The girls and I normally head down to M’s church on the first Sunday of the month to show our support for her ministry there. This past Sunday, however—being Labor Day weekend and there being no education—she had the day off and we had the opportunity to indulge ourselves as we liked. As a result, we headed into the city and went up to the parish of a good friend and mentor who presides over the finest example of an English Rite parish I’ve ever experienced. We knew that he might be away as he travels in the summer and, upon walking in the door and seeing a bulletin for Mattins, surmised that he was not, in fact, present.
What followed, however, was a testament to his parish and his devotion. A full altar party entered, complete with two blue-scarfed readers who were the senior and junior wardens. One led the service with the able assistance of a cantor, the other presented the message. The psalm was read responsively; the canticles were sung in Anglican chant by the congregation; the Creed was intoned; the Suffrages were sung. The message was a good, solid exposition of the Gospel text verbally tying the text back to and reinforcing Christ’s Summary of the Law. Its clarity and orthodoxy were evident, and surpassed several clergy sermons I’ve heard recently on both counts. In short, the service was everything that I had expected from the rector and congregation—traditional, reverent worship in the Classical Anglican tradition—only without the rector.
At the notices, the junior warden thanked the congregation for bearing with them over the summer even though Mattins was not the favorite service of all. It had, however, enabled them to conduct services on their own without the need for supply clergy. He noted that he was proud of the parish; having three licensed lay preachers they could rotate the efforts without it being overly burdensome. I found myself nodding in agreement when he reminded them that not many other parishes could pull off something like that.
To manifest this kind of devotion requires a parish culture that is committed to doing church in a particular kind of way. It didn’t just require a few people having the knowledge of how to put together a well-done Sunday Mattins, it also required the collective will to accomplish it. I would imagine that it’s easier to turn it over to supply clergy.
It’s also more expensive.
I do believe that the day of full-time clergy in the vast majority of our parishes is coming to a close. In some locations (especially those not near urban centers), it’s a matter of finding priests; in most others, it’s a matter of shrinking budgets. We lay people will need to step up. But will we be ready when the time comes? Are our clergy mentors giving us the tools to do so when we need to?