There is an old saying that goes: “There are two things you can’t do alone: get married and be a Christian.”
While someone can be a very holy and evolved being, a great teacher and leader, Christianity, like marriage, is a community affair.
The structure for our coming together as a thing we call “Church” in the Episcopal Tradition is laid out for us in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and by working with our Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Hanley. These two guide the form and options of our common worship, and then our own parish leaders, especially Fr. Dan, guide us week to week by making choices and crafting opportunities to locate our common worship in the actual and specific life of this part of Clackamas.
In this way Church is always both local and universal, personal and communal, reflecting the Abba God revealed by Jesus – eternal, beyond history, yet caring for every person, (even the hairs on their heads,) and every sparrow every day.
This balance is reflected in the three forms of prayer and worship in which we are all invited to participate: Personal prayer, the Daily Office, and Holy Communion.
Jesus himself taught his followers how to pray with what we now call the Lord’s Prayer. (Matt. 6: 9–13, and in a slightly different and shorter version, Luke 11: 2–4.) In his teaching it is clear that he was inviting every person to have a personal and intimate relationship with that loving “Daddy” God he knew as well.
Personal Prayer is done in private, but it not intended to be without connection to the wider community. After all, the second line of the “Our Father” is “thy will be done on earth” – even this personal prayer is universal in it’s expression; we are all one, not isolated. This unique view of God – a significant step for Jesus from his Jewish roots – is a great gift to Christianity.
So while non-Christian prayer can be sectarian, Christian prayer, following the teaching of Jesus, cannot.
As one of the Episcopal Church’s great theologians has said: “We pray to remember that we are always in the presence of God and to ask God to bend us to the Divine Will, not the other way around.” (Rev. Dr. L. William Countryman – Emeritus Professor of New Testament, CDSP.)
The Daily Office
Based on the seven daily times for monastic prayer of St. Benedict, and the even longer Jewish tradition of using the psalms as a way to praise God, Morning and Evening Prayer are the two most popular and common elements shared by Episcopalians. They are sometimes known as Matins and Evensong, with Compline, or Night Prayer, running as a close third.
Intended to be sung (the psalms are, after all, song lyrics not poems), or at least chanted, Morning and Evening Prayer can be a personal or communal event. Yet even when one is reciting it alone, one is conscious of being part of a world-wide song of praise rising to God “from the rising of the sun to it’s setting” and by not just Christians, but Jews and Muslims too, though their forms are obviously different.
More common in other parts of the Anglican Communion than in Oregon maybe, there is a growing popularity for individuals and communities to use these forms of prayer – they are easy to follow, very meditative, and do not need a clergy person to lead them.
If you are looking for a daily prayer practice that is based on scripture and connects you with a world-wide praise of God, there are various books available for personal and family use that are much easier to navigate than the full BCP. See Fr. Dan or me for suggestions.
Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, or Divine Service, or The Mass are all names for what we at St. Paul’s do every Wednesday morning and twice on Sundays. Using both Rite 1 and Rite 2 from the BCP, as well as occasionally bringing in elements of other rites as permitted by Bishop Michael, we commemorate Jesus’ command to “do this in memory of me.”
The weekly gathering “on the first day of the week” remembers Christ’s resurrection, and how the early community of Jesus followers, who called themselves “The Way,” remembered him, with every Sunday originally known as a “little Easter.”
Sharing in Communion with the words “we who are many are one Body for we all share in the one bread” reminds us again of the call by Jesus to be non-sectarian and open – to welcome the stranger and the outcast to our table. As Episcopalians we know that what we do on Sunday is meant to be a lesson for how we live the rest of the week – and also that the questions, trials and celebrations of the week can be brought to the church family on Sunday.
So apart from “breaking Bread” we first “break open the Word” with scripture proclamation and a homily, and then we also have what are sometimes call the “intercessions” or “prayers of the people,” when we pray for all (leaders, minsters, friends, ourselves, strangers,) to have the wisdom to face the issues of the world.
Sharing communion is important to us at St. Paul’s for the simple reason that Jesus asked us to do it.
We experience it’s power, though we do not know how or why. It is simply Divine “Gift.”
So while we are a community of a specific time and place, with a certain range of musical and other options for worship style, the only important thing is that we come together to praise God for our many blessings and to raise up a hurting world for healing.
All are welcome!