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Established 1999
A Wesleyan-Anglican Church in Boise, Idaho

Pilgrimages

An English Pilgrimage

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Entry 13, Sunday, Third Week of Advent:
Epworth, England: The Lost Generation

"The Church of Christ, in every age
beset by change, but Spirit-led,
must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead."
- verse 1, "The Caring Church", Fred Pratt Green, 1969

We attend the 10:30 a.m. service at St. Andrew's Parish Church in Epworth, where Samuel Wesley was rector (1696-1735) and John and Charles Wesley and their siblings grew up and were formed in the context of Christian worship.

The morning is cold and overcast, not surprisingly. As we enter, we are warmly greeted, and we're pleased to see that the service is well-attended indeed. The church may have been built in the 12th century, but it is by no means a mere relic or museum piece.

St. Andrew's Parish Church, Epworth, England
St. Andrew's Parish Church, Epworth, England.

Moreover, the service is noteworthy for its faithfulness: the scriptures are read, hymns are sung, the sermon is appropriate for Advent, and Communion is respectfully and attentively conducted and served.

Yet, if a visitor may say so without undue impertinence, it is what is not there that is of concern to me.

The first omission is that St. Andrew's cannot be said to be Wesleyan now. Therefore, what is missing in the Eucharist is explicit teaching that the Eucharist can be a means of transforming grace. From my very limited experience I see the Church of England as being quite faithful, overall, in presenting the Eucharist as a means of forgiving grace, but it seems weak, overall, in leading the people to seek and expect grace in the Eucharist that will not merely leave them where they were, albeit forgiven, but will enable them to be, really, new creatures in Christ, and to move out from under the domination of sin.

I am not saying that the Church of England does not intend to convey this hopeful message, but I am saying that I think that this message, if intended to be sent, is not very widely being received.

The next omission is evidence for the first one: at St. Andrew's as in a number of other examples, the worship of the people, at least on this day, lacks evident joy. A faith which is seen as bringing forgiveness without real transformation in this life lacks an essential criterion for joy.

The High Altar at St. Andrew's
The High Altar at St. Andrew's

The third omission is evidence, too, of the first: on this day, other than two children, it appears that no one under the age of about 40 is present. This is a problem many places in England and not only in the Church of England, and I believe that one reason why a generation has essentially dropped out of the church is that they've never been given a reason why being present would change their lives. When the core of worship is the Eucharist and it occurs in a theological vacuum or in the context of weak grace, it really doesn't seem all that relevant.

A fourth omission is apparent intentionality about every aspect of the service; to the uninitiated as well as for the long-time Christian, why this is done as opposed to that, or why this is done now rather than then, may well be a mystery. Wesleyans are big on understood intentionality, as one can be sure would be the case if John Wesley were curate at St. Andrew's now.

The last omission I'll cite is a controversial matter right now in the Church of England, with its change to "Common Worship" language in its liturgy (although The Book of Common Prayer of 1662 remains authorized). I understand the desire to use liturgical language which is accessible to today's population, but the price of using popularized language is a loss of poetry, elegance of expression, and that aspect of the sense of the holy which is the set-apart. Yes, the new language is utilitarian, but it is unlikely to inspire.

It would not be fair to lay all of this at the door of St. Andrew's; it's just that if St. Andrew's were Wesleyan as at least this particular parish church once was, these things would be different.

Indeed, it was this very message-that God's grace can free people from the domination of sin in this life-which resulted in John Wesley's being barred from preaching in most Church of England pulpits, including at St. Andrew's itself. That is why, during Whitsun week in June, 1742, John Wesley preached every evening while standing outside the church on his father's tomb (that being family property from which the church could not bar him).

During the Eucharist in this day, we receive Communion where John and Charles Wesley did, at the very same altar. Through the kindness of a parishioner, after the service we are shown, and are allowed to hold, the very silver chalice from which John Wesley received his first Communion at the age of nine years, in 1712. It retains a very bright shine, and we are told that it never tarnishes and never requires polishing.

What is tarnished, however, is the heritage of the Wesleys at St. Andrew's, in the sense that they were unable to leave behind a Wesleyan parish. It's quite apparently a faithful parish; it's just not a Wesleyan one.

The Lord's Supper was ordained by God to be a means of conveying either preventing, or justifying, or sanctifying, or preserving grace, according to the several necessities of the people. The persons for whom it was ordained are all those who know and feel that they want the grace of God, either to restrain them from sin, or to show their sins forgiven, or to renew their souls in the image of God, or to enter into the holy presence of God in communion with him . . . .

. . . . Deliver us gracious Lord, from the presumption of coming to this table for pardon of our sins only, and not for transformation of our lives in your holiness.

- Christopher

Theme Verse

Luke 1:78-79

Scripture Lessons

Oct 22: Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96:1-9, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22

Oct 15: Deuteronomy 8:6-18, Psalm 113:1-8, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Luke 17:11-19

Prayer Emphases

Nation: South Africa

Denomination: United Methodist Church

Congregation: Osaka International Church, Osaka, Japan, and the Rev. Alisdair McKenna

Ministry: The Anglican Relief and Development Fund

Parishioners: Those living on Esquire Circle

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