We have reached the time of year when it is customary to offer thanks for all the blessings of this life and of all the wonderful gifts God has bestowed upon us. I am very thankful that God put me on the path to arrive at St. John’s so that we can share in the ministry of his holy Church together! I have appreciated every encounter I have had at St. John’s and I thank each and every member of our wonderful church for welcoming me with open arms and for being such wonderful examples of the love of Jesus Christ in the world!
There are many reasons I love this parish community, but one reason that stands out is I genuinely appreciate your desire to learn. I have been thrilled to see so many of you attend lectures and classes I’ve offered. When people show up and they demonstrate a desire to learn, I become filled with more energy to keep teaching. I had a lot of fun in the fall discussing the first few sections of our Prayer Book with you and I look forward to many future discussions about the scriptures, liturgy, and theology.
If you were in attendance at either service last Sunday, you noticed we began using Rite I liturgies. We will use Rite I liturgies during the season of Advent and we will return to Rite II for Christmas. Of course, any change brings with it questions. You may be wondering, why are we using Rite I during Advent? There are a number of answers to this question and I am confident you will appreciate all of them. The decision, after all, was carefully made with intention and prayer.
The first reason is an easy one! Rite I is a beautiful service and it is appropriate to use Rite I from time to time. Many parishes have traditionally had a Rite I service at 8 a.m. and a Rite II service at 10. St. John’s was one of those parishes for a very long time. Prior to my arrival, a decision was made to keep both services the same. This decision was made for stewardship reasons. By only printing one bulletin per liturgical season, we are saving tremendous amounts of paper. This represents good stewardship to both our pocketbooks and to the earth and its resources. It is a wonderful practice and I admire you for making the change prior to my arrival! You get all the credit for that! The downside of the decision is that Rite I can easily become neglected. Many Episcopalians are spiritually fed by Rite I liturgies and it is important that this nourishment is adequately provided. By using Rite I at both services, we are honoring our commitment to good stewardship and we are scratching that “itch” that many worshippers have expressed as a desire to celebrate Rite I.
An added reason is that using Rite I is a wonderful teaching opportunity! While indeed many Episcopalians were raised on Rite I language, others have never or seldom been exposed to it. Believe it or not, I had never attended a Rite I service until I was in seminary. I have presided at Rite I Eucharist services only a handful of times. And yet, it is a lovely rite with beautiful language and deep, meaningful theology.
It is common to make visible changes to worship when the liturgical seasons change. This helps us to not become stuck in a routine. In fact, it is not uncommon for parishes to use Rite I during Lent. However, I do not like this practice because it makes Rite I seem like a sacrifice and it focuses only on the penitential words contained in the rite. If you pay close attention, you will notice that after every piece of penitential theology in rite I, the redeeming love of Jesus Christ makes an appearance to conquer our sin and suffering. When we say, “we are unworthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table,” we follow that with, “but thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.” While we may not be worthy on our own merits, we indeed are worthy by Christ who makes us worthy! Advent is a lovely time to use Rite I. Instead of a season of penitence and self-denial, it is a season of joyful anticipation.
I thank you for your willingness to embark on this journey through Advent as we pray in Rite I together. It is truly commendable that you are willing to step outside of your comfort zones. I encourage you to embrace this short season of Rite I liturgies and reflect on how they make you feel. Focus on how they enhance your relationship with God. Do the liturgies make you feel closer to God? Maybe they do and maybe they don’t. If they don’t, then rest assured we will have Rite II liturgies again soon enough. If you are uncomfortable with Rite I, then give yourself permission to be uncomfortable. What do you suppose you might learn about yourself from your discomfort? We are on a journey together. Advent is not just a time to await the coming of Jesus at Christmas. It is also a time to learn about ourselves and to prepare for what might come next. Thank you for being so willing to share the love of Jesus with the world. At St. John’s, you do this by active ministry and you do it in your liturgy. I am thrilled to shepherd you as we do it together.