fellow Americans.

While everyone else is frantically shopping, decorating, partying, those Christians who mark Advent are in a period of preparation and prayerful contemplation. The disciplines of Advent include confession and repentance, prayer, immersion in Scripture, fasting and the singing of the Great O Antiphons and other seasonal hymns. I’m fond of “Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending,” “The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came,” “Savior of the Nations, Come” and many, many more. Advent may, in fact, be the best season of the church year when it comes to hymnody.

The season is marked by millions of Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and many other Christians, but not only do you rarely see any media coverage of it, the media actively promotes the secular version.

Advent ends on Christmas Eve with the beginning of the Christmas season. In America, the end of Advent coincides with the end of the secular Christmas season/shoppingpalooza. Just as my family is putting up Christmas trees and lights and buying gifts for friends and family, much of the rest of America is experiencing the post-Christmas hangover.

So I was elated to see Ben Smith’s coverage of Advent in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He introduces Kim Welch, who doesn’t “do Santa” and Pamela Lichtenwalner, who will send her Christmas cards out today. On. Purpose.

Welch and Lichtenwalner are two of a minority of Christians, among them Anglicans, Catholics and Lutherans, who celebrate a traditional 12-day Christmas season.

These observers don’t rush to the malls on Black Friday or buy and decorate trees the weekend after Thanksgiving. They tend to avoid mid-December Christmas parties. They try to ignore the storefront Santa displays and loudspeakers prematurely blaring “Silent Night.”

On Dec. 26 you won’t find trees in their garbage cans.

“I am always sad when I see people out on Christmas afternoon taking down their lights and dragging their Christmas trees out to the curb for pickup,” said Bishop J. Neil Alexander of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. “The 12 days of Christmas begins, not ends, on Christmas Day.”

Smith briefly explains how the Advent and Christmas seasons work on the liturgical calendar. He even throws in a mention of Epiphany:

Lichtenwalner says she delays bringing out the Christmas decorations until after the third week of Advent. Welch, who lives in Alpharetta with her husband, Ron, and their four sons, observes another tradition by keeping a small “Jesse Tree” during December. Her sons take turns adorning it with an Old Testament ornament every day during Advent.

Alexander, who typically doesn’t raise and decorate a tree until Christmas Eve, believes “keeping the great feast of the Nativity and incarnation in celebration is far more meaningful than the seasonal rat race of preparing to give things to each other most of us don’t really need.”

I would love to know more about this Jesse Tree (pictured). Some people might get the reference to Isaiah but I’m not sure if the practice is common enough to put in a story without more explanation. People interested in the topic of Advent celebrations should look for Terry’s upcoming column on the matter in their newspapers or here.

Much of the story highlights the difference between the commercialism of the American Christmas with the solemnity of Advent, but it gives the impression that Christmas gifts are minimal for those of us that keep the seasons and keep them separate. At least among Lutherans, this is really not the case. For better or worse, I’ve never seen much of a difference between the two groups when it comes to Christmas giving. My daughter will be showered with a ridiculous amount of gifts — they’ll just not be as much of a focus and they’ll be spread out over the entire Christmas season.

Anyway, it’s just great to see a story about this important season and how it is marked by liturgical Christians.

Print Friendly

Spiritually frozen tropics

2002_dc_ward_map_trinidadSometimes it’s more difficult to praise a fantastic piece of journalism than it is to critique a weak article. With a bad article, you can point out the errors and missteps. But what exactly makes a great piece great? Sometimes it’s difficult to pin down.

But this Washington Post article by Michelle Boorstein was one of the most enjoyable pieces of religion writing I’ve read in a long time. Here’s how it begins:

Carlos Williams swore he’d never return his children to Washington, the city where drug deals, fights and drunks outside his father’s apartment used to keep him and his brothers awake at night. But there they were, Carlos, his wife and their seven children — all under 13 — tumbling out of the family’s white van one Saturday in Trinidad, the small Northeast D.C. neighborhood plagued by more than 125 violent crimes in the past year.

As they began their rounds, the kids giggling and running up alleys, young men on sidewalks and older women on stoops tended to stare, as if to say, What are you doing here?

Saving souls, or at least trying.

I love the economy with which the reader is immediately taken to Trinidad, a beautiful and deeply troubled neighborhood that borders mine. We’re quickly introduced to the family and they’re presented as real people and not caricatures of a missionary family.

The 2,000-word article gives the religious back story to how the Williams family came to Trinidad and it treats their decisions and that of the congregation that sent them here with respect that is not often seen. The reporter doesn’t place herself in the story even though it’s clear she spent quite a bit of time with the family. We learn about the sacrifices the family made, such as selling their house in Maryland during the economic downturn in order to rent a 1-bathroom rowhouse in their mission field.

The Pentecostal beliefs of the family are interspersed throughout the story and also treated with an appropriate journalistic distance. The drama of the story is the difficulty Williams has in Trinidad:

But saving souls involves more than just desire, Carlos Williams is finding. Residents of Trinidad tell him, yes, they need Jesus, but first they have more pragmatic questions: Can Williams, a baby-faced 38-year-old telecom worker, help them find a job? Pay their utility bill? Other residents are indifferent to religion. Then there is the devil, whom Williams considers a direct rival.

He said he sees the Devil in “a spirit of oppression, a heaviness over that neighborhood. There is an adversary that opposes any spirit of God,” he said the day after a slow Sunday. “To me, it’s crystal clear that it’s not people we’re up against — it’s a spiritual deal.”

That’s the mind-set of a grass-roots, walk-the-beat kind of soul saver, a throwback. A guy who runs Bible study every Wednesday night in a McDonald’s. Who won’t get on the train home on Fridays until he prays with a desperate-looking stranger. Who thinks Washington has too much religion and too little Jesus.

“A church on every corner and all this carnage?” he said one Saturday outside the Trinidad Recreation Center. Inside, a memorial service was underway for a 13-year-old shot dead during the summer while visiting from Alabama.

One of the things I loved about the piece was that it answered so many technical questions about how Williams ended up in Trinidad. He was part of a nondenominational Pentecostal church where he was headed toward some type of ministry. But without advance warning, the pastor announced that Williams and his family would be doing missionary work in Washington. For Williams’ part, he thought he’d be a foreign missionary if anything, so he was somewhat surprised. He drove around the District and felt the need to be in Trinidad when he drove by it.

Here’s another interesting tidbit that shows that the article is more interested in telling Williams’ story than pursuing a particular agenda or stereotype:

Willliams’s plan was that on Saturdays they’d roam and on Sundays hold worship services. But his first attempt to find space in Trinidad for his Northeast D.C. Apostolic Church was met coolly. Pastors of established churches, mostly Baptist, he said, were uncomfortable lending space to an unknown Pentecostal. Pentecostals tend to place a higher value on speaking in tongues and evangelizing and a lesser one on formally educated clerical leadership. He was shocked when a city prison chaplain turned down his offer to minister to prisoners.

“She said, ‘What can you offer these people? Can you provide suits for these guys?’ ” Williams said she told him. “I said, ‘Ma’am, more people are going to hell than ever, and you’re telling me these guys need a suit?’ “

Usually the media, because of its obsession with temporal politics, tend to sort of favor those religious groups that focus on earthly solutions over salvation. Or we get stories that assume earthly needs are of course more important than everlasting needs. But not every religious group shares this view. I thought this story handled that well without taking sides about which is better.

The story touches on another issue facing inner-city churches. Many of their members commute in from the suburbs. This was key to the Williams family’s decision to move into the neighborhood.

Even though it’s long, I encourage you to read the story. It’s very well-constructed, making it an easy read. There are many vignettes about the people Williams meets in his efforts to grow a community of believers. The end, which deals with Williams’ growing frustration and how he resolves that, is particularly poignant.

As a pastor’s daughter, my childhood was full of visits from missionary families that were on leave or returning home from foreign locales. Their stories varied wildly. Some missionaries had trouble keeping up with all of the converts they were bringing in while others would work for years with nary a convert. And both extremes are fascinating. Boorstein gets the drama in this particular story and tells it well.

And be sure not to miss the photo gallery that accompanies the piece.

The title is an homage to one of my favorite blogs, which is about Trinidad.

Print Friendly

Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

belushi3.jpgShould journalists clean up the language of the people they’re quoting? No, I don’t mean “clean up” like Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich might need his language cleaned up.

But if someone has verbal tics, do you include them in your written story? Countless Americans, myself included, overuse the word “uh” and yet I rarely see “uhs” in print. Many of the people I interview use the word “uh” a lot and I remove them when writing up their quotes.

What if someone just plain misspoke and you know it? How do you handle that? Do you publicize their inadvertent gaffe for all to see or do you downplay or ignore their error?

It is my experience that publishing verbal tics or obvious misstatements are some of the most subtle but obvious ways that reporters betray bias for or against a source or person being quoted.

This weekend, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright gave a sermon that mentioned Dec. 7, a date that may or may not live in infamy. Here’s what he said:

“Today is December 7 — the day that this government killed over 80,000 Japanese civilians at Hiroshima in 1941 — two days before killing an additional 64,000 Japanese civilians at Nagasaki by dropping nuclear bombs on innocent people.”

Now this is clearly wrong. December 7 marks the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, when Japanese airmen attacked an American Naval base and killed over 2,400 men in a surprise raid. It was in response to this action that the United States entered World War II, eventually dropping the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Here’s a Baltimore Sun story about commemorations of the day.

Now let’s look at this story from the Chicago Tribune‘s Manya A. Brachear about the Wright sermon, which was given in his former pulpit at Trinity United Church of Christ. Here are the concluding paragraphs:

At the 11 a.m. service, Wright belittled “baby milk believers,” who, he said, suffer a delusion that politics don’t belong in the pulpit. He noted that “Luke the evangelist, not Wright the radical” lambasted the oppressive policies of the Roman government in the Gospel story that recounts Jesus’ life.

“Any preacher who dares to point out the simple ugly facts found in every field imaginable is demonized as volatile, controversial, incendiary, inflammatory, anti-American and radical,” Wright said.

Noting the date, Dec. 7, which marks the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Wright instead chose to focus on the thousands of Japanese civilians who died four years later when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Please look at that last paragraph. Is such a charitable rewrite of the sermon appropriate? I think it makes sense that Brachear’s story doesn’t focus on Wright’s history mistake but should it, well, rewrite history?

Print Friendly

Metropolitan Obama?

th liturgy11Every now and then, it is important to offer GetReligion readers who are not journalists a glimpse inside the workings of daily journalism.

For example, readers may have noticed that your GetReligionistas — as folks who are working or have worked in the mainstream — rarely attempt to call names when we point out errors or what we believe are weaknesses in stories.

Why not blame the reporter or reporters whose names are in the byline? Well, anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom knows that the story that appears in print is often not the story that the reporter turned in or that, at the very least, the story was cut drastically or the reporter was not given enough space to do a solid job covering the territory that the story would have needed to cover in order to be balanced and complete. Journalism is almost always a team sport.

Anyway, I bring this up because some readers have sent in the URL of a recent Washington Times report about the election of Metropolitan Jonah, the new leader of the Orthodox Church in America. Some people thought that the headline was a bit much.

Since the new metropolitan will soon be enthroned in the OCA cathedral here in Washington, D.C., this is kind of a local story. I still wonder if journalists in Dallas and Fort Worth realize that this is a major local story there, too, but nevermind. That headline said:

Orthodox leader seizes own ‘Obama moment’

Now, it really helps to know that reporters hardly ever, ever write their own headlines. You can see how some readers may have thought that comparing the leader of a highly traditional ancient faith with a liberal Democrat headed into the White House was, well, a bit too cute.

However, if you read the story you’ll note that the Obama image was being applied to the election itself, not to the man. Tricky. Here’s the lede:

They already are calling him “His Beatitude,” and comparing him to Barack Obama.

In less than a month, Metropolitan Jonah, 49, will be enthroned as the leader of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), the nation’s second-largest branch of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Some have termed Metropolitan Jonah’s election an “Obama moment” because of perceived parallels between him and the U.S. president-elect: a much younger man with little experience shaking up a corrupt status quo by coming from outside the establishment via an electrifying speech.

Maybe the headline writers thought they needed an election metaphor on A1 in story here inside the DC Beltway? After all, the body of Julia Duin’s story is dedicated to new material, drawn from an interview with the new metropolitan.

In particular, Orthodox readers will be interested in the material near the end of the report which focuses on why this monk made the decision to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy — he was raised as an Episcopalian — in the first place.

He was persuaded to join Orthodoxy through the reading of one book: “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church” by Vladimir Lossky.

After attending St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary on Long Island, he traveled to Russia in 1993 at the age of 33 for a year to think through his future and decide whether to marry his girlfriend. If an Orthodox candidate for the priesthood wishes to marry, he must do so before ordination. Orthodox monks cannot marry at all. …

“I wanted some resolution to my dilemma, but I didn’t want to go according to my own will,” the new metropolitan remembers. “The whole spiritual life is built on obedience, respect and trust in love to your spiritual elder.”

After several months at the Valaam Monastery, on a lake island north of St. Petersburg, he was introduced to a venerable Orthodox elder known as Kyrill.

“So I asked the old man what should I do,” Metropolitan Jonah said. “Should I get married or should I become a monk? He said, ‘I know, I know.’ He blessed me and said, ‘Become a priest-monk.’”

A rather radical form of career counseling, but there you have it. Interesting reading, if you wanted a glimpse into the process that leads a young American into a monastery and then on into a leadership role that seemed to come out of nowhere.

PHOTO: OCA photo from the new metropolitan’s first Divine Liturgy after his election.

Print Friendly

It’s the doctrine, stupid

imgp1198 1As you would expect, the Anglican wars receive quite a bit of attention in the major newspapers today with the announcement by conservatives that they are forming the Anglican Church in North America, as opposed to the U.S. Episcopal Church.

There is much to debate in the articles, if you are a partisan on the left or the right. Once again, journalists are struggling — oh my, do I not envy them — to describe this puzzle in words that are accurate at all four levels of Anglican polity, which would be local, diocesan, national and global. This announcement, of course, establishes a parallel organization and the national level, which then throws a wrench into the proceedings at the local and diocesan levels.

What happens at the global level? Well, as I have been saying, the issue is whether the final decision is made by the Church of England (which is just as divided over doctrinal issues as the churches in the U.S. and Canada) or at the global, Communion-wide level. My bet? They call it the Church of England for a reason. The symbolism of Canterbury still matters, in a Communion that, in the powerful, rich, west is united by aesthetics and culture more than doctrine. Think of it as NPR at prayer.

Or is the battle about doctrine? The mainstream coverage today includes some shockingly blunt use of the L-word that looms over these wars. No, not that one. I mean, “liberal.” More on that in a minute.

I also would be interested in knowing what GetReligion readers think of the many references to the formation of a new “denomination.” Isn’t, in Anglican polity at all levels, the proper word “province” since the framing word for Anglican unity is “Communion”? Here’s a typical lede, from veteran Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times:

WHEATON, Ill. – Conservatives alienated from the Episcopal Church announced on Wednesday that they were founding their own rival denomination, the biggest challenge yet to the authority of the Episcopal Church since it ordained an openly gay bishop five years ago.

OK, then later we read:

In the last few years, Episcopalians who wanted to leave the church but remain in the Anglican Communion put themselves under the authority of bishops in Africa and Latin America. A new American province would give them a homegrown alternative. It would also result in two competing provinces on the same soil, each claiming the mantle of historical Anglican Christianity. The conservatives have named theirs the Anglican Church in North America. And for the first time, a province would be defined not by geography, but by theological orientation.

I know that this is a tricky equation and the Times is not alone in blurring the lines between these terms. But a province is a piece of a larger whole. A denomination is its own church, its own frame of reference. The conservatives are claiming that they are a legitimate piece of the larger whole. The liberals would say that this new body is a splinter, a new denomination on its own. These words matter.

Most of the articles have appropriate quotes from leaders on the left and the right. Most of the articles, to some degree, offer variations on the familiar Anglican warfare timeline (please click here, I dare you), which says that people have been fighting for a long time, but that the real issue was the selection of a noncelibate gay bishop here in America.

Over at the Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein took another shot at describing the conflict in terms of a wider, clearly doctrinal agenda. Frankly, this is really close to getting at the heart of this matter in — oh my, what a thankless task — a matter of a few sentences in a public newspaper.

In the lede, we read:

Conservatives from the Episcopal Church voted yesterday to form their own branch of Anglicanism in the United States and said they would seek new recognition in the worldwide church because of their growing disenchantment over the ordination of an openly gay bishop and other liberal developments.

Like I said, the word “liberal” is a fighting word and, until recently, you rarely saw it used like that. Then, later we read that conservatives are upset about the 2003 consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, “the role of female clergy, the church’s definition of salvation and changes to the main book of prayer.”

Now, this article and many others dealt openly with the fact that these conservatives have — within their new province — pledged to agree to disagree on the issue of ordaining women as clergy. That’s a story in and of itself. But, later on, Boorstein takes another crack at the wider doctrinal divide:

In the past year, four U.S. dioceses have broken from the Episcopal Church, citing Robinson’s ordination and brewing dissent over issues such as the necessity of Jesus for salvation and the literal truth of the resurrection. In Northern Virginia, more than a dozen churches voted to break from the Episcopal Church. That split has cost millions in legal fees and remains in Fairfax County District Court as the two sides fight over church property.

rainbow vestments 05Note the frank statements about salvation and the resurrection.

This is “tmatt trio” territory, of course, so let me end there. This battle is, ultimately, about ancient faith vs. modern and even postmodern faith. It’s about clashes over doctrine. Honest. Thus, journalists can ask these questions and, by listening carefully to the many variations on the answers, find out who is who and who will end up kneeling where:

(1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?

And then there is my special Anglican wars bonus question!

Should churches in the Anglican Communion ban the worship, by name, of other gods at their altars?

Stay tuned. This will not be over for a decade or two. Maybe.

First photo: If you can name most of these men, you are an Anglican traditionalist.

Print Friendly

Take this bread

waferI receive Communion at my church at least once a week and yet I have never contemplated where my congregation gets our bread and wine. So I was fascinated by a light feature in the Boston Globe about a local company that makes Communion wafers.

The Cavanagh Company has an 80 percent market share in the United States, supplying most of the wafers for Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran congregations. A box of 1,000 standard wafers sells retail at $12 or more, about twice the wholesale price:

In its 62d year of operation, the Cavanagh family business is the nation’s leading supplier of Communion wafers. Their commercial bakery in this northern Rhode Island town runs 24 hours a day to make about 25 million wafers a week, primarily for Catholics, but for other denominations as well.

The company’s manufacturing floor is a humming assembly line of weird, Willie Wonka-like machines. Contraptions custom-built by the Cavanaghs will thud, click sharply, and whoosh at odd intervals, like the percussion section of a highly experimental jazz band.

The article describes the generations of Cavanaghs who have worked at the company:

The company was founded in the 1940s by John F. Cavanagh, an inventor who registered more than 100 patents, and his sons John Jr. and Paul, a pair of liturgical artists who donated their work to churches and religious organizations.

The company employs 36 full-time people making altar bread. The family is Roman Catholic, “but you certainly don’t have to be Catholic to work here,” said Brian [Cavanagh, CEO]. “It’s a manufacturing company. There’s no fake reverence for the product.” Until the wafers are used by a priest in the celebration of the Eucharist, “it’s just bread,” he said.

We learn about what’s in the wafers and the manufacturing process is described in great and colorful detail — even what happens to the chaff left over when the wafers are cut. It’s just a great local story about one aspect of religious life we don’t hear about too often.

Print Friendly