Tuesday, August 4, 2009
A Sunday with the right focus
Since I was on vacation last Sunday, I made it up to Brookings for the installation of Fr. Ryan Hall as Rector of St. Paul's. Bishop-elect John Tarrant officiated.
Installations (when a clergy person receives formal recognition to serve in a particular place) can be like ordinations (when a person receives laying on of hands to become a deacon, priest or bishop), in that both services can devolve into "coronations," doting on the individual and the pageantry of visiting clergy who take up all the seats and, as Martin Luther wrote of the clergy, become "unwelcome guests, eating up our food."
But last Sunday was something unusual and refreshing. It was focused on Christ and his body on earth, the people who follow him.
Holding an installation at the congregation's main Sunday service rules out a bunch of clergy showing up to parade. Usually, such events are in the afternoon or evening. I happened to be on vacation, so I showed up, and an Orthodox priest who is a friend of Ryan's made it. The gathering was, in the main, a celebration of Christ's work as carried out by his whole body, clergy and lay people together.
St. Paul's is a small church and they use their own resources well. The organist has been under the weather, so they had a bit of guitar support. Mostly we all sang without instrumental accompaniment. Having just been on retreat at Blue Cloud Abbey, where the services are chanted by the monks and their guests, I'm really appreciating how a group of people transform from "audience" to worshippers when they all put their voices together as one voice toward God.
John Tarrant's sermon put priest and people together as disciples, all being made new as they follow Christ. Pointing to the upcoming Feast of the Transfiguration (Aug. 6), the bishop-elect called the congregation to be like Peter, James and John, who saw Christ's glory and then came "down the mountain, to the foot of a cross, to an empty tomb, to a transfiguration of their own."
In the traditional exhortation at the end of the installation sermon, Fr. Tarrant asked Fr. Hall to stand and said, "Love your people, not because they deserve to be loved, but because God, in Christ, has first loved you." But he also exhorted the congregation to "love your rector - love Ryan. Live lives worthy of your calling." I really liked the focus of that message - build the church on Christ's love and Christ's purposes, not on our own perceptions and preferences.
The sermon ended with a call for St. Paul's to be "the church as the body of Christ to glorify the living God." May they be blessed to fulfill this charge.