Morning Prayer

Leonard R. Payton
Thursday, August 9th 2007
Jan/Feb 1996

"The Lord be with you."

"And with thy spirit."

There are Episcopalians and then there are Episcopalians.

"The Lord is in his holy temple: Let all the earth keep silence before him."

Some Episcopalians are recently converted Baptists. They are like famished people who have been adrift three months in a life raft. When they wash ashore, they find themselves at Norman Rockwell's Thanksgiving feast.

"I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the Lord."

They can't get enough of the stained glass windows and the vestments.

"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, 0 Lord, my strength and my redeemer."

Above all, however, they are taken with the biblical intensity of the liturgy. (Because they were evangelicals, they know their Bibles and are surprised to find worship forms which align themselves to biblical detail right down to a gnat's eyelash.) There is a visceral response to God, our hope and strength. Their faith reaches a new level of security knowing that God's people have said these same words and kneeled at the same portion of the service for hundreds of years.

"0 send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me, and bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy dwelling."

Perhaps they are drawn to this timeless worship because the temporal world around them seems progressively unstable. The very word, "progress," has come to be a traitorous euphemism. In the past, they shopped at Quality Shoes on Lincoln Street, but now they buy thongs at KMart and shoes at a factory outlet up in Prune Center. Their companies could move them to Texas or Georgia with a month's notice. They are consumed Monday through Saturday with investment, tax, banking, insurance, software and hardware, and management; and when you get right down to it, what are those things anyway? Nothing, just so much sand trickling between your fingers.

Other evangelical refugees flee to the Orthodox church or to Roman Catholicism. An occasional stray finds his way into the Lutheran church. Those are few in number, however, because, just at this fragile historical juncture, Reformed and Lutheran folks are ashamed of their heritage and are striving to become evangelicals in demeanor. Lutheran surnames bristling with hard consonants will hamper them, however, in this effort. Just imagine an ad on KRAS Christian radio out of Prune Center: "Come to Zion Lutheran Church where Pastor Oskar Waldo Bloedenkitzch will be preaching on 'fathers playing with children on vacation.'"

It's not that Lutherans, any more than Reformed Christians, are anxious to become evangelicals. Rather, they want to catch the wave of seeker-friendliness, and yet, there are plenty of evangelicals and Baptists who are justifiably leery of this movement. No, the Lutherans and Calvinists want to be likable like the evangelicals. Unfortunately, they often suffer an ethnic personality deficit in this department, and expecting them to change any time soon would be like removing a leopard's spots. Such evolution demands gadzillions of years.

They're an obstinate lot, those Lutheran and Dutch Reformed pastors, insisting on distributing "the true body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ." It fits them; Germans and Dutchmen are stubborn. Still, this rigid claim is transcultural. After all, serving up the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has always evacuated seekers. Jesus asked a mere twelve after such an exodus, "Will you leave too?"

These days, if you really want to feel like you've gone to church, you have no option but to attend St. Timothy's Episcopal.

"Behold, thou hast made my days as it were a span long, and mine age is even as nothing in respect of thee; and verily every man living is altogether vanity."

When you hold the Book of Common Prayer in your hands, you're in a pew next to a Vermont farmer of the 1700's, a man who reshaped his left thumbnail when he missed with the mall. He was splitting fence rails which are now around a field of glowing pumpkins.

"Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."

And then there are Episcopalians who also like the vestments and the candles, but whose spiritual mission is to save the Mendocino striped slug from the ravages of Douglas fir clear cutting. They are on a crusade to expunge all vestiges of bigotry and gender from religion. All constraints on sexual preference and practice are perceived by them as sin against the Holy Ghost. (Oddly enough, it doesn't occur to them to ask the Holy Ghost about how he perceives the matter.)

"The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him."

These two groups of Episcopalians form a widely divergent minority. Most Episcopalians, however, are Episcopalians because their parents before them were, as were their parents before them. Saying "Morning Prayer" every Sunday is as much a part of the rhythm of life as heartbeats and breathing. Father Peter Cogswell, rector of St. Timothy's, was of this type.

"Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ."

His parents wrapped him in swaddling clothes and dutifully laid him in the arms of the vicar, who, ever so gently, touched his forehead with water and said: "We receive this Child into the congregation of Christ's flock and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end. Amen." With that, young Peter's life was set in inexorable motion.

"Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us, in sundry places, to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness…"

Acolyte, catechumen, and confirmed, he could recite all the words of "Morning Prayer" (including those of the celebrant) by the time he was fourteen years old. He received an undergraduate degree in English at U. C. Berkeley, then went to a venerable divinity school in Tennessee. He was then placed in his first vicarage in 1972. Those were heady days in the Protestant Episcopal Church of America. She drank the Greening of America and the Age of Aquarius in full measure. Not young Father Cogswell.

"Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts…"

He was busy caring for the sick and dying, establishing a youth group, preparing homilies, and tending to diocesan matters.

"Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live, hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins…Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name…"

…and he was in love.

"0 Lord, open thou our lips."

"And our mouth shall show forth thy praise."

Peter and Kathy Cogswell were married in June of 1973. In 1975, Benjamin was born. They moved to Morton's Landing in 1976. Noel arrived in December of 1978. As long as they were kneeling, all seemed to be plodding along in the wholesome timelessness of Anglicanism, but that couldn't keep the barbarians from the gates forever.

"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;

"As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."

"Praise ye the Lord."

"The Lord's Name be praised."

"(Then shall be read the first lesson according to the Table or Calendar.)"

The Protestant Episcopal Church of America instituted a revised the Book of Common Prayer about 1980, sending shock waves through the fellowship. Younger members had been demanding this for years. Many older parishioners could not adapt. The rhythm of the old book was too strong in their souls.

"(Then shall be sung the following hymn.)"Father Cogswell instated two services. One with the old book, one with the new. St. Timothy's at the corner of Church and Elm Streets became two congregations divided by age.

"(Then shall be read, in like manner, the Second Lesson, out of the New Testament, according to the Table or Calendar.)"

Almost simultaneously, younger members began to push for different, more "relevant" music. This perplexed Father Cogswell to no end. What could be more relevant than "Of the Fathers Love Begotten," or "All Creatures of Our God and King?" To his mind, only timeless things were relevant; all else was just passing fashion, youthful lusts to be regretted later.

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…"

One forty-five year old man wanted to sing contemporary music. He suggested "If I Had a Hammer" and "Kumbahyah." Father Cogswell noted wryly that these were already at least twenty years old.

"(And after that, these Prayers following, the People devoutly kneeling;)"

A young woman brought in a cassette tape with a picture of a dove on it. These were songs which were sung at a neighborhood women's Bible study. "I just thought it would be nice if we could sing this one song in worship. It's cued up already on side B."

"0 Lord, show thy mercy upon us."

"And grant us thy salvation."

"0 God, make clean our hearts within us."

"And take not thy Holy Spirit from us."

I love you Lord. I lift…my voice…my soul rejoice." How could this happen?! Episcopalianism had a deep-seated distrust of rugged American individualism. "If had a hammer…" A plethora of first-person singular song texts looked like potential schism to Father Cogswell. After all, the church is a visible manifestation of the bride of Christ. "Let us pray…we have erred…Our Father, who art in heaven…"

"Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us, and to all men; We bless thee for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory…"

Father Cogswell listened to the tape in his study. He listened to it several times. Then he pulled a well-worn copy of the 1940 Hymnal off the shelf and opened it to the second page where canon twenty-four was printed: "It shall be the duty of every Minister to see that music is used in his congregation as an offering for the glory of God and as a help to the people in their worship in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer and as authorized by the Rubric or by the General Convention of this Church. To this end he shall be the final authority in the administration of matters pertaining to music with such assistance as he may see fit to employ from persons skilled in music. It shall be his duty to suppress all light and unseemly music and all irreverence in the rendition thereof."

"(Prayer of St. Chrysostom.)"

Where were his parishioners getting the idea that they were competent or called to design gathered worship? Perhaps they were emboldened by the trend to ordain oneself, hang out a shingle, and be in the church business. They saw it on TV and heard it on a "Christian" radio station out of Prune Center. There were even several congregations in and around Morton's Landing which were hard to explain historically. They just spontaneously generated business. That was it. The music was a business as well, pure dollars and cents. It angered him.

"Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered in they Name thou wilt grant their requests; Fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of they truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen."

As you can imagine, the emergence of New Hope Family Life Christian Center had a destabilizing effect on St. Timothy's. It only fueled the pressure for contemporary Christian music in the liturgy. Indeed, there were parishioners who were questioning the sense behind liturgy at all. Father Cogswell brought his dilemma before Bishop Shaftesbury when he was at a diocesan conference on worship music. The bishop's response: "Times are changing; you need to bend."

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen."

So Father Peter Cogswell bent, but like all bent materials, a weakness was introduced at the bend which had not been there previously.

"(Here endeth the Order of Morning Prayer.)"

Thursday, August 9th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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