Posts Tagged ‘History’
It’s Sunday afternoon at the farthest reach of the Diocese of West Texas. Under cotton puff clouds floating lazily in a sparkling blue sky, a handful of parishioners arrive for services at St. James Episcopal Church.
You wonder where they’re coming from. Except for the stone footprint of an old frontier fort, the horizon is unencumbered by any signs of human habitation. The scene is virtually unchanged from what the first ranchers, settlers and soldiers saw 150 years ago.
But arrive they do at their small rock church with a white cross on top, from isolated pockets across the empty landscape, in vans, SUVs and pickup trucks, some caked in caliche dust. There are no sedans or small imports.
The vicar, the Rev. Christopher Roque, arrives with wife Tish and their two children, Matthew and Ethan. They chat briefly with church members congregating at the front door before heading inside for the 3 p.m. Communion service.
He’s wearing a white straw Stetson, leather vest, Levis cinched up with a big silver belt buckle with a Texas star in the middle, tall leather boots, a beautiful silver crucifix and a clerical collar. From a tooled leather briefcase he dispenses today’s scripture readings.
There is no procession or music. Roque walks to the front of the church and starts Rite II. With his sermon, the entire service is over in 45 minutes.
St. James sits in the crossroads town of Fort McKavett, population 4, some 170 miles west of San Antonio. Besides St. James, the tiny hamlet consists of a post office, fire station and the Fort McKavett State Historical Site. It’s so remote that you have to drive to Sonora, 41 miles south, for a loaf of bread or tank of gasoline.
On Sundays, “Father Chris” as he’s affectionately known to his parishioners, conducts services at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sonora in the morning, and then treks up to Fort McKavett twice a month for the 3 p.m. Communion at St. James.
“If called to Sonora as rector, it’s conditional that you are vicar at St. James,” Roque said. “The diocese kind of yokes the two churches together.”
St. James probably would never have existed if it hadn’t been for the presence of Fort McKavett, a prominent cavalry and infantry base active in the mid-19th century.
When the fort closed in 1883, the chaplains left, the services at the base ended and the area was left without a church or Episcopal minister. So “the local residents demanded that the bishop give them their own priest,” Roque said. They founded St. James as a mission in 1884 and formally organized the church in 1889.
A decade later they built their first church, a wooden structure that was so damaged by a twister that the bishop eventually condemned it and ordered all the furnishings removed for safekeeping. The present rock building was constructed in 1941.
“Many prayers have bounced off these walls,” said Bishop’s Warden Jimmy Martin.
St. James was served by supply priests until the minister at St. John’s in Sonora began going up to St. James, leading to the tradition of yoking the two parishes together under the same minister. Roque has served at St. James and St. John’s since 2008.
Smallness does have its virtue, Martin believes. When he’s visited larger churches, he wonders “how many of those people does that priest know personally?”
“We love each other, we share with each other, we know each other very well,” Martin said. “Father Chris knows us very well. We know everything about each other.”
Martin paused. “For better or for worse.”
“Now we also have a priest,” he said. “If we need him, we can call him.”
Roque has taken to the area’s rich ranching culture and probably has the distinction of being the only priest in the diocese who helps his parishioners round up cattle. “It also gives him a chance to meditate and pray…”
“St. James is a staunchly independent and self-reliant church,” Roque said. If the diocese asks “if there is anything we can do for you, our members will say we’ve been around for over a hundred years. Just give us a priest and we’ll be all right.”
I am currently reading A History of the Church in England by JRH Moorman, and had I known it would be this enriching and illuminating I would have read it much sooner. If I had my druthers, it would be mandatory reading for all confirmands and inquirers. One of the most helpful sections comes in the chapter dealing with the Elizabethan settlement during the English reformation. Specifically, it deals with the unique way that the English reformers approached the reform of the church in their country. From page 212:
In the eyes of those who were shaping the destiny of the Church in England there was no sense of separation from the rest of the catholic church. The Church in England was, as the title-page to the first Prayer Book had implied, a part of the catholic church, even though it had repudiated papal jurisdiction. It was catholic, but it was also reformed. Its roots ran back to the primitive church, but certain customs and ideas which had clung to it during the Middle Ages had now been cut away. The fundamental doctrines and constitution of the Church remained the same, but a number of genuine reforms had been carried out, such as the vernacular liturgy, the administration of the Sacrament in both kinds and permission for the clergy to marry.
The key point for me here is that they were in no way trying to be anything other than catholic Christians, and the inheritors of the Holy Traditions of the church as they had been received in England. They certainly believed there had been some medieval missteps that needed to be put right, but on the whole English “Protestantism” was less about being good protestants and more about being good catholics. This is markedly different than the way the reformation proceeded on the continent (of Europe).
After the brief, but violent interlude of the Puritan commonwealth, the Caroline divines carried forward the torch of reforming the catholic church in England. Their work was, again, not about creating a new church, but about being faithful as the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. From page 234:
The point of view… may be summed up in the dying words of Thomas Ken…, ‘I die,’ he said, ‘in the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolick Faith, professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West. More particularly I dye in the Communion of the Church of England as it stands distinguished from all Papall and Puritan Innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross’…
Theirs was an atempt to get back to the early Church before the accretions of the middle Ages which the reformers had been so anxious to get rid of. The Anglicans stood between two great religious systems. On the one side was Rome, active and aggressive under the impetus of the Counter-Reformation, trying to rebuild a Christendom shattered by the cataclysms of the sixteenth century. But to the Anglicans there could be no return to Rome since the faith which she taught was, in their eyes, impure — corrupted by the ‘innovations’ which were no part of the Holy Catholic and Apostolick Faith’ as taugh by the Primitive Chuch. As Laud said, they could not return to Rome ‘until she is other than she is.’ On the other side were the Calvinists and Lutherans, who had separated from catholic tradition and had magnified certain doctrines out of all proportion. The Anglicans were equally clear that they could not fall into line with them since they had abandoned things which the Early Church thought essential. The Caroline Divines, therefore aimed at a Via Media between two extremes; but the Via Media which they sought was not a compromise, a ‘lowest common denominator’; it was a real attempt to recover the simplicity and purity of primitive Christianity. (Bolding mine)
And here we have that famous phrase: Via Media. It has been bandied about much in contemporary Anglican debates as a way of encouraging compromise, tolerance, and broad mindedness. However, what we find in the minds and work of the Anglican reformers is no watered-down compromise. It is a full-throated declaration and a full bodied working out of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith as understood and passed down by the undivided church. Now that is what I call, “change we can believe in.” That is an Anglicanism we can believe in
From Catholicity and Covenant:
Thus Bede describes the experience of Britons at the end of Empire. This was the world of Patrick. The opening words of his Confession tell of how the end of Empire found dramatic expression in his life:
I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age … I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people.
The events in which Patrick was caught up would shook Christian communities across the known world. In far off Bethlehem, Jerome would weep at the news of the fall of Rome and ask in his commentary on Ezekiel:
Who could have believed that Rome, founded on triumphs over the world, could fall to ruin; and that she, the mother of nations, should also be their grave?
Following this sacking of Rome itself, Augustine would also write his De Civitate Dei, answering those “who now complain of this Christian era, and hold Christ responsible for the disasters which their city endured”.
And yet, as the Empire crumbled and at the remotest outpost of the known world, Patrick in his Letter to Coroticus tells of a growing church:
the flock of the Lord, which in Ireland was indeed growing splendidly with the greatest care; and the sons and daughters of kings were monks and virgins of Christ – I cannot count their number.
His Confessions similarly tell the story of how the church could grow in a time of instability and discord, even at the ends of the earth:
I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon a after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets.
In a time of economic crisis, of the fall of great powers, of a culture of de-Christianisation, the Church in postmodern societies can look to Patrick – to be encouraged that the grace of the Triune God, not the culture of the cities of this world, is the founding hope of our life as ekklesia and koinonia.