Christian Unity in Philadelphia
In my eleven years as Rector of St Clement’s, there was never a service in our area marking the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. But this week there was, and the hero of the change is Father Gill, the new Rector of the Basilica of St Peter & St Paul. He took the initiative and called the local clergy together, inviting them and their congregations to a service of prayer for Christian Unity last Tuesday evening.
I have been to dozens of such services all over the UK and Europe, and some of them were tedious and banal! Bt this one was admirable both in its presentation and sincerity. Rather than trying to get all the participating churches to do bits of their own tradition, which usually results in a liturgical mess, Fr Gill used a beautiful form of service prepared for this Week of Prayer by the Atonement Friars. The music was sung by a splendid choir, and included the Herbert Howells’ anthem “Like as the heart desireth the water brooks”. The psalm was also sung beautifully to Anglican Chant.
Fr Rick Alton and I represented St Clement’s, and we processed in with a monsignor and the curate of the basilica, the minister of Arch St Methodist Church, the minister of First Presbyterian Church and Mother Erika Tacaks and two other priests from St Mark’s, Locust St. St Clement’s was also well represented in the congregation. Fr Gill conducted the service, and several of the clergy took various parts of it. Fr Gill’s sermon dwelt on the wonderful fact that we were all baptized into the Body of Christ, surely the first and most important thing to be recognized in Christian gatherings. Pope Francis himself said the same thing this week. The congregation was small, but of course the size of the basilica and its chapels dwarfs all but the vast congregations who gather for great feast days. Also, this was, as I said, the first observance of the Week for a long time in our area. The service itself was so moving that I am sure many more will assemble next year.
At one stage I mused on the extraordinary service on top of a Norwegian mountain when I thought I was about to become the first martyr to Christian Unity, when I was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the Church of Norway. But that is another story, which you will find if you scroll back in this blog to the entry for January 27, 2010. I think you will find it amusing!