A special thanks to Fr. Moses for inviting me to be a part of your annual patronal festival. It is a real privilege to not only represent the Vineyard but the Linden Fraternal as well. It is also wonderful to have my family here with me this morning.
Memories of my childhood
It may come as somewhat of a surprise to many of you, but I spent the formative years of my life in this parish. My earliest memories are of Sunday School in the hall and then once a month being able to join in the Eucharist in the ‘big church’. Of course we could not receive communion but knelt quietly at the altar to receive a blessing from the priest. I also have fond memories of confirmation classes up in the coffee bar and of being confirmed by Bishop Timothy.
When I look across the church and see the beautiful kneelers in the church I remember the countless hours that my mother participated in knitting them. I still look around and hear her words: “Don’t put your feet on those kneelers!” To my nephews who are here today – “Corbin and Dean, I’m watching you – Grandma knitted them!”
I also have a very distinct memory of sitting in a service (I must have been very young) and praying that God would do whatever He wanted to with my life but then thinking: “Just don’t make me a priest!” I was under the misconception that priests couldn’t marry, and I was certain I didn’t want to exclude that possibility for me.
The rector at that time was Father Matthews (he was unmarried and eventually left to become a Catholic). Easter Services were a highlight and I couldn’t wait to join the queue as he stood outside on the steps with a basket of Easter eggs. I remember that it didn’t matter how close to the back we sat but by the time we got to the door, there he was on the steps with a cigarette in his mouth. I used to think that the service would last as long as he could go without a cigarette.
Sadly I blew out as a teenager, going through the typical rebellious stage. I remember arguing with my mother after one service saying: “I am reading Shakespeare at school, I am really not enjoying singing it at church.”
My parents attended here faithfully and both their funerals were conducted at St. Thomas’ – as were my maternal grandparents’. Another fond family memory was officiating at the marriage of my brother and sister-in-law who are here today with their three boys. My wife was heavily pregnant with my youngest daughter. She was raised a Presbyterian and I think it was quite a shock to her ecclesial system. Sarah was born the next day.
St. Thomas’ vs. Saint Thomas
I realise it is customary on this day to preach on Saint Thomas but seeing as I broke with tradition I don’t see why I shouldn’t continue in that same vein.
So this morning I would like to reflect on my relationship with St. Thomas’s – as a Parish in this community. In doing so I would like to point out some of the strengths of your tradition and this parish in particular. What it is that you uniquely have to offer the wider community as your gift in this area.
Deep heritage of faith and tradition.
St. Thomas’ has a rich heritage, a deep faith and tradition.
As a young pastor in a more charismatic/evangelical milieu, I found myself pastoring and planting a church. Charismatics prefer to be inspired, to be ‘led by the Spirit’. I thrived on this – well initially. Then after months, perhaps years, I realised I wasn’t always as inspired as I thought I was. Sometimes my wife would gently point out – “perhaps next week you could spend a little more time in preparation?”
As the sole pastor in a small church, the struggle is not just for inspiration for the weekly message, but also the daily grind of prayer and devotions. I found myself drawn to discover (or perhaps re-discover) the Lectionary and the rhythm of the Christian Calendar.
Through the Daily Lectionary I discovered that Anglican ministers as part of their ordination vows commit to morning and evening prayers. As evangelicals I thought we had the word, whilst you just had liturgy. Can you imagine my surprise on learning that the entire Psalter is read and prayed through every three months. There are not many ministers that I know that read the Psalms in a year, let alone every three months. It is through this tradition that I discovered the ancient practice of the church praying the psalms.
One of our core values in the Vineyard is to love the whole church. What I have found immensely practical and encouraging is to participate in praying with the wider church, throughout the world, on a daily basis.
Although I don’t follow the Daily Office, there are many days that I turn to the Psalm reading of that day to include in my prayers.
Christian Year or Calendar
This may come as a shock to many of you, but some churches in their iconoclastic fervour have even dispensed with Easter or Christmas Services. To me this is just crazy, surely this is the easiest time of the year to attract the unchurched to come to church?
There is deep satisfaction in following the rhythms of the Christian Calendar – the ebb and flow of the year together with the wider church.
A number of years ago I was doing a TGIF (see note below) on Advent with Neil Oosthuizen – Simon’s late dad who was at that time the Methodist minister at Trinity (another group who broke from the Anglican fold).
After again joking that a Vineyard pastor was speaking on Advent – something he took great pleasure in pointing out every time I made any mention of the Christian Year – he then added something that I have never forgotten.
He personally was rediscovering the importance of Advent. Without it, Christmas can creep up on us and surprise us. Advent affords us the opportunity to prepare and appreciate the deep significance of this season.
We live in a world that knows when Easter and Christmas are but often there is no appreciation for the real significance of the story.
Advent and Lent are wonderful missional opportunities for the church. But it’s you who have had this gift all along. It’s also you who can lead and guide the rest of the Church as to their significance and usefulness.
Eucharist & Liturgy
The Eucharist is another topic that we could spend the morning on but I will take this as read. Just this past Wednesday we met as a Fraternal in your coffee shop and Fr. Moses shared the deep significance of the Eucharist within the Anglican tradition.
In my youth I failed to appreciate how much of the Eucharist (and other services) were in fact rooted in scripture. I guess it was easier to only focus on the ceremony.
This was impressed upon me during my mother’s funeral. At a time of profound loss and grief, I found immense comfort in the sheer amount of scripture that was recited during the service. Evangelical funerals tend to centre around the sermon. For me, the reading of scripture, and particularly the words of our Lord that brought real comfort and hope. I have learned to say less at funerals and read more scripture.
Lectio Divina is another ancient tradition that is valued here at St. Thomas’. One of your previous rectors, Fr. Godfrey Henwood, shared this way of reading scripture with us in the Fraternal and one evening at Hillside. Something that he shared I found incredibly profound. Talking about the overwhelming amount of information we have to process in our world today he said:
“The discipline of Lectio Divina teaches us to read for transformation, not information.”
In the world in which we live, many people seem to have lost their faith. They have also lost the gift that is the church. They might believe but are not comfortable in one or other denomination. As I said earlier, they may even celebrate Christmas or Easter, but in name only.
The Modern Church threw out tradition and liturgy. Yet in post-modernity it is fascinating to see a resurgence of symbolism and a yearning for tradition. Anglicans as a whole are at home in this space and St. Thomas’ congregants particularly.
In a world that has lost its way; a world that is filled with doubt (perhaps much like Thomas); a world that is now looking for ritual, for symbol – a parish like St. Thomas’ has so much to offer.
Not just the beauty of this building, but a rich liturgy, a lasting tradition, and so much more.
It is a gift not only for you to enjoy but one that I would challenge you to share with the world and the community around you.
TGIF – I have been a part of hosting TGIF at Seattle Cresta for close on 15 years. We meet every Friday at 6h15 and at other venues across the country. See the the website for more information and consider joining us one week.