Rite One with Jazz

 Once I was in an old church in the Eastern time zone. It was a beautiful stone building, with a gifted choir, a stellar organist, and even a group of stringed instruments. The hymns and anthems and the other music were all part of the classical tradition. The building and the music spoke to the visitor of something deeply orthodox.
    The words, however, avoided mention of Father or Son or Lord. That is to say, they were of that variety of contemporary worship that rejects the traditional language for God. And the sermon was a rousing call to participate in a march for a certain form of social justice.
    This was an unsettling conjunction of ancient and contemporary.
    But there are other ways to bring old and new together.
    More recently I was again at a Eucharist in one of those old, Eastern-time-zone churches, a huge building that had not been used for much Episcopal worship for some time. It is being revitalized. Their mission strategy is to use traditional Rite One worship language, emphasizing the Prayer Book’s call to repentance and trust in God. They combine this with “blended” music that includes organ, piano, drums, keyboard, and singers. I heard a biblical sermon, and some haunting spirituals (with jazz piano and a bit of drum) during communion.
    When it was over, the postlude was a piano improvisation that ever so slightly suggested the ease one might feel when lingering at a nightclub. We liked it and we lingered.
    Out & About. On Sunday, June 17, I am looking forward to being with Resurrection Episcopal Church in Plano, Texas. (With a nod to my old friends from Hopewell Junction, New York, I am especially fond of churches named for the Resurrection.) I’m to be there for and preach at the Eucharist, which is at 10:30. The congregation meets in Gulledge Elementary School, 6801 Preston Meadow Dr., Plano.


Yours truly frowns on clapping in church. I know of one place which had a practice of applauding after a sermon. This encourages a lot of the wrong things—preachers avoiding hard topics or subtle distinctions, playing to the crowd rather than seeking to parse the biblical message. So it was to the good when the priest in charge of this place suppressed the applause. Then some time passed, and one Sunday there was a visitor whose sermon, coming shortly before an election, had a stirring call to be sure to vote in a certain way. The priest broke with his new practice at the announcements and asked for applause for that sermon.
    I say, it encourages a lot of the wrong things. But let me tell you of a remarkable moment.
    On the front pew to the side, a three-year-old was sitting alone (his parents were in the pew behind him). A priest was celebrating the Eucharist with seriousness and dignity at an altar some distance away. After the words of institution, to show to the people the bread now become the body of Christ, he lifted a large host high, as bells rang. He held it there for a bit, then lowered it solemnly and deeply bowed.
    Similarly with the chalice—a slow, dignified elevation, the ringing of the bells.
    And with the bells the three-year-old clapped his hands in delighted applause.
    I thought of the story of someone clapping with delight at the awesome dawn of a new day. “Lord,” he said, “you’ve done it again!”
    You never know what children are picking up. (Indeed, you never know what anyone is picking up.) Decades ago I was in the far back of the chapel of General Seminary for the weekly community Eucharist. I had a two-year-old beside me. In the silence following the Fraction, his voice shot through the chapel: “He broke the bread!”
    Lord, we give thee most humble and hearty thanks, for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us, and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all for . . . thyself!
    (Look, he’s done it again!)
    Out & About. It’s not too late to come to Baltimore for “Hope Today,” a conference for clergy and laity sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology (yours truly is the program director). Info here: http://www.e-ccet.org/conferences/conference-2018-hope-today/

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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: