Seeking the One
a reflection by The Rev. Doyt Conn
In the olden days no one read scripture alone. In fact it was darn near impossible. Books were as rare as a fine arts edition of The Saint John’s Bible and, metaphorically, as big, robust, beautiful, awkward, and awesome. The community gathered to hear scripture read. It was usually on Sunday. The person who could read did read—often a young woman—but it didn’t really matter who read. After all, they were all children of God. God has no grandchildren. They listened to the scripture, and as they did it rolled around in their minds, biblical stories meshing and melding with their own stories. Then they prayed. Prayers were usually led by a person who knew their value; having seen their power throughout a long life. They were prayers of conversation with God, and everyone got to listen in. Then came the conversations and the wondering.
As I imagine this scene, I find my mind going to Matthew 18 and Luke 15, the Parable of the Lost Sheep:
“What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matt 18:10–14)
This was new thinking. Jesus brought to bear in the minds, then the habits, of humanity a new way of hearing each other. And yet, sometimes I worry that we have forgotten the pursuit of “the one” in our democratic society. Sometimes I think we are so caught up in the win/ lose paradigm that we have forgotten the paradigm of Christian inclusion. Sometimes I think that power found in polarity is the primary pursuit of our leaders, and the net result is a fragmented society that has forgotten that it is critical that we seek the lost sheep.
My hope for us as Epiphany is that we seek “the one” in all that we do. What does that look like? It begins with how we hear our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? The person next to you in the pew. At Epiphany, as I hope you are noticing, small groups seem to be popping up to discuss “hard issues.” There is a group called Steadfast Hope, which is considering the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in the Holy Land. There is a group gathering to talk about racism in America. There is a group that is just starting that wants to consider violence in this country. Yikes! Is Epiphany getting all political like all of the other Episcopal churches? Is Epiphany becoming a bastion for
conservative, I mean liberal, no I mean conservative (or maybe liberal) politics like so many other churches? If that has crossed you mind—STOP IT! Make no mistake about it, Jesus walked in this world. Jesus was not some politically correct (whatever that means to you) guy who tiptoed around issues and avoided real world topics like war, race, and violence. Jesus was smart, tough, brave, and sought “the one,” whoever and wherever that one wandered from.
At Epiphany we are a Kingdom-of-God people. The Kingdom of God is here, it is near, and it is on the way. We are going to talk about real-world issues, so, to quote master teacher Jesus: “Be not afraid!” But here is how we are going to do it: we are going to do it in the pursuit of “the one.” For those who want to gather, we will gather. There will be a leader committed to the discussion, but more so committed to the pursuit of the one. We are going to share the context of our lives in relationship to the issue at hand, and we are going to listen to others do the same. We are then going to wonder about the differences. We are going to wonder what it felt like to grow up in the 1950s, or to be shot at during Vietnam, or to be black in America. We are going to hear stories, read stories, and invite people in to tell their stories. And we are going to wonder about these stories with open hearts, and as we do so our souls will dance with each other whether we want them to or not. That is just how God works!
And if there is one in our midst who has an experience or opinion that is different than the others, we will hold her as Jesus would hold her. Not to coddle or to make her more powerful by an obstinate stance, but to include and embrace simply because her story and her context are perfectly valid and worthy to hear.
The world is dying for the days of old when all of the children gathered to hear and consider Jesus. That is what we are going to seek to do at Epiphany. We are going to talk about real world issues in the context of the Kingdom of God. We are going to practice what it means to be an inclusive community. We are not seeking to change minds, but rather seeking to hear stories. We are pursuing empathy and understanding and insight, for in this way we are cultivating fields of love. And we will pray; we will pray for one another and we will pray for ourselves. This is Epiphany. It is your church—a church set in this city at this time with real issues to confront. And we will practice, and maybe even set the standard, for what it means to be one family under the reign of our most awesome God.
Epiphany’s Magazine Ministry
There is a bin in the back of the Church to collect paperback books and magazines (address labels are removed first) to go to local organizations like the YWCA and Plymouth Housing. Before you recycle, bring your old reading material to Epiphany! Contact Alex Polson with questions.
The Music Corner: Planning the Liturgy
There is no reason to think that anyone has wondered about this subject, but just the same, here are some thoughts about the music you hear at Epiphany. Since we are a liturgical church, based on a long historical form of worship, we are given a structure which informs the choices of musical settings of appropriate texts.
Brief History: For centuries music has been composed for the liturgical church, set to texts which are the theological framework of Christianity. Choral music was originally sung by those in religious monastic orders. The form of the earliest melodies is plainsong, sometimes named Gregorian chant after Pope Gregory the Great, though scholars tell us that there were other influences as well. These melodies from the 9th and 10th centuries, many of which we still sing, are monophonic (single-line music) largely to accommodate the acoustical surrounding in which most of them were originally sung. Later, non-monastics were allowed to sing as well, and history shows us that additional musical lines were gradually added, resulting in the polyphony (multi-line music), which was heard by the 15th century and is still heard today. History shows us that the psalms we find in our worship were sung, not spoken, in medieval times, and the New Testament mentions singing hymns during the Last Supper: “When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30).
Service Structure: In addition to the story of Christian salvation, the Mass (our Holy Eucharist) consists of the Ordinary and the Propers. The Ordinary is the portions that are repeated at every service (Song of Praise, Sanctus, music at the Breaking of the Bread, etc.) The Propers are the readings from the Old and New Testament which vary at every service. The tradition which is our Anglican liturgical heritage provides a rich and enormous variety of music for both choir and congregation.
Fast forward: Congregational hymns are metrical (rhythmic) settings of Christian beliefs. A hymn is technically a set of words; the tune composed for it is the medium which allows the text to be sung. Our Hymnal 1982 is an incredibly rich collection of theological beliefs; it is the primary theological document of the congregation. Carol Foster was fortunate to be called to the Standing Liturgical Commission to aid in the selection of musical settings of hymns for our Hymnal 1982. For its texts, it has been named as one of the finest books of Christian poetry in print. I often encourage keeping a copy of our Hymnal on one’s bedside table.
All music in liturgical worship has as its ultimate goal the illumination of the theological themes of the Propers (readings) of the day by means of appropriate hymns and choir settings. These themes can be either obvious or more general, and sometimes illusive. Fortunately, gifted composers from the 16th century to the present day have been inspired to set great texts to music; there is an abundance of riches in these choices which provides musicians in the church a rewarding challenge. Poets from the 16th-century English mystics to present day have provided the church with opportunities to place melody with a given text more than once. The liturgical church has drawn from the best of poets and composers, and continues to do so.
Decisions, decisions: Criteria for the decisions pertaining to the hymns we sing is based on appropriate texts for the day and familiarity to the congregation. The former criteria is less challenging than the latter! The Episcopal church nationally is drawing more and more folks from outside the faith, including those with no church background at all. “Cradle Episcopalians” are no longer the majority. This is healthy and reassuring in that the Episcopal church shares the great majority of hymnody with most other denominations, but there will always be a hymn or two that someone has never heard! The ultimate goal is to preserve a sense of integrity in our worship with a unified selection of music accommodating similar national styles as well as integration by time period—even the organ voluntaries (because Bach goes with everything). I spend time each summer in a broad-scale planning for the next “liturgical year” as set by the church rubrics. Then comes the weekly system of more careful attention to congregational hymns, settings of the Ordinary, and choral music for the choir. Planning music for the church’s worship is a rewarding privilege.
An Update from the Building Team
The lighting designer, and the mechanical and electrical contractors have been on site this week firming up the details on the scope of their work. Also, we showed the proposed design for the St. Francis Garden renovations to various stakeholders and caretakers of the area. We are continuing to work to refine the plant list, and to make plans for the reuse of plants currently in the Garden and the disposition of others.
The Next 100 Years Building Team
Ed Emerson, Laura Blackmore, Bob Barnes, Jim Marlow Ben Bradstreet
Contact the Building Team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Parish Prayer List
Download a PDF of this week’s prayer list by clicking here.
Sunday Lectionary Corner
October 12, 2014
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Upcoming Events in the Life of Epiphany
For dates and details of all our upcoming events, click here.