The stores are closing or will be shortly. Services all over town are starting. Another Christmas/Advent season will soon be a distant memory. As we close out Advent and begin Christmas, I’d like to share a quote from my favorite theologian, Walter Brueggemann. In his new book, Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent, sharing thoughts about Christmas Eve he writes, “The gift of Christmas contradicts everything we sense about our own life. Our world feels unsavable, and here is the baby named Jesus, “Save.” Our world and our lives often feel abandoned and here is the baby named Immanuel, “God with us.” Be ready to have your sense of the world contradicted by this gift from God. Rest on the new promise from the angel that you may be safe and whole and generous.”
May the blessings of this wonderful gift attend your Christmas celebrations and continue into the new year.
At this time of year, many are suffering from illness, death of a loved one, loneliness, or sadness. Often, the cheery greetings of the Christmas season ring hollow compared to the pain many feel. I can certainly relate to these feelings as I too have experienced loss during the past year, and have just passed the anniversaries of my mother’s and sister’s deaths.
Several local churches extend themselves to offer solace to anyone needing a time to escape from the cheery atmosphere surrounding this time of year, to reflect and more effectively confront these issues. Some offer “Blue Christmas” services while others may have “Longest Night” services. These coincide with the time of year where the darkness exceeds the light by many margins.
Finding these services can be a challenge however. A Google search (blue christmas anchorage) revealed one such service on the first search page; St. Mark Lutheran on December 20, 7 p.m. via a Facebook post. (see https://www.facebook.com/events/323053711510959/) On the second search page Trinity Presbyterian Church (trinityalaska.org) announces they are holding a Blue Christmas service at 6:30 p.m. on December 24. The third page contains an outdated Lutheran service reference which no longer applies.
What a shame that so few churches can be found posting such services. Most people don’t delve beyond the first two or three search pages. Many churches believe that internal newsletters, tweets, or Facebook posts are all that is needed to get the word out. The Christian term for this is taken from Matthew 5:15, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” It’s little wonder that Christmas has degenerated in this post-Christian era. Too many Christians have totally surrendered themselves to the consumer-driven hijacking of Christmas.
Looking for “Longest Night” services is equally challenging. A Google search (longest night service anchorage) reveals similar, with one ray of hope. The first search page revealed only one local church, St. John UMC as having a longest night service on December 21, 7:00 p.m. (see http://www.stjohneagle.com/upcoming-events.html) St John has diligently gone from having a problematic church website to one of the best in the city. Their crowded calendar is easily picked up on Google. Unfortunately Google search pages two and three revealed no other Longest Night services locally.
I’m also aware that St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is having their annual Blue Christmas service on Wednesday, December 20, at 5:30 p.m. Rector Michael Burke told me, “It is a time of silence, prayerfulness, and healing for those overwhelmed by the holiday season, and its sense of merriment.” St. Mary’s newsletter further states, “In previous years, some of those who attended spoke of loved ones who have died, and of other losses in their life over the past year. We will once again light candles and pray for and with one another. The service will conclude with all of us singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. Our very own Dave Rush will again provide his beautiful instrumental guitar music. Come join us for a beautiful, quiet, and reflective time.
My personal thanks to those few churches that have chosen to not “hide their light under a bushel” but are providing a meaningful forum for those aflicted by pain and suffering during this holiday season. Isn’t this what the Beatitudes of Jesus addressed?
Many in our faith community say they would have attended the last Evening of Silence at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church if they had known about it in advance. Here’s your notice.
This coming Thursday evening, 6:30-8:00 p.m., St. Mary’s Episcopal will once again open it’s doors for a period of silence to come, sit, kneel, reflect, and pray in a holy setting.
Many of us need to come apart from our dwellings to experience the joys of communing with the divine. There are so many distractions which separate us from practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, and fellowship. It’s a benefit to us all, that St. Mary’s is one of the few churches in the local area that open its doors for this purpose. Due to vandalism, theft, desecration, and lack of respect, many churches do not open their doors other than for established meeting times and purposes.
You are free to come and go as you please during this time at St. Mary’s. A litany book was prepared by Heidi Marlowe for the last evening of silence. It was a thoughtful, quiet method to bring ones heart to a time of quiet internalization through Christian litany. Come for a few minutes or the entire hour and a half. It’s up to you.
Thank you St. Mary’s community for leading out in this meaningful opportunity of faith.
I’ve grown weary of Christmas music which began to be heard locally, early in November. Christmas music is not Advent music. Rather Christmas and Christmas music has been hijacked by the commercial interests in this country and around the world. Most Christians seem to be accommodating of this hijack, because for many, it symbolizes Christmas, a time to celebrate each other with mind-numbing expenditures for gifts.
Advent, the beginning of the church year, and a period of watchful waiting, prefiguring Christmas, begins on Sunday, December 3 this year. Traditionally Advent is observed with very spiritual music of longing for the Messiah, and self-examination. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a typical Advent tune, instead of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas”, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.
St. Patrick’s Parish is celebrating the commencement of Advent with a special Advent program of music and readings. It will be held on Friday evening at 7 p.m. in their beautiful sanctuary. Their 11th concert over the years, I’ve found it a splendid way to get into the spirit of Advent. It is a benefit for Catholic Social Services, and a modest donation of $7 per person is sought upon entry. They are also accepting, that night, donations of coats, hats, gloves, scarves, boots, pants, shirts, sweaters, socks, long johns—any warm clothing.
Last year’s concert saw a large ensemble of musicians playing many types of instruments, and leading hearts to God in the true spirit of Advent. Personally, I believe this concert is one of Anchorage’s best-kept secrets. I was pleasantly surprise to discover musicians of other faiths were present to lend their talents of musical praise.
I urge you to bring yourself, friends and family to initiate Advent in a heart warming manner. The concert flyer is attached. Print it out to share with friends.
Advent blessings to you and thank you Advent musicians at St Patrick’s!
Thanksgiving, historically, was not a religious celebration. Rather, it was a harvest meal in the early days of the Plymouth Colony recognizing a bountiful harvest that would stave off a repeat of the famine that originally decimated the colony. Thanksgiving has grown into a secular holiday in our country as seen by recognizing our bounty with huge feasts, football, shopping, and gatherings of family and friends. There is much to be thankful for in our country, but it is also appropriate to recognize Thanksgiving in a joint faith community manner.
In what has become an annual tradition in Anchorage, the Interfaith Council of Anchorage, in conjunction with First Christian Church, will hold a Thanksgiving Eve service. Local faith communities will gather to give thanks and provide the music and messages in a spiritually uplifting venue. The program will begin with a drum circle, and there will be drums available for those who want to participate. Featuring short readings, brief messages, reflections, and music from an interfaith choir, the program will focus on celebrating joy, thanksgiving, and our strength as a community, with all of our shared traditions as well as our wonderful differences.
This year the service will be held at First Christian Church, 3031 LaTouche St., Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 7 p.m.
At the conclusion of the service, a reception will be held with savory and sweet finger food being served.
Thank you Interfaith Council of Anchorage for keeping this tradition alive. At a time when few local churches recognize the strengths and joy of true Thanksgiving, it great to know the interfaith community is making a difference.
Gavin Duncan, All Saints Episcopal Church’s organist, was playing Bach’s Fantasia in G Major as I entered their beautiful sanctuary on November 1. The church was respectfully quiet with a sparse collection of worshipers present who were awaiting the service. The purpose of my visit was to attend their Evensong service for the Feast of All Saints. As I entered, a greeter handed me a beautifully printed, colored, special 10-page order of service for the evening, which included all of the readings and music used in the service. (see attached pdf)
If you are unfamiliar with Evensong services the Episcopal Church describes them in this way. “Since the late middle ages “evensong” has been the popular name for vespers (from the Latin vesperis, “evening”), the Evening Office of the western church. Cranmer used it in the 1549 BCP. Although in 1552 he replaced it with “Evening Prayer,” the common name remains “evensong.” In many Anglican cathedrals and other large churches, especially in England, evensong is sung by clergy and choir as a choral liturgy.” (see https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/evensong)
The order of service noted “the Feast of All Saints or the Solemnity of All Saints, is an ancient Christian festival celebrated in honor of all the saints, known and unknown. This day is celebrated with the firm belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven — the Church triumphant — and the living — the Church militant.”
This was a strongly participative service with choral, spoken word, congregational singing, and prayer. Mr. Duncan directed the choir from the organ, as he played, no small feat. Greg MacDonald, worship leader, led the congregation in singing and responsive readings. Rector David Terwilliger delivered a brief homily.
I don’t know how you do church, but found this evening to be a blessing, filled with thoughts of friends here, and those departed. Having recently experienced the loss of a loved one, I was deeply moved by this entire service. I encourage this fine congregation to continue this wonderful tradition. I’ll be most happy to spread the word in advance. Thank you All Saints people!
On this day 500 years ago, Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar in Wittenburg, Saxony nailed 95 Theses, or arguments, against the sale of indulgences to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg. Indulgences were being sold in the area. The purchase of indulgences essentially granted sinners forgiveness of sins, freeing them from purgatory. Luther pressed the argument that salvation is free to all as a result of the sacrifice of Christ.
Luther’s action, influenced by reformers John Wycliff and Jan Hus, created a Reformation movement that rapidly spread across Europe. This gave rise to Protestants, or those who protested against certain practices of the Catholic church. Luther wanted to reform the church, but created a separate religion, Lutheranism, when he found that to be impossible. Many other reformers rose up after this period, creating other main religions of today.
Luther’s movement and others in the reformation emphasized the key essentials of Christianity: faith alone (soia fides), grace alone (sola gratia), Christ alone (solus Christus).
Modern Protestantism is deeply in debt to the early church, Catholic and Orthodox, especially with regard to the teaching and writings of early church fathers which helped to develop the essential doctrines most Christian religions observe today. It’s all too easy to be impelled to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Luther first wanted to reform the Catholic church, but when that became impossible, he created a purer religion than was being observed at the time.
A modern day heresy, the prosperity gospel, is being called out for the error that it is by too few. In my opinion, it is just as dangerous as the sale of indulgences was during the time of the reformers.
My heart was warmed by the joint service between Catholics and Lutherans last Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral. I’m planning to share some of the aspects of that service in an upcoming column. The main takeaway was that Christians need to emphasize their unity rather than where they disagree.
Too often, denominations fiercely defend their theological differences rather than celebrate their agreement regarding items of faith. This coming Sunday, October 29, Archbishop Etienne of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, and Bishop Shelley Wickstrom of the Alaska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) will come together to preach at a service commemorating the 500th anniversary of the reformation. They will be using a liturgy first used under the leadership of Pope Francis and Lutheran World Federation General Secretary Martin Junge in Sweden last October. In so doing, they will be join others around the world in sharing in this commemoration.
This special service will be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe co-cathedral on Wisconsin Street, Sunday, October 29 at 2 p.m.
Last year the Vatican released a statement regarding these special worldwide commemoration services. “In 2017, Lutheran and Catholic Christians will commemorate together the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Lutherans and Catholics today enjoy a growth in mutual understanding, cooperation, and respect. They have come to acknowledge that more unites than divides them: above all, common faith in the Triune God and the revelation in Jesus Christ, as well as recognition of the basic truths of the doctrine of justification.” Source — http://www.vatican.va/
Few churches in our fair municipality offer any form of silence, or meditative quiet. In many of our local churches, the noise levels before and during services exceed 100 db, which, in my opinion, detracts from the purpose of one being in a church. Most church services are called worship services because they are ostensibly for worshiping our God and Creator. Personally I don’t believe God confusion in place of worship
During my world travels, I’ve experienced many churches where silence and reflection are valued qualities. In Mexico, for example, no matter how much busyness and noise is outside the church, it’s usually peaceful and quiet within, with people of all ages coming in to pray and meditate. In this town, most churches are closed outside of worship hours due to vandalism, disrespect, and dare I suggest, lack of interest.
With joy I discovered St. Mary’s Episcopal Church has begun offering an Evening of Silence at their lovely sanctuary at Tudor and Lake Otis. Organized by member Heidi Marlowe, a lay monastic, it was initially announced to parishioners by internal church media, and word of mouth. Their first Evening of Silence was held this past Thursday evening, 6:30-7:30 pm. The church was dimly lit, except for service candles, and attendees were given a printed vesper booklet to use as they saw fit for their time there.
Ms. Marlowe prepared the booklet using the Liturgical Press ‘Shorter Breviary’ based on the Rule of Benedict. It uses a two-week Psalm cycle, which Marlowe also conformed to the Book of Common Prayer. Her booklet, titled “A Vespers Office for a Thursday”, starts with a prayer, and includes an Ambrosian Hymn, Psalmody using three Psalms (with Antiphons), a short NT Reading and Responsory, the Magnificat, a Litany, the Lord’s Prayer, the Kyrie, a Concluding Prayer, and the Final Blessing. Most of those present, but not all, used the booklet. (see link to booklet at bottom)
The time was truly one of silence, reflection, meditation, and prayer. I was reminded of Christ’s words, “My house shall be called a house of prayer…”.
Michael Burke, rector of St Mary’s, responding to my question about his impressions about the Evening of Silence said, “Given everything going on in the world right now, silence is probably the most counter cultural thing a person could do.” He also shared the Francois Fenelon quote, “There is also a modification of prayer, which may be termed the prayer of silence. This is a prayer too deep for words. The common form of silent prayer is voluntary. In the prayer of contemplative silence, the lips seem to be closed almost against the will.”
It was a time of refreshing for me, long overdue in my fast-paced, noisy existence. I’m looking forward to the next “Evening of Silence” at St. Mary’s and will announce it in these pages. Thank you St. Mary’s community.
Evening of Silence Vespers 2017.10.19 Vespers Booklet