Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Nativity of St John Baptist

Today's feast was the occasion of the first celebration of the Eucharist according to the prayer book rite in what is now the continental United States. The celebrant was the chaplain of Sir Francis Drake's ship, the Golden Hind and the celebration occurred while the Golden Hind was being prepared for a trip across the Pacific and around the tip of Africa to avoid the Spanish fleets.

It used to be believed that the place of this celebration was at Drake's Bay just North of San Francisco and the Golden Gate, but historians now seem to believe that the latitude which Drake posted was more nearly correct and that would place Drake's landing in the Oregon-Washington coast range. But the place is not important while the fact of the celebration is. Even as Drake claimed the territory around his landing for Elizabeth I and the English throne, the Eucharist claimed it for English and Anglican Catholicism.

In learning about the history of our country, we forget - or rather, we are not reminded, not taught - about the Anglican settlements of Virginia, about Roanoke and Jamestown because for political reasons beyond my taking time to explain here or now, the emphasis in American history is now on Plymouth and the Puritan dissenting settlement there. We are not taught about the Anglican majorities that signed the Declaration of Independence and wrote the Constitution of the United States. It is not pointed out to us that the form of government we find in our constitution was first to found in the government of the provinces of the English Church from the eighth century onward, that is to say a legislature consisting of a lower and upper house with an executive and a judiciary. In the case of the Church it was the archbishop with the house of clergy and the house of bishops which gave us the president with the House of Representatives and the Senate. No matter! It is all there for us to find out and to enjoy. The important thing to realize, to know is that where the prayer book tradition is strong, the tradition of ordered freedom with a value on the rights of every human being is also strong. Indeed, with the exception of Switzerland, the five nations with the greatest freedom are all those with a strong Anglican tradition in their history.

St John Baptist died as the result of his protest against vice and tyranny. That protest sprang from his faith and obedience to God which should be the fountain of all our actions as well. Let us remember his feast and keep it that way.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

St Alban, Protomartyr of England

Sunday may be the Fifth after Trinity and those are the propers which I as an obedient prayer book churchman will use at the altar, but I will not forget that it is also the feast of the first British martyr. Alban was a Roman soldier who took the place of a priest fleeing the authorities during one of the times when Rome decided to persecute the Christian Church. The priest escaped and his name is forgotten to the Church, but when Alban was killed in his stead, he became by that single act famous and honored by true Christians forever.

I especially have cause to honour him in that it was in dedicated to him that I first became aware of the Anglican faith and the Book of Common Prayer. The priest was the Reverend Herbert Conley and I will to my dying day remember how he looked when he opened the door to this inquirer. He was one of those who followed prayer book usage when most of the rest of the diocese, high church or low, were devoutly more Romano.

I have also been in St Alban's in England and while not impressed with the cathedral in comparison to others was very much impressed with the holiness of the place. I hope that the churches and cathedrals which we in the continuum have and will build will have such a sense of perpetual prayer and holiness in the centuries to come. I only wish that Tony Blair and Englands Labour government had not descecrated it so by the appointment of its present dean. Neither it nor any other church deserses that and certainly not this ancient and holy shrine.