This is one of those items that entered my in-box at the height of the moving trauma; I shelved it with an intention to get back to it later.
Later has arrived.
There’s a conference slated for January 14th through the 17th in Bronxville, New York entitled American Sarum. As the name suggests, it’s a conference dedicated to the exploration of an American form of the English Use. For those fuzzy on this particular liturgical tradition, I’ll lay out what little I know of it—and welcome correction from the better informed.
The English Use is predominately the brain-child of Percy Dearmer (affectionately referred to as the Blessed Percy). The Blessed Percy was not himself a research scholar but was a well-read popularizer of the work of Frere, Palmer, and that whole body of scholars who investigated medieval English liturgy at the end of the nineteenth century and published works for the Alcuin Club, the Henry Bradshaw Society, and the Plainsong & Medieval Music Society.
The main thought here was this: if Anglican rites need new ceremonial and liturgical blood—and the one-two punch of the Oxford and Cambridge Movements (particularly the latter) convinced many they did—then why ape contemporary Roman Catholic ways? Why not return to the traditions and uses of the pre-Reformation English Church centered in the Sarum liturgy?
Blessed Percy set out to present a ceremonial and liturgy guide to Sarum enhancements for the Prayer Book (as he was English this, of course, means the 1662 BCP). The chief vehicle for this concept was the Parson’s Handbook which attracted a certain following in its day. This style of Sarum enrichment came to be known as the English Use. It was also sometimes known as English Museum Use and, indeed, the main criticism leveled at it was that it was fundamentally an antiquarian’s head-trip; that is, it was created de novo from old liturgical documents and did not reflect a living tradition. Instead, it was a romanticized version of a High Medieval mass with the BCP standing in for the text; how and if it spoke to its new time and place was a different story.
For whatever reason, it pretty much remained the English Use and didn’t cross the pond much. There are a few churches in America that use a form of the English/Sarum Use: one is Christ Church, Bronxville where the conference is being held, another is St John’s in the Village in my neck of the woods (and where I can be found when I’m not at the Advent).
The American Sarum conference seeks to reopen the old questions:
In an age when it is increasingly difficult to define what it means to be Anglican and many Anglicans look to Rome for answers, this conference will take a good look at the origins of our liturgical and musical Anglican heritage and dare to redefine what it means to be an Anglican. The conference will include a hard look at our history from architectural, liturgical, and musical perspectives. Discussions and re-creations of early liturgical practices will provide liturgical and musical insights that are intrinsically English and completely relevant to the liturgies of the 21st century. It is not a matter of “putting the Anglo back in Anglo-Catholic.” Those who will benefit from this experience include all musicians and clergy that identify as Anglo-Catholic, but it will be of particular interest and use to those who do not identify themselves as Anglo-Catholic. This is a conference for everyone, regardless of one’s own “high” or “low” churchmanship, who loves and respects our common Anglican heritage.
The presenters include some top-notch names like Dr. John Harper—yes, that Dr. John Harper—as well as some friends of mine. I showed M the provisional schedule and we quickly agreed that we have to go.
Whatever you think of the English/Sarum Use—and to be honest I haven’t made up my mind—it will be an opportunity to think through some of the old important questions with some new voices at the table: What does it mean to be Anglican? What place do history and heritage hold in our modern proclamation of the Gospel? Do I prefer apparels or lace on my albs and amices?