Wednesday, June 22, 2016

St. Alban's Day - the first British martyr

Saint Alban is venerated as the first recorded British Christian martyr. Along with his fellow saints "Amphibalus," Julius, and Aaron, Alban is one of four named martyrs recorded from Roman Britain. He is traditionally believed to have been beheaded in the Roman city of Verulamium (modern St Albans) sometime during the 3rd or 4th century, and his cult has been celebrated there since ancient times.

While little is actually known about the real St Alban (estimated to have died c. 209 – 305 A.D. depending on interpretations), as there is no contemporaneous account of his martyrdom. According to the most elaborate version of the tale found in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Alban met a Christian priest fleeing from "persecutors," and sheltered him in his house for a number of days. The priest (who later came to be called Amphibalus, meaning "cloak" in Latin) prayed and "kept watch" day and night, and Alban was so impressed with the priest's faith and piety that he found himself emulating the priest, and soon converted to Christianity. Eventually it came to the ears of an unnamed "impious prince" that Alban was sheltering the priest, and this prince gave orders for Roman soldiers to make a strict search of Alban's house. As they came to seize the priest, Alban put on the priest's cloak and clothing, and presented himself to the soldiers in place of his guest.

In a chapel east of the crossing and high altar, there are remains of the fourteenth century marble shrine of St Alban. In June 2002 a scapula (shoulder blade), believed to be a relic of St Alban, was presented to St Albans Cathedral and placed inside the saint’s restored 13th-century shrine. The bone was given by the Church of St Pantaleon in Cologne, Germany. St Pantaleon's, like St Albans Cathedral a former Benedictine abbey church that had a shrine dedicated to St Alban, has possessed remains believed to be those of St Alban since the 10th century. It is entirely possible that further relics were acquired by the church in the 16th century at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England, when many such relics were smuggled abroad to prevent their destruction.

In the United States, the parish church of St Alban's Episcopal Church, the first Free Church in Washington, DC, was erected on Mount Saint Alban in 1854 using a bequest from a young woman, Phoebe Nourse, who earned the money sewing. St Alban's went on to found five mission churches in Washington, four of which still maintain active congregations of their own. Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC, is located next to the parish church, which preceded the laying of the Cathedral's cornerstone by 53 years. The St Albans School for Boys, which is affiliated with and was established in 1909 soon after construction of the Cathedral began, is also named for the saint.
We wish our sister parish to the east, St. Alban's, Sinking Spring, PA a happy and joyous feast day!

Monday, June 20, 2016


Midsummer, also known as St John's Day, is the period of time centered upon the Summer Solstice, and the Northern European celebrations that have accompanied it. The actual astronomical solstice occurs on or about June 20th each year (the first "day" of summer) while many celebrations take place on a day between June 19 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between different cultures. Some time ago, the Christian Church designated June 24 as the feast day of the St John the Baptist. The observance of St John's Day begins the evening before, known as St John's Eve.

It is likewise that the Christian Church set the date of Christmas - the day we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ (December 25th). That date is related to the Winter Solstice, which occurs days before. By the 25th of December, we can perceive that the days begins to lengthen. St. John the Baptist’s day occurs a few days after the Summer Solstice when we can notice the days begin to be shorter in similar manner. The choice of the days has to do with the saying attributed to John the Baptist in the gospel of John: “I must decrease that he may increase” (John 3:30). Thus as the days grow shorter we begin to look for the coming of Christ, the Light of the World. Thus, when Christ arrives, the days begin to lengthen again.
Although Midsummer is originally a pagan holiday, in Christianity it is associated with the nativity of John the Baptist, which is observed on the same day, June 24, in the Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant churches. It is six months before Christmas because Luke 1:26 and Luke 1.36 imply that John the Baptist was born six months earlier than Jesus, even though the Bible does not say at which time of the year this happened.

The Summer Solstice and the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist are celebrated by many Christian denominations. In Sweden, for instance, Midsummer is such an important festivity that there have been serious discussions to make the Midsummer's Eve into the National Day of Sweden. However, many European midsummer-related holidays, traditions, and celebrations are often pre-Christian in origin. They are particularly important in geographic Northern Europe – especially Scandinavian counties where the interplay of light and dark in relation to the seasons of the year is quite dramatic. It is also very strongly observed in Poland, Russia, Belarus, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, parts of the United Kingdom (Cornwall especially), France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Ukraine, other parts of Europe, and elsewhere – such as Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico.

In any event, the coming of the Summer Solstice reminds all of us of the continual cycle of the seasons and the passing of time. For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, it is a reminder that we should “make hay while the sun shines” for soon enough, the days will shorten, the cold will return and we will once more depend on our careful stewardship of the summer’s plenty to help us through the darker days of winter. This is still good advice, even though modern conveniences lessen our dependence on seasonal produce - whenever we experience light and joy, we should celebrate and store up so that when "darker" days ensue, we are prepared and ready.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Day 3

Trinity College, University of Toronto – Day 3 of meetings of the Society of Scholar Priests.

For the last two days, the Board of Directors of the Society of Scholar Priests (part of the Scholar-Priest Initiative) has been meeting in the precincts of Trinity College (University of Toronto) and Church of the Redeemer (just up the street) to assess the progress of the society over the last two years and to make some determinations concerning the future of the organization.

One of the things that struck us all is the phenomenal progress that has been made in such a short period of time. What that says to me is that the work for which we have set ourselves answers a need in our respective churches (the Society encompasses The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada) but more importantly is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in fitting our churches for the challenges awaiting us in this century.

The work of the society is built on three pillars or core values:  being rooted in Scripture and Tradition, post-partisanship, and being ordered to right action.  The first of these may seem self-evident as priests of the Anglican way gather to discuss matters of theology and ministry. The second is a little less so. “Post-partisanship” is simply a way to describe how, once we establish our common ground in Scripture and Tradition, that we can learn to “disagree in love.” In other words, that our theological reflections need not always be fully aligned with one another, or, that we can “agree to disagree.” We hold this is a core principle because theology is, after all, our carefully reasoned reflection on the meaning and application of divine revelation – it is not divine revelation itself. Disagreements have been part of the life of the Christian Church from the beginning. The gospels themselves relate how The Twelve had differing viewpoints and how, once St. Paul came on the scene, those differences deepened and almost split the infant Church. The work of the Spirit, however, helped early Church leaders come to a compromise (a dirty word in our day and age) whose result was the spread of the gospel throughout the known Gentile world. Our aim is to recapture that spirit – not to try to find a false peace, but to have deep, reasoned discussions (yes, even arguments) that end not with rancor but with a sense of mutual respect for our differences.

The third core principle is the theme of this year’s annual conference, which begins in earnest later today. It is “ordered to right action.” All the talking in the world is without value if it does not put us on a road to more deeply understand, and so to live, the way of Jesus. Without this third principle, our work leads to mere speculation and empty theories. Our aim to take our deliberations and reflections and see how they inspire and move our ministry in our respective communities of faith – especially parishes. That’s the focus of our mission: to “welcome theology home.” In other words, all of our careful thought, conversation, reflection, and arguments must ultimately lead us to good decisions for the people of God entrusted to our care.

Being a “scholar-priest” is not so much about academic degrees and intellectual niceties as it is about becoming leaders of spiritual communities that reflect deeply on the mysteries of God and how God is working out God’s mission in the world. In that way, members of this society hope to provide the Church with a more profound sense of God’s abiding invitation to bring the world into God’s kingdom. As our conference begins later this afternoon, hold us all in prayer so that we may all return to you a bit wiser, more humble, and better equipped to walk the way of Christ with you.

In the heart of our loving Savior,