Sunday, November 01, 2009

All Saints Day @ All Saints Church

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"For all who have died in the communion of your Church, and those whose faith is known to you alone, that, with all the saints, they may have rest in that place where there is no pain or grief, but life eternal, we pray to you, O Lord."
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There are some, I hear, who think we don't have autumn in Southern California.

Granted, you won't find the dramatic vistas of brilliant brightly colored leaves that are the hallmarks of autumn in less ... well, subtle parts of the country.

I know -- who ever thought you'd hear "subtle" and "Southern California" in the same sentence! But when it comes to autumn, ours is of the "subtle sort." It's about a brighter blue in the sky ...

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... fewer leaves on the trees ...

. ... and lengthening shadows in the cloister. Yep ... we have autumn here.
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There are also some, I hear, who think we don't actually have All Saints Day at All Saints Church. But they'd be as wrong about that as they are about autumn.

Boy Howdy, do we have All Saints Day @ All Saints Church!

It starts with the saved-for-special-occasions incense ...


... and a refresher course for the thurifer.

Add crucifer and torches ...
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... flowers set on the chancel ...


... and (a sign of the H1N1 times) Purell on the credence table!
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Music is an important part of our All Saints Day celebration and this year our Coventry Choir was joined by a chamber orchestra for the Fauré Requiem ... one of my favorites.

You can watch the rector's All Saints Day sermon here ... and I commend it to you. I wish you could watch the whole service, but even if you could it wouldn't be the same as being there. It never is, is it?
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You wouldn't be able to see the care with which the memorial book -- holding the names of those from the All Saints community who died since the last All Saints Day -- was processed and placed with reverence on the stand in front of the altar. You would miss the solemn intentionality of the young thurifer as he passed the thurible to first the rector and then the deacon. You wouldn't see Lydia Wilkins -- 106 years young -- settling into her front pew/pulpit side seat for yet-another-All Saints Day-service. Or tiny Georgia Grace taking it all in for the first time from her Snuggly.
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And you certainly wouldn't get to see what I get to see -- as we circle the church during the grand procession between the gospel and sermon singing "For all the saints" -- in the faces of those who have come to offer up both love and loss in the hopefilled container of the eucharistic celebration that promises us that we belong to love so great that it transcends even death.
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The tenderness. The tears. The smiles. The recognition that we are a family gathered -- gathered to grieve those we love but see no more and to rejoice in the good news we share as those who embrace together the promise of life eternal.
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At the funeral last week of my friend Deacon Christine Navarrez, one of the reflectors said, "The only way you can lose a person is if you don't know where they are."
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All week those words echoed in my head as we prepared for All Saints Day. Organized processions. Set aside an "incense free zone" for those with respiratory challenges. Checked and double checked the necrology for inclusion in the memorial book. All to the refrain: "The only way you can lose a person is if you don't know where they are."
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We grieve those we see no more but they are not lost. We know where they are. And today they were with us at All Saints Church -- along with the angels and archangels and ALL that company of heaven. And they sang. And we sang. And the choir sang.
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And it WAS All Saints Day @ All Saints Church.
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7 comments:

DavidJustinLynch said...

Your thurifer needs a "refresher course" because you probably don't have incense every Sunday. At St. Johns Indio, where I am a member, I am thurifer nearly every Sunday. I've heard all the arguments against incense, and all of them have an appropriate pastoral response. Use it at one service on Sunday and not at others. Keep it out of the nave except for processions. Keep processions moving along. Cense the book at the altar before the Gospel. Seat those whom it bothers in the transepts. And if you do it every Sunday for at least a year at one service, the complaints go away, or at least get down to a manageable level. And there is also the preaching and teaching on the meaning of incense.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

David,

I always appreciate your "stopping by" but on this one am not sure what your point is. What kind of "refresher course" do our thurifers need?

No, we do not "do" incense every Sunday. In fact, All Saints Day and the Great Vigil of Easter are the only times we drag out the thurifer.

And on those Sundays, we hook up a live video feed to the Guild Room where those with compromised respiratory systems can still be part of the service without being subjected to that which is dangerous to their health. That's our "pastoral response."

It was a glorious day. We're still rejoicing and being glad in it! (And quite happy to wait til Easter for more smoke! :)

DavidJustinLynch said...

For me, and speaking only for me, incense is important for Sunday worship. Simply put, I was raised in a Church where its use was copious and expected. I became accustomed to it as a child and miss it when it isn't there. I am well aware that incense is not universally embraced in Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Churches (the local Roman Church here uses it only twice a year and at funerals) because some people don't like it. However, the dislikes of a few people should not function as a veto over everyone else. A separate room is a reasonable accommodation as is three out of four services every Sunday without incense. The idea should be to accommodate all tastes and preferences so that ALL may have an edifying worship experience.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Got it! Duh ... hadn't had enough coffee yet this morning when I read this to realize you were responding to my reference to "refresher course" for the thurifer.

And -- just to continue the conversation -- I invite you to "try on" the idea that it isn't just a question of "likes or dislikes" but what is for some truly a health hazard.

We love our incense at All Saints Church -- twice a year.

chris ambidge said...

I appreciate that All Saints makes a pastoral response for those of us with health issues, Susan, but look at it from our point of view: those of us with less-than-ideal-lungs get shoved off into a place where we are NOT part of the worshipping community. Would you park the non-pink people up out of the way in a gallery? I would hope not, but that's exactly what you're doing to the asthmatics, like me.

I've sat through worship services where the unhealthy-lungs-people are sent off into another room. You are not part of the community in there. I've tried singing along with the hymns, but it feels vaguely silly, like standing up for the national anthem when you watch a hockey game on TV. And that is because the communication is all one-way. I can see you, but you can't see me. If the folk in your Guild Room were to simultaneously fall over - or walk out - the people in the church would be none the wiser. It's like being outside the goldfish bowl.

There are those who say to me, "well it's only one or two Sundays a year, you could manage, couldn't you?" Well, no I couldn't. I've gone to Emergency one too many times in the middle of an asthma attack to risk exposure to incense. And notice that you're not bringing out the incense on the umpteenth Sunday after Trinity; it's on the big important days, when people want to be in church.

David speaks of "the dislikes of a few people having veto power". Unlike your preference for smoke, David, this isn't a matter of "dislike", or taste, for us. It's a matter of life and death. As the Lung Association slogan quite rightly puts it, "when you can't breathe, nothing else matters."

The message that asthmatics get, Susan, is not actually one of inclusion, though it does send the message of good intentions. It's a message of "we're excluding you from worship in the real church today so we can have smoke". It's not a message of "all the sacraments for all the baptised".

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

I hear what you're saying, and we could make the same argument about those who have to go to a special communion station to receive gluten free wafers or who are excluded from full particpation because of mobility issues when we have the foot washing on Maundy Thursday.

One thing we benefit from here at All Saints is our "Access" Ministry -- which brings to the table for the planning of our services and events those with different access and mobility challenges. What we find is that in coming up with solutions to challenges together we come to better decisions.

Having those with respiratory challenges in charge of making the arrangements for the "incense free zone" not only empowers them to ask for what they need to make that space work for them as meaningful liturgical space, it also allows them to be part of giving to the rest of the congregation the opportunity to include -- from time to time -- the tradition of incense that is ... for some ... a meaningful liturgical act.

It's all a great big balancing act. And while we certainly don't always get it right, it's a privilege to be in a place that's always trying.

DavidJustinLynch said...

I have asthma, too. I am also a singer, countertenor, no less, and experienced thurifer (probably at least 1000 services over a lifetime,if not more) Incense has NEVER triggered an asthma attack for me, but I do respect that it does for some people. I still think the answer is to have separate services. Atonement Chicago (where I visited this Summer), a nose-bleed high, politically liberal parish which has faced the issue raised by those who have health issues with incense, solves the issue nicely. Of the three Masses on Sunday, two have no incense, one does. And at the one where they do, they go out of their way to use it in a considerate manner using the measures I suggested in my first post on this issue.