This, from a recent online article from The Living Church (an independent Episcopal news magazine) covering yesterday’s Sunday Eucharist for the Anglican Primates meeting at Christ Church Cathedral in Zanzibar:
Over 600 worshippers packed the Cathedral, built in 1878 on the site of Zanzibar’s former slave market in Stone Town. Archbishop Williams served as preacher, Archbishop Donald Mtetemela of Tanzania served as celebrant and the bishops of Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam served as deacon and sub-deacon in the elaborate Anglo-Catholic service which was conducted in both English and Swahili.
In high ritual style, Archbishop Mtetemela sung the liturgy, as clouds of incense arose from a censer held by the former Archbishop of Zanzibar, John Rahamdhani. The altar service reflected an ecclesial style seldom seen in The Episcopal Church, with copes, maniples, zucchettos and other finery. Yellow roses covered the front of the altar and much of the cathedral in honor of Quinquagesima Sunday.”
Well, they are right, this kind of thing is seldom seen in The Episcopal Church these days, except for the cadre of High-Church and Anglo-Catholic parishes that are faithfully making their way forward. The overall Church, however, is far more high-church (high-ritual or “Catholic”) than it was 40 years ago! There are those who say that Anglo-Catholics “won the battle but lost the war,” meaning that a good bit of the style of high-worship has been adopted by the wider church (Eucharist every Sunday, sung Eucharist, vestments, etc.), but all the depth behind why Anglo-Catholics worship they way they do has not – some say “style over substance.” Of course, only certain things have made the transition to the wider Church, as the clip above suggests.
At my parish, St. Paul’s Church on Carroll St. in Brooklyn, we see and we wear such things as copes, maniples, cassocks, amices, and albs. We also have incense and sanctus bells. We genuflect during the appropriate part of the Creed, and all that. This seems so odd that I would be doing such things, coming from my Evangelical upbringing.
I’ve thought a lot about when I am called to a particular church with a free-standing (“west-facing”) altar where I face the people. I don’t want to be and should not be the center of attention, and I think facing the people causes that to happen. The people’s attention moves from being aware of all that is happening from the heavenlies on down to their individual hearts, to what the priest is doing with his/her hands.
I will certainly celebrate on a west-facing altar, but I might have to explain that during times such as Lent that I think I will have to face east with my back to the people. For me, particularly during penitential times, I cannot face the people as if I am separated from them, standing behind the altar. I am one of them and like them, a sinner, and with them all I must face symbolic East towards the source of our forgiveness, freedom, reconciliation, and peace. I don’t know how that will go over.
This high-ritual style of worship is considered a throwback by many of those “in the know” of TEC. “Anglo-Catholicism” has also developed a reputation in the U.S. as being reactionary and angry, very much opposed to the ordination of women and the like. This is not our Anglo-Catholic parish nor most of the others I know of. I’ve come across the good Fathers and parishioners who do fit that bill, however. Frankly, from what I read and experience, a new interest in and a rebirth of ritual can be seen in other religions like Judaism and within civil society in general.
What I read regarding demographic trends particularly among young people, this kind of “church” is a big draw. There is a desire for that which is ancient, tried and true, not trendy, and for a return of mystery. To many young people, the language of God sounds like Rite I old English, looks like traditional church architecture, is represented by clergy who look and act the part, and ritual that is contemplative and not anthropocentric. We see it in our congregation – younger people make up the majority of visitors.
We have something very much in common with our fellow Anglicans in Zanzibar.