HWHM Trial Balloon

I’ve been told that one of the problems with my approach to HWHM is that I haven’t paid sufficient attention to 2003-A100, the GC Resolution that authorized the project. Here it is for your reading pleasure:

Resolved, That the 74th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to undertake a revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2000, to reflect our increasing awareness of the importance of the ministry of all the people of God and of the cultural diversity of The Episcopal Church, of the wider Anglican Communion, of our ecumenical partners, and of our lively experience of sainthood in local communities; and be it further

Resolved, That the SCLM produce a study of the significance of that experience of local sainthood in encouraging the living out of baptism; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $20,000 for implementation of this resolution.

General Convention, Journal of the General Convention of…The Episcopal Church, Minneapolis, 2003 (New York: General Convention, 2004), p. 593.

I have now given this resolution a certain amount of attention. (Whether it’s been sufficient is not for me to say…)

In particular, I want to draw your attention to one phrase of the first Resolve clause: “…and of our lively experience of sainthood in local communities” and to the second Resolve clause in its entirety with a special focus on this phrase: “experience of local sainthood in encouraging the living out of baptism.”

Let me tackle the second Resolve first and answer the question that naturally proceeds from it. No—this study mandated by GC on the significance of the local experience of sainthood was never produced. What I’ve learned since being on the Standing Commission is that not everything mandated by GC gets accomplished. Sometimes it’s because they’ve offered a good idea that is simply not possible financially or for other reasons. The poster child for this is the requirement that everything Convention or its underlying bodies does or produces must be translated into both Spanish and French. That’s a great idea and recognizes the breadth of our church—but no funding is provided to do it. As a result things get translated slowly and occasionally if at all. And, sometimes, there are things resolved that fall off the radar and are forgotten. And, sometimes, there are things resolved that specifically get forgotten. I don’t know where this study falls, but it never occurred.

Nevertheless, between the second Resolve and the phase on “local communities” in the first, it seems that “local” is a very important part of what HWHM ought to be about! To honor the intention of the resolution, the collection needs to speak to this point in a compelling fashion.

What does “local” mean here? I think it’s ambiguous and that there are two possible and not exclusive answers that make sense in light of the rest of it. The first is that we need to trust local communities in their identification of sanctity in local people. The second is that we need to trust local communities in their identification of sanctity as it makes sense to them in their location, whether the individual honored is “local” or not.

For instance, if I were to suggest to a classic Virginia clergyman that he celebrate a feast for a little statue of the BVM called the Virgin of Supaya, he’d roll his eyes and mutter. And he’d be perfectly right in doing so based on the history and theology of his locale. If, however, I suggested to the clergy who serve the two Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Honduras named after the Virgin of Supaya that they not celebrate it,  they’d equally roll their eyes and mutter—based on their local theology. (She’s the patron of Honduras.)

Where is this local in HWHM? . . . What if—and I’m going out on a limb here—what if HWHM represents (no doubt, unintentionally) a distrust of local discernment by imposing in a top-down fashion such a large number of commemorations that don’t connect to local environments? In its attempt to be inclusive of people from a variety of locales and situations, has it actually created a centralized hegemonic artifact that might suppress rather than enhance local practice?

In order to celebrate the local, then, a reduced sanctoral calendar might be favorable especially if it were to explicitly say that the people included are only a tiny subset of the full number of the saints of God and are examples to spur local thought. A healthy recommendation of a variety of sanctoral texts from a variety of perspectives—Foxe, Butler, etc.—and a general uplifting of the Commons of Saints might do a far better job of promoting a “lively experience of sainthood in local communities” then a book imposed from on high filled with people and situations that don’t connect to the local environment.

Too, the incorporation of a parallel Almanac in the same volume could likewise offer suggestions for celebration beyond the official Calendar.


10 thoughts on “HWHM Trial Balloon

  1. Joseph F

    I wonder how much of our own history gets abandoned and forgotten because we don’t know how to commemorate the dead. Is it due to a fear of singling out certain people as exemplars and offending those who aren’t chosen? And how would we commemorate these exemplars if we don’t have frequent enough opportunities to do so (like commemorating the anniversary of someone’s passing at a weekday ferial mass, not the Sunday celebration)?

    part of our current struggle is that we have no mechanisms in place for letting this process of local commemoration to begin organically. We look to GC and the SCLM to make the decisions about appropriateness, yet local communities are the best places to let this commemoration / canonization process begin.

    What are the practices in the Catholic Church for commemorating someone who has recently died but is lifted up as being exemplary of the Christian life? That might give us a clue on how to proceed.

    An almanac of “Special Noteworthy” people would be a good thing. Not everyone needs a feast day with a special collect that lists every achievement, but what a pleasure it is to read about people driven by the Spirit to do great things!

  2. Victoria Geer McGrath

    I like the idea of a supplemental Almanac.

    In practice, the sort of thing you are describing happens in my parish where we normally have one or two weekday services and most often have to choose which day we will commemorate. It’s usually the closest day on the calendar, but if there is a choice, one of the criteria I will use is if the person being commemorated is local in some way (sometimes quite broadly speaking). An example of this is Constance and her Companions/Martyrs of Memphis. One of the companion/martyrs was Louis Schuyler, a priest serving at Holy Innocents in Hoboken, NJ at the time he volunteered for service during the yellow fever epidemic. Hoboken is a city in our diocese, and parishioners seem to feel more of a connection to the day because of it. Of course, that means other commemorations get left aside.

    Vicki McGrath+

  3. Fr. Michael S.

    “In its attempt to be inclusive of people from a variety of locales and situations, has it actually created a centralized hegemonic artifact that might suppress rather than enhance local practice?”
    I think this is a very real tendancy at times. Having been a music director in an Episcopal Church, this frequently seemed to be going on on high: We’re “supposed” to be so busy “embracing” the diversity of various Christian communities that we don’t actually have an experience of our own.

  4. Susan Loomis

    I can think of two elderly local priests that our congregation thinks of as saintly people, because we know who they are and what they mean to us. But will they mean anything to coming generations?
    Other than one being the first woman priest in our diocese, and the other the author of locally meaningful prayers (the most noteworthy the blessing of the softball mitts), parish history, and his “Stump the Canon” column what will anyone know about them? We know their kindness, their openness to all, their dedication and courage. Frankly, I don’t want to commemorate them. A living saint has far more meaning than a dead or distant one.

  5. Barbara (bls)

    In order to celebrate the local, then, a reduced sanctoral calendar might be favorable especially if it were to explicitly say that the people included are only a tiny subset of the full number of the saints of God and are examples to spur local thought.

    I really like this idea. In general, I think it’s a really good idea to begin to take a much, much longer view on all this, since people are only really starting to think about the topic. (Not to mention the fact that – as has been discussed here and elsewhere – the church hasn’t really thought the “sanctity” thing through very well yet – which of course means there aren’t really any standards in place!).

    Major things like this shouldn’t be decided in the short time that’s been provided; to me, it seems obvious that this needs quite a lot more time to work itself out. In the meantime, maybe SCLM can do some surveys of thought across the church on the topic, and there could be some online discussion fora or something.

    I’ve mentioned before that I see people using HWHM as a devotional at the moment, to learn about people they might not know anything about – and to me that’s a good start. So let HWHM be HWHM – and not the official Calendar of the church. It’s too soon to do this.

  6. Susan Loomis

    I agree, there need to be standards in place, and time to think about what it means to be a holy person, and to be called a “Saint”. Having been raised a Methodist, I find the idea of “Saints” a bit odd. We are all called to be people of God, saints in that sense. I always associate capital S “Saints” with the Roman church, praying to them, and miraculous healings performed after death. I’d rather look at a saint from a biographical, historical perspective as an inspiring person of faith.

  7. rfsjny

    Derek, this looks promising. I like the idea of locality tied to the Common of Saints. As you know, I’d like the national (or whatever – we need a word better than ‘denominational-wide’) calendar to be far less full. I would also like the national mandatory calendar to be more diverse; the rules for Major Feasts tilt the list to almost all men. (I don’t know how we do that, really; I don’t think that Macrina, for example, rises to the level of a Major Feast, but maybe she does.) It may be that simply stressing the optionality of everything below the level of Major Feast is enough instead; as Barbara said above, letting HWHM be a devotional for now seems fine. I too, would not rush this.

  8. Rdr. James Morgan

    One might look to the Eastern view of saints: that it is God who glorifies his saints, and we respond to that. There was a humble priest’s wife in Alaska many years ago whose name was Olga. She spent much of her free time knitting gloves, socks, etc and gave her work away to anyone who needed things (especially in winter!). And she prayed without ceasing for any and all. her work and devotion was remembered in her community (I forget the town) and now she is regarded as a holy person throughout Alaska. So her ‘cultus’, if you will, grew and now she is known far beyond that place, an ‘organic’ growth if you will. Perhaps that is one of the things you are aiming at, Derek, rather than the ‘heroic sanctity’ and demonstrated miracles that the Roman church promotes. I’m sure that Matushka Olga would be appalled at any prominence given to her, as would Dorothy Day, from the other side.
    I can think of a few holy Anglicans I’ve known, some with warts: Fr. Earle Maddux, SSJE, Rev. Emily Harris, along with some of the ‘historical’ Anglo-Catholic ones who are well know to all for their devotion and perseverance.
    We Orthodox tend to go for the ‘incorrupt bodies (relics) and stuff, forgetting that a lot of saints didn’t leave anything behind: Joan of Arc was burnt up, as well as St. Sava of Serbia, but people still reverence them for what they stood for and died for, and that might be the most important facet of sanctity we can discern: perseverance to the end.

  9. Mockingbird

    One concern you’ve mentioned, that the criteria for sanctity are vague and have been inconsistently applied, is a reasonable concern. If we decide that no one can be on our calendar who has not been dead for 50 years, then we need to stick to that rule. If we decide that we must have biographical information as well as evidence of continuous commemoration, then we need to stick to that rule, too, and so make away with St. George and St. Cecelia. In this matter, a certain amount of central organization is appropriate.

    Paring down the number of black-letter days in LFF or HWHM (or whatever we end up calling it) would be a good step. A recovery of the Office as a frequently-done parish service, without loss of the ground we’ve gained on the Eucharist, would be another (though it might take centuries.) Your idea for an almanac, a sort of handbook for local commemorations, with examples of commemorations that have arisen elsewhere, is a good idea too.

    At some point, we need to address the role of the bishop in supporting coherent liturgy (which sometimes will mean strict enforcement of rubrics against popular opinion, though of course it means more than that) and the role of coherent Christian education in the spiritual life of a parish. Why do we need saints at all? What connection have the living to the dead? For some, this question has not been answered, or even asked.

  10. John Robison

    I did once raise the question of John Muier’s cultus …

    I like the idea of the Almanac. I would also like it if HWHM/LFF’s rules about adding to the sanctoral be followed. There is a process, one that would probably work, if it were ever followed, that starts at the local level and works up. HWHM was, in the name of a resolution that originated with the SCLM, short circuits the process of LFF and then outlines another process.

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