Letter 3 to Michael

Dear Michael:

I think your ideas for establishing a prayer ministry for your pastor are terrific.  His reaction to your proposal, as you describe it, was just the kind of thing I expected.  Now I will pray for blessing on this endeavour of grace.

Yes, I too have heard the saying, “If you want a new pastor, pray for the one you have,” but I think it is more likely that people who take that advice may be surprised to find themselves confronted with their own need to change.  The Lord’s position on the matter may be, “Let’s deal with the beam in your own eye first.”

It seems that we sometimes take ourselves too seriously, and at others not seriously enough.  We take ourselves too seriously when we take on thoughts of how important our ideas and opinions are for the Church.  It is as if the Church has not, for 2,000 years, been able to get along without following our advice.  By the way, a catholic view of the Church, and a belief that our own local church is part of that great army, helps keep some things in perspective.

On the other hand, we do not take ourselves seriously enough when we fail to recognize how cantankerous we can be.  All of us can really be quite ridiculous at times.  We all have our faults.  We all make mistakes.  We all have unfulfilled good intentions.  We all occasionally do not say what we mean to say.  We all have outbursts of sin in our lives which erupt, even though we are praying they will not.  We all have limited viewpoints and bad ideas at times.  We all fail those we love.  Shall I go on?  Yet we do not recognize our universal tendency to failure and nit-pick the lives of other people, record their faults, and declare them unfit for God’s use.  We forget about God’s grace – to all.

We need to be more realistic about everybody’s condition, believe in the grace of God, and lighten up on each other.  We need to even rejoice in each other as we are, accepting the poor degree to which we have all grown spiritually.  Paul certainly does this with the Corinthians.  His love for them compells him to do so.  He rejoices in them, even though they’ve blown it in a number of ways, and have hurt his feelings – and their own testimony – in the process.  For example, as we read “between the lines” in the first chapter of I Corinthians, it is evident that Paul had said he’d visit them another time.  However, he was not able to get there just when he had hoped, and someone has complained about it, insinuating that Paul’s word was not to be trusted.  And, of course, we can imagine how such a thing could be extrapolated to such an extent that cantankerous people could begin to totally demollish Paul’s whole character and ministry: “I mean, after all, if the man cannot be trusted with such a little thing as keeping his calendar straight and being on time for appointments, how can he be trusted with the weightier matters of our church?”

Of course, people who do this kind of thing have a closed heart, because they do not love the person involved.  Love covers a multitude of sins and people who do love have the presence of mind to recognize the beam in the their own eyes and give credit for the grace of God in others, in spite of their faults.

Thankfully, there were people who loved Paul and could just be thankful for the good things he had done.  They could rejoice in what Paul had been for them, and be glad for him to visit them again, at all, any time.  They were glad for the grace of God in Paul and to them through Paul.  The result was joy for both pastor and flock.  And the joy was based on God’s grace in their lives and the assurance of the glory they would one day share.

God is faithful and He will fulfill all His promises to us in His Son, including the promise that someday we will all, together, stand before Him and share His glory.  None of us would have any hope at all if it were not for Jesus.  By virtue of His work for us, He has established us in His grace and sealed us by His Spirit, and being the true God that He is, has given us steadfast promises to bolster our faith until the New Age has come.  A humble and gracious mind remembers that this is the boat in which we all find ourselves, and rejoices in every crew member – as much as the depth of his love will enable for the present.  We rejoice as much as we can now.  Our joy will be perfect on that day.

In the meantime, God help us to keep our mouths shut and try to give each other as much credit as we can – even if we cannot understand why they don’t want to participate in your new pray-for-the-pastor program!

Ever yours,

David

 

 

 

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Letter 2 to Michael

Dear Michael:

I am so pleased to know that my last letter was well received.  I agree, it is better to be writing each other like this than via e-mail.  Writing a real letter encourages you to take more time with your thoughts.  It also seems more humane, somehow.

Indeed, it is amazing how much the life of a pastor and his flock are intertwined, once you start to think about it as we have.  Paul mentions his dependence on the prayers of others in 2 Corinthians 1:11.  And his dependence was very serious.  He was relying on the prayers of these people, not just for success in his work, but that he would literally survive.  He’s not hoping for a casual, “Lord, bless’im.”

It can be absurd sometimes how people are completely oblivious to the difficulties of pastoring – assuming the pastor is really caring about what he is doing and trying to do it well.  I remember a colleague once telling me that he thought “pastoring is hell.”  At the time,  I had to agree with him!  We were both in a couple of tough spots.  Of course, working with people is always difficult.  But pastors, by virtue of the character of their position, often have to put up with things other people wouldn’t fool with.  We can always pray for the Lord to give your pastor the loving patience he needs working with you all.

But the really key factor is the spiritual nature of the work.  Building the kingdom of Christ is warfare.  There is no advance unless the enemies within and without are faced and conquered.  Paul often uses military terminology to describe what we are about in taking the gospel to the world.  Success in this warfare is based on the power of God, and he brings that power to bear in answer to our prayers.  It was because Paul’s work was a real warfare that he was so deeply appeciative of the prayers of others for his work and for him personally.

It would be great for your pastor if he knew people were praying for him, in a deep way.  Morale is everything in warfare.  Two armies can be equal in strength, but the one with the best morale will win.  Your pastor is like his Lord in the sense that he is your captain, trying to lead the way and set the example for you.  His morale is critical for the morale of the whole church, so anything that can really encourage him would be good.

Prayer is part of the work he has to do, and he needs to know there are others sharing the load.  It would be wonderful for him to know there are people who really join with him when he’s broken-hearted, when a sudden need arises and he doesn’t know what to do, or when he stands in the pulpit to preach and it’s a struggle.  For him to know there is a cadre of people who are with him in serious, concerned, and fervent prayer for what God wants to do through him – that would be a huge thing for him.

It would also mean that you all would benefit more from his ministry.  When you take on his concerns and labours, and bring them to the throne side-by-side with him, that will open your hearts wider to what God wants to do in your lives through him.

Well, enough of that for now.  Ever your servant,

David

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Letter 1 to Michael

Dear Michael:

It was a great pleasure to have dinner with you and your lovely family last evening.  Your wife is a wonderful cook and the presentation in your dining room was fit for royalty!  Indeed, I think that if you really could be spoiled, you have the optimum opportunity of being so.

I found our conversation very worthwhile.  I promised that I would reflect on some of the things you said about your pastor.  It seems that many of my thoughts on the matter relate to much of what the apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians.  You will recall my mentioning it.

You say that it bothers you when the pastor talks about sensitive, personal issues.  You are uncomfortable when he shows emotion in the pulpit, or when he seems to lean more heavily these days on the theme of encouragement rather than the more philosophical or social matters that you enjoy more.  First of all, friend, let me charge you not to be so self-centered.  Surely it is the case that there are people in your parish who need encouraging, comforting words.  Indeed, it may be that your pastor – through private visits and phone coversations of which you are unaware – knows in detail the stresses or sorrows of his parishoners and is simply trying to apply Paul’s principle here.  He has surely himself experienced sorrow, pain, loss, etc., and has also experienced the comfort that Christ brings his servants (often through illumination of Scripture) and is trying to pass these costly and precious lessons on to the parish.

Have you taken time to reflect upon your pastor’s personal life?  What has it cost him, or his family – immediate or extended –  to be in the ministry, to live in your community, to pastor your church?  I do not know much about the man, but didn’t I hear that he lost his mother last year, and that his father is quite ill?  Then, there was the incident with his teenage son a few months ago.  Thankfully, it was not that serious, but it was certainly enough to alarm a caring parent.  And is the rumour around town true, that a deacon or two at your church are among those unreasonable, cantankerous types that cannot be happy about anything?  No names please!

I think, if you try, you will probably realize that this man must be experiencing that strange mixture of both trouble and the comforting grace of Christ.  It is simply his duty to pass on the personal experience of the comfort of Christ – which by its nature is an emotional thing – to those whom he has been sent in order to do this very thing.

In closing, I hope your pastor has also displayed at least some kind of emotion when he has spoken of Christ and his cross.  A man whose heart is not moved by the greatest display and act of love in all history has no business being in the ministry.  The loving response of our whole being to the gift of the Saviour is what the Christian life is all about.

Cheers.

David

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Taste and See

The writer of Psalm 34, we assume King David, is full of praise for the LORD. He seems to have recently experienced a deliverance of some kind from a painful trouble he has endured. He begins by saying, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” While that may initially seem to be saying too much – all times? continually? – yet it seems that the experience he has just had with God has so elevated his idea of how involved God is in our lives that it seems to him quite safe to say, “yes, always, whatever the circumstances I may face, I now know that I can still bless the LORD in the midst of them.” And David does not think of this experience of God to be just for himself. He bids us to experience this God as well, in v. 8: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”

In our time when so much credit and emphasis is given to experimental or observational knowledge such as we enjoy in the various sciences, sadly the daily experience of a different kind of knowledge – an intuitive knowledge – is ignored or even disdained. Yet it is with us every day. It is our common human experience. There are things to know in this world that – not our five bodily senses – but our personalities can recognize and affirm. The kind of knowledge gained about one another through personal contact is a real way of knowing things that are true about one another and we rely upon this knowledge constantly.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has revealed himself to be a person. Indeed he is the Source and Ground of all personhood and personality. And David plainly encourages us to know him as such. He wants us to have the kind of personal encounter with him that he himself has had. He doesn’t want us to observe God’s goodness, but to taste it, to experience his goodness as we would experience the goodness of any other person in our acquaintance.

But he does seem to lay down a precondition. Apparently, this God does not have a personal or intimate relationship with just anyone. He says in v. 18: “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.” Psalm 138 says much the same thing in verse 6 “Though the Lord is on high, Yet He regards the lowly; But the proud He knows from afar.” The prophet Isaiah says something similar, in Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” It appears that God is willing to be on personal terms with those whose hearts are of a humble quality, with those who know it’s foolish to be proud before God. He draws near to those who are humble enough to admit their need of him and to relate to this good God on his terms; to let God be God, as we say.

Sadly, none of us have hearts like this naturally. Naturally, we are all proud, too proud to humble ourselves before God and to let Him be God. Thankfully, God will give us humility of heart if we ask him for it. God himself will meet the precondition for knowing him, if we really are sincere in our seeking him.

Well, David is certainly anxious that we know God in this way. He has experienced the goodness of God and want us to experience it as well. But what good specifically is he referring to when he says that God is good? What is there about God’s goodness that has so moved him? We find the answer in similar phrases repeated over and over in this psalm:
4 I sought the Lord, and He heard me,
6 This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
David is thankful for the answers he had received for his prayers, but he is not as excited about those answers as he is about the simple fact that this Almighty God has heard his prayers – that God has listened to him.

C. S. Lewis talks about this in one of his books. I believe he was answering the critic who thought that we pray because we are trying to manipulate God and get what we want from him. His reply was that the child of God trusts the wisdom of his father in heaven. We may certainly long for a particular answer very deeply, but the main thing is to know the LORD knows us and hears us. We may not feel like he does at the present, but when we look back on our lives, as David does here, we realize he really was listening and helping us. And that gives us courage to keep on praying as we step into the future. For if he has heard in the past, he will hear us again, for he is faithful and he is good. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Friends, if we have that humble and contrite heart, if we, by God’s grace given to us through Jesus, are willing to admit that our plans are not always best, and our prayers are not always the wisest things to ask; if we have that heart that is willing to let God be God of our own lives, we can begin to taste and see that the LORD is good. We can be comforted. We can even rejoice. We can join in with David and declare to all who will hear us: O taste and see that the LORD is good. May such be the true experience of our hearts, through Jesus Christ the Lord, the one who came to bring us forever into all the good that His Father has for us. Amen.

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Moral Problems due to Metaphysical Confusion

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

“Christian theology makes it clear that what it means to be good is part of a larger account of the kinds of beings we are and the kind of reality we inhabit. When Paul was in Athens at Mars Hill, one of his first public claims in that pluralistic setting was an assertion that God was the maker of the world and everything in it. That is not just a “religious” claim; it is a claim about human nature that has consequences for all social and cultural life. It’s not just about morality but about metaphysics, about the nature of things. Modern culture’s moral confusion is a function of its metaphysical mistakes, so Christian championing of the common good thus requires more than moralism.” [From Ken Myers’ newsletter, Spring, 2016.]

A lot of this applies to a superfical Christian ethic which is simply good-doing-ism and winning souls to Christ.

But there’s more here.

Connect this to Augustine’s observation that the good in this universe – all good anywhere – is based in the being of God, its Creator. Evil, and its various manifestations, is like a parasite. It cannot create, it can only use what is created. And evil, as it extends itself away from the Source of all being, thus becomes less and less substantive – it fades away into nothing. It becomes true vanity, true emptiness. Read The City of God, Book 12.

Thus the Christian, in seeking reconciliation and the full development of the renewed image of God in the heart, existentially re-roots his being in God, the Source of being, and becomes increasingly more of what he was made to be: a human, a good creature in God’s image. He “partakes of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) as his mind is renewed and he puts on (i.e. lives consistent with) the newly-created divine nature (Ephesians 4:23-24).

CS Lewis seeks to illustrate this principle in his book The Great Divorce. The closer one is to heaven and God, the more solid one becomes, the more real one becomes, the more “good” one becomes.

We must then ask why we, as sons of God, would be fascinated by that which ultimately becomes nothing. How can a good life be built upon vanity?

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What is the rite of Confirmation in the Anglican Communion?

I have put this together for my parishoners today – thought I’d post it here. Unedited. 🙂

What is the rite of Confirmation?

Confirmation is the last step of Christian initiation into the Holy Catholic Church.(1) Hippolytus (d. AD 235) explains that, in apostolic times, confirmation was immediately administered after baptism, along with anointing with oil (the chrism). See Hebrews 6:2: “laying on of hands.” Confirmation was understood to be the same kind of thing that we find in The Acts of the Apostles, when the apostles would lay hands on believers in order to receive the Holy Spirit. So far so good. We know that, theologically, a person is assumed to be regenerate by the Holy Spirit with baptism (and, of course, thus indwelt), but we do see occasional instances in Acts when there is a differentiation between the regeneration signed and sealed by baptism and the “giving” of the Holy Spirit, with the laying on of the hands of the apostles. It doesn’t always happen like that, but there is a pattern evident. Because of this pattern, the Church practiced confirmation along with baptism. They were two parts of the same rite.

Problems arise when a period of time is allowed to separate baptism and confirmation. In what sense is the Spirit given or not given in this initiatory process?

A separation of baptism and confirmation occurred in the Western Church when it was required that only a bishop could administer confirmation. Since bishops would be limited in their ability to get about, a separation would naturally take place. It was understood that all a person really needed in order to be a Christian was to be baptized. That was the only necessary condition laid down by our Lord (Matthew 28:19). Confirmation, then, had to be something extra to regeneration, and was understood as such. Any subsequent giving of the Holy Spirit to a believer must be for the purpose of strengthening the new life via regeneration for discipleship and service.

There is another issue here: full communing membership. In the Western Church, Paul’s warning in I Corinthians 11:27-32 is taken to mean that a person should not be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper unless they are of an age of understanding and responsibility. In apostolic times, first communion was taken immediately after confirmation. Logically, if confirmation then is prerequisite and even the occasion of first communion in the historic church, then it makes sense that confirmation should not be given a person until they are old enough to take communion. As the historic church increasingly changed from members coming primarily from adult conversions to members being born into the church, confirmation would be separated from baptism: there were so many infants that were being baptized, and they were too young to finish full initiation. Of course, there would be no separation for an adult convert.

There is also a strong tradition in the Church of preparation for initiation, and thus we have in our Prayer Book the requirement of catechesis before confirmation – which thus also assumes confirmation being later in a person’s life, if baptized as an infant. They have to be old enough to be catechized.

We actually have two “tracks” here, have we not? Those born into the covenant family are baptized as infants as per the Abrahamic covenant. If born in the Western Church, that person then has to grow up until they are able to be catechized, confirmed, and take first communion. For adult converts, or adults who are coming into a Church that requires confirmation for communion, there is no reason for delaying anything.

In the current ACNA Bishop’s Visitation Customary, confirmation is first considered the equivalent of a public profession of faith, required for membership. This seems to be a reference to the practice at confirmation of affirming one’s baptismal vows. Next is a statement of the traditional idea that there is more going on than mere profession of faith. There is also a strengthening of the Holy Spirit for life and service. The statement also recognizes that the subject of confirmation would already be a born again and baptized believer. These statements together summarize the culmination of the understanding of confirmation through history, from a Western and Protestant view.

If you will read through the Book of Common Prayer (1662 or 1928), from “Baptism” through “Confirmation,” you see the whole tradition on display, with the Reformation strengthening the practice of catechizing.

(1) Anglican’s do not consider confirmation to be admission just into the Anglican Communion, but to the Catholic Church as a whole. That is why Anglican’s can accept confirmations from other communions for reception of members.

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Love as Action – Don’t fret over your feelings

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says of …  divine love in the heart of the believer: “But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people” (129). [He refers, of course, to the command to love your neighbour as you love yourself.]

Think of the relationship of feelings to love this way. Consider a pipe or faucet of water. If you run water through that pipe, you know that – depending on the kind of water running through it – mineral deposits will gradually develop along the walls of the pipe and build up over time. Well, think of the water as love in its purity of action, and the deposits as the feelings that can accrue and grow, depending on the circumstance. When the water first starts to flow, the pipe has no deposits. But if you keep the water flowing, eventually you’ll start having deposits. So it is that, with God’s love, we may have no feelings for the person – the pipe may be quite clean – but the point of having the pipe is for the water, the acts of love, not the deposits. So we act, like God acts, and we give to the other person, and, in time, the feelings – the deposits – will start to grow. Many of us have had that experience.

Of course, there are those occasions when, not only may we not have loving feelings for the person, but they may actually be hurting us in some way. The result is that, though we keep giving – though the water keeps flowing – we have to put forth so much effort to just keep the peace, that there’s no energy left for the feelings to grow. Loving that person may never seem other than a kind of chore. But that’s fine. To keep up the action in the face of discouraging circumstances is a great victory of God’s grace. After all, the people around Jesus when he died on the cross, were not all being very appreciative, were they. But he still loved them and prayed for them. If our feelings are not what we think they ought to be, forget about them. Just keep the love flowing.

And, actually, we get to that kind of situation in the latter part of our passage, do we not? For Paul here [in Romans 12] talks about how to keep up our love for people when they turn out to be our persecutors.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Beloved, when it comes to people who are our enemies, people who are hurting us, whether it be our persecutors or whoever else they may be – a fellow student, or a co-worker, or a family member, if we take up that offense, or that hurt and decide we are going to hurt them back, whether by an action or a word, or by foolishly thinking that staying mad and bitter is somehow going to affect them in some way, what are we doing? We are turning off the water, aren’t we. The decision to be bitter, the decision to resent, is a decision to not love, to not act in a loving manner toward this person.

Of course, we feel like saying, “How can I love? Look at what they did!” Well, I may not see what they did, but God does. And God, though he hates the sinful thing this person has done, nevertheless still loves the sinner. Just like he loves you, in spite of the way you have hurt people in the past yourself. But God is also just, and when he looks at what this person has done to you, He cares about it. He cares about the injustice. And, if you will let him; if you will trust him to do the right thing, he will be sure that that person gets what is coming to them, either by way of making it right through the redemption of His Son, or otherwise.

But our duty toward that person remains plain, for we are to be the children of God, who show the unique love of God in this dark world by the words we say and the things we do. Our prayer for our enemies is the same as the prayer of our Saviour for his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and we may have to pray that prayer every day. But we pray it. And when we pray it, we may add, based on Romans 12, “and Father, if they do not repent, thank you that you will make all this right in your own way in your own time.” You see, grudges destroy your soul, and your heavenly Father doesn’t want that to happen. He wants you to be a whole, loving person. So, he will take care of the wrongs that happen to you, so you are free from them and their bitterness. Isn’t that kind of him?

Dear friends, God’s love is unique and it outstrips our love every time. That is why we have to have help understanding it, if we are gong to love the same way. And that’s why we have passages like Romans 12, where we have these little word pictures, showing on a case-by-case basis, what this love looks like in action, because that’s what matters; the action is what matters. Not the theory. Not the feeling. But the words and the deeds. And that is what the Lord is going to give you the grace to do. We not only need help understanding what that love looks like, we need help doing it as well. And He is that help in us. He dwells in your heart, by His Holy Spirit, and he not only loves you, and wants you to know that love, but he loves that person beside you that can be hard to love. All the power of God Himself is with you to help you to show that person the love that God has for them. Beloved, we are all in this together as the children of God. Let us have faith and trust our God to keep our hearts as we, like him, give them to others. It’s risky, but it is the way to glory.

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Odds and Ends about Esteeming the Traditional Anglican liturgy

C. S. Lewis appreciated the Anglican Prayer Book liturgy, but did not insist that changes could not be made to it.  Change was alright if truly warranted theologically and done slowly and incrementally.  His main concern was not being distracted by clerical experimentation.  Just because the clergyman has an itch to change things up does not justify his doing so.

There needs to be a good, thought out and agreed upon reason for making changes to the Prayer Book liturgy.  The form of the things we have done for so long have meaning of their own – creative, beautiful meaning.  And that meaning can touch peoples’ hearts and draw them to the Lord.

Consider C. E. M. Joad, British philosopher and BBC broadcasting personality: “I formed the habit of intermittently attending the services of village churches long before I came to believe in the truth of what they taught. I would, I used to tell myself, go out of curiosity because I wanted to learn what still went on in them. Or – and this, perhaps, was a little nearer the truth – I was attracted by the beauty of the setting and by the beauty of the liturgy. And both of these did, indeed, have their way with me, calming my spirit and preparing me, albeit unconsciously, for a change of heart, until at last they prevailed and I became the diffident and halting Christian that I now am. I am grateful, more grateful than I can say, to the Church of England….”

I love this statement by the famous Evangelical Anglican minister, The Rev. Charles Simeon in the 19th century: “As for the Liturgy, no commendation can be too great for it…. If a whole assembly were addressing God in the spirit of the Liturgy, as well as in the words, there would be nothing to compare with such a spectacle on the face of the earth; it would approximate more to heaven than anything of the kind that was ever seen in the world. ”

And that’s what we should be after: entering into the heaven of God’s presence – not just enjoying a good time of fellowship with bits of worship tossed in.  “Community” is a big buzz word these days.  Our ideal should be to lead people into the “community” of “the communion of the saints,” which is universal in God’s presence.  Get people to join in with that community and their local, social experience with the Church will be social enough and full of deep meaning.

Related: Lewis would go to church, put up with the sermon and the music, then go to the communion rail with wonder.  After that, he’d leave asap and walk off thinking about his next book or whatever.  He sought that communion of the saints before the Table – and had his “community” with his friends in the pub and the folks at home.  It’s interesting to compare that with the esteem we have for him as a model Christian and also some of our sentimental ideas about liturgy.  Just saying.

P.S.: talk about Evangelical Anglicans!  The Rev. John Wesley on the Anglican Liturgy: “I believe there is no Liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety than the Common Prayer of the Church of England. ”  There you go.  Of course there weren’t Anglo-Catholics in his day, but someone like Wesley saying that still demonstrates that you don’t have to be one to appreciate the traditional liturgy.

OK. Enough for now.

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