American Sarum: Sunday Afternoon/Evening

Session 6: Fr. Michael Bird: An American Sarum Parish: What does that mean?

Percy Dearmer came to America in 1918 to deliver the Bohlen lectures at the Philadelphia Divinity School. The lectures, published as The Art of Public Worship in 1919 [here’s an interesting contemporary review], had an impact on the school and, when the campus was redesigned and the new chapel built in 1924, his ideas were still lingering. A slideshow of images from the chapel show a beautiful Neo-Gothic space which shows influence from Blessed Percy but which is not itself an English Use sanctuary. Apparently there was a Dearmerite influence retained by the school, which had some impact on the parish in its earlier days.

1933, Fr. Harold Hohly arrived at Christ Church and, in partnership with Canon Morton Stone, his associate, implemented and over the next twenty years built the parish into an American English Use church. Fr. Hohly had served as an adjunct professor of liturgics at PDS and had spent some time at Dearmer’s parish, St. Mary’s Primrose Hill. When Fr. Hohly arrived, the parish was using a Roman Ritualist ceremonial. He made substantive changes to the architecture, adding the carved wooden reredos over the altar, removing a double retable and moving the altar even further east, and even changing the texture of the altar steps to indicate where the deacon and subdeacon should stand when in “Open Position.”

Much of what Hohly & Stone [why is that not a band name?!?] did directly followed the ideals of Blessed Percy and the Alcuin Club; much of the parish furnishings from this time were ordered directly from the Warham Guild. Fr. Bird showed a fascinating set of three images: the first was a drawing of the positioning of the three sacred ministers at a specific point in the Eucharist from an Alcuin Club publication (I believe), the second was a photograph of the same moment from the Parson’s Handbook, and the third was a photograph of Hohly & Stone at the same point. In all three, the positioning was identical. There was an undeniable continuity between the ceremonial of Hohly & Stone and Dearmer.

That’s not to say that all was the same, however. Canon Stone had an interest in the Eastern Orthodox liturgies as well. Two of of the results of this interest was that the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”—and English-language version of the Cherubicon—was sung every Sunday at the Offertory, and the Trisagion (Holy God, Holy and Mighty…) was sung on days when the Gloria was not used. So even at its beginning, this parish adapted what it received from its English Use models.

After Hohly & Stone, there were a variety of changes. When Fr. Bird arrived, they were using a free-standing altar in the nave with the ministers sitting on the level with the congregation. After reading the space and hearing from the congregation, he quickly realized that he needed to restore the use of the high altar and did so within three months of his arrival.

What they do today is not the same as what Hohly & Stone did, but has some definite continuities. [These can be compared in Fr. Unterseher’s book about the parish ceremonial American Sarum which has both the customary of Hohly & Stone and the current practice.]

After the presentation, he took a few questions. One was on the use of the Sarum preparatory prayers [Prayers before the Altar, etc.]. He said that they do not use them because they do not fit the piety of the parish. I asked about the Offices; everything had been focused to the Mass, was there an American Sarum method of doing the Offices for them? He said that they did not do the Offices parochially.

Solemn Evensong

The Solemn Evensong used Byrd settings for most of the responsive dialogues with Robert Parsons’ canticles, a Sheppard Lord’s Prayer and hymn setting, and an anthem by Mundy.

It was a well sung service (as you’d expect) but I learned two things. First, I have come to the conclusion that I’d much rather sing in a choral evensong than listen to one. I know all of the arguments on listening as full and active participation, but I’d much rather join in. Second, there is still much confusion about where elements should go even when you’re not fiddling with the prayer book. They put the Mundy anthem in the “anthem” spot. Fair enough. The hymn (Hostis Herodes impie), however, was going to be placed at the end of the psalms and before the first lesson according to the bulletin. They didn’t sing it there though. I thought for a moment that they’d actually sing it between the lesson and the Magnificat where the hymn had usually been sung in the pre-conciliar Office but, no, it was sung *after* the Magnificat. [Correction: I seem to have mis-remembered this and it was indeed sung between the lesson and the Magnificat. I stand corrected!] I am more convinced than ever that we need a brief guide on the Office for musicians and worship planners.


Dinner was at a near-by country club. M and I hitched a ride with Mark from Sed Angli who had dinner with us and the rest of our little contingent. A delightful time was had by all.

7 thoughts on “American Sarum: Sunday Afternoon/Evening

  1. Daniel

    As an Anglican ordinand who has read _The Parson’s Handbook_ of “Blessed Percy” and who lives a mere stone’s throw from the aforementioned Philadelphia Divinity School, I’ve become a lot less enamoured of the so-called “Sarum Rite” and the generalised Sarum fetishism swirling around Anglicanism. It’s a romantic movement for sure, and tends to read a great deal back into modern reappraisals. One need only to compare the 1549 Book of Common Prayer side-by-side with the Sarum Rite to see that the jig is up on c.19 Tractarian fancies of this sort.

  2. Derek Olsen


    I’m anticipating a wrap-up to my conference notes which does take a look at the “what now.” You’re right that it’s a romantic movement and that there was quite a lot of reading into it going on. But it seems to me the question is: why? What was it about then that made the fetishization and romanticism both plausible and possible—and are there connections to our current situation?

    Too, I’ve gotta say that Dearmer’s approach is more realistic and less of a fetishization than other approaches both then and now…

  3. Scott Cooper

    This is not 100% on topic, but I wonder what would happen if parishes with regular choral evensong experimented with an occasional congregational evensong. My old parish in a rural part of the Diocese of Indianapolis has no choir, and so evensong is sung congregationally every Wednesday year-round. Choral evensong is sublime, but like you, I would like to participate once in a while.

  4. Robert Lehman

    As the choirmaster at the Solemn Evensong, I must make one correction the excellent commentary by Fr. Olsen and make one additional comment.

    The hymn (Hostis Herodes impie) was indeed listed in the wrong place in the service leaflet. Ignoring the printed material, we did, however, correctly sing it following the first lesson and immediately preceding the Magnificat and not *after* the Magnificat as is stated in Fr. Olsen’s review.

    Regarding the Psalmody at the morning offices: It is important to note that, while Fr. Olsen may never have done it this way, Antiphonal Psalmody is correctly divided at either the half verse or the full verse. The best choice of practice is dictated by the construction of the Psalm itself.

  5. Derek Olsen

    Thank you for your correction, Robert, and I apologize for my mistake! I have corrected it in the post above as well.

    I’m not convinced on the division of the psalm at the half verse, though. My teachers specified verse-by-verse as proper practice as does the current BCP (p. 582 under antiphonal recitation). Your use of the term “correct” implies an authority who maintains that this is a proper division—can you refer to me to a resource on this point?

  6. Robert Lehman

    You’re a good sport. Thanks. I will need to get back to you on Psalm question. I know I have authoritative sources, but I also know that they are buried deep in boxes that were never unpacked when I last moved. I’ll see what I can unearth.

  7. Finn Froding

    As a musicologist, and as one who has chanted daily office with others for years of my life, I must agree with Derek on this one: in the antiphonal chanting of psalms and canticles, the two half-choirs alternate at each full verse. The psalm tones are designed for this, containing a melodic “mediation” and pause at the midpoint. This is equally true of plainsong and of choral Anglican chant. And in the best practice, the Gloria Patri is treated simply as two additional verses, sung by half-choirs in their proper sequence. If antiphons are used, they are sung full, except the precentor’s intonation. Office hymns are likewise sung by half-choirs alternating at the full stanza, but with the Amen sung full.
    Even if the psalms are spoken, the two sides, or the clerk and congregation, can alternate at the full verses. This was the practice even in the lowest days of post-reformation practice, and you may hear it today in any Methodist church, where psalms and other “responsive readings” still alternate at the full verse, preserving the Anglican tradition of the Wesleys’ day, which was based on pre-Reformation custom. I see no good reason to abandon it now.
    I certainly commend the decision to use the office hymn directly before the Magnificat at Evensong, even though the BCP does not explicitly provide for a hymn at this point.

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