Monday, July 12, 2010

Thoughts on the Blessings of a Christian Community

[N.B., I missed posting the propers for Trinity VI due to a very busy day, part of which contributed to the subject about which I write below. I regret any inconvenience. --DC+]

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles." --Acts 2:42-43 (ESV)

It surprises some who know me to learn that I have never been an Episcopalian. I was born into a long line of members of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the old "Southern Presbyterian Church" -- its initial name had been the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America and members of my family were members of it throughout its existence), amalgamated against my will into the Presbyterian Church (USA) just before my 13th Birthday, where I remained until shortly before going to seminary when I went under care and was eventually licensed by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. After being drawn into the Anglican way of Reformed Catholicism I joined and was eventually ordained by the Reformed Episcopal Church, where I remain canonically resident today. When the Anglican Church in North America was formed in 2009, the REC was a key part; I was privileged to be at the Inaugural Assembly (my thoughts about which can be read here).

I provide this ecclesiastical mini-biography with apologies for its length to provide context for my observations regarding Christian community because it has been my blessing for the past two years to serve as assisting clergy at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston, South Carolina on a part-time, non-stipendary and somewhat limited (I don't celebrate Holy Communion) basis while remaining chaplain for an area hospice. After determining that it was time to resign from the Reformed Episcopal parish where I was blessed to serve as Assisting Presbyter for nearly four years I suddenly found myself a parishless hospice chaplain. While I visited several local parishes I found myself most often attending the Cathedral for several reasons: the fairly high liturgy and the evangelical ethos resonated with me; I found the preaching of the Very Rev'd William McKeachie, the then-Dean edifying; the choral music was great; and the people were friendly. Shortly after Easter 2008 Dean McKeachie suggested the possibility of my periodically assisting and I was happy when I began doing so. Assisting became more regular -- eventually a regular affair when I wasn't doing supply work elsewhere.

Dean McKeachie retired in 2009 and the Rev'd Peet Dickenson, a priest whom I'd known only vaguely during the time he was on the staff of St. Michael's Church in Charleston, was called as Dean. As is done in such cases, I offered to resign and was happy when the proffered resignation was not accepted. He's officially been there for just over a year and I have begun to do some work with the youth, do some pastoral care, and have continued worship leadership and occasional preaching all while continuing to work as a hospice chaplain.

As I write this it's very early in the morning on 12 July 2010. On 13 July I'll celebrate my 40th birthday. This evening a number of friends from the Cathedral surprised me with a party that was arranged, in complete contravention of my directive, by Dean Dickenson's lovely wife Jenny. It was a truly humbling experience to have so many people care enough to want to honor your birthday, to be toasted, given gag gifts (hopefully the Fixodent won't be needed for some time) and some not-so-gag gifts (a very talented artist who serves on the vestry will paint a piece for me, I was given some really nice cigars, and some other great gifts). I was toasted and, in turn, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to toast LTC John Scott Nelson, who was a year ahead of me at Georgia Military College and has just redeployed from Iraq commanding 1-4 Cavalry; he returned with all of the troopers that he took with him -- no small accomplishment!

Due to obligations elsewhere (helping to charter a new chapter of the Order of St. Vincent one week, doing supply work on two others), I've been away from the Cathedral for three Sundays in a row (I will, however, be preaching at all three services on 18 July) and I have dearly missed it. A community is being built around common faith, warm fellowship, and prayer and I am blessed to be a part of it. My hope for my fellow Christians is that they too will find a church where the same is happening!

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