Last week — and by chance — I found a few interesting Twitter feeds from Episcopal priests in the United States.

I’m thinking of starting a new series: ‘What’s on Episcopal priests’ minds’.

Without further ado, here goes.

The Revd Robert Hendrickson is rector of Saint Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona. He is an Anglo-Catholic.

This tweet lists his views on Sunday services:

I’m not sure what he is saying about Purgatory, which, as far as I know, is not a belief of the Episcopal Church.

For everything else, in layman’s terms, he is saying that:

a) the priest should kiss — osculate — the altar. A proper altar should have a consecrated square of stone in it that the celebrant kisses before celebrating the Communion service, as if he were kissing Christ. It is a sign of reverence.

b) the celebrant should wear a maniple, which is an embroidered band of silk worn over the left hand, reminding a priest that he is God’s servant. From Wikipedia, which has illustrations (emphases mine below):

Originally, the maniple was likely a piece of linen which clerics used to wipe their faces and hands and has been described by some modern commentators as being akin to a handkerchief. It appears to have been used in the Roman liturgy since at least the 6th century. The maniple can vary widely in size, shape, and degree of embroidery and ornamentation.

Common symbolic comments refer to the maniple’s likeness to the rope by which Christ was led and the chains which bound his hands. It has also become known as an emblem of the tears of penance, the burden of sin, and the fatigue of the priestly office. This understanding is reflected in the vesting prayer said while putting on the maniple before Mass. Anglican commentators have described the maniple as a symbol of being a servant to the servants of God.

Alphonsus Liguori claimed: “It is well known that the maniple for the purpose of wiping away the tears that flowed from the eyes of the priest; for in former times priests wept continually during the celebration of Mass.”[11]

c) he does not like concelebrated Communion services. Concelebrated services parcel out various parts of the Communion liturgy among two or more priests. (I agree: too distracting.)

d) the Revised Common Lectionary is not very good. (I tend to agree.)

e) the Revised Standard Version of the Bible is preferable to the New Revised Standard Version.

f) facing east — the traditional direction — at the altar is preferable but not better.

g) he would like to see more feast days celebrating Mary, the mother of Jesus.

h) benediction — a blessing — should be offered to all who do not receive Communion.

i) Morning Prayer — what used to be the main Sunday service, with one or two Communion services per month — is preferable over Communion every week. (I definitely agree.)

This is why he dislikes concelebrated services:

Some priests believe that getting in the habit of going up to the altar to receive a blessing instead of Communion accustoms people who are not yet baptised to the altar rail. This is a relatively recent development in the Anglican Communion and, quite possibly, priests might have a point:

Morning Prayer is a big hobby horse of mine, too. Would that it returned:

Robert Hendrickson explains his religious journey, including his love of Morning Prayer, in a fascinating post of his, ‘Morning Prayers with Hymns and Anthems: A Catholic Case for the Office on Sunday at 11:00’.

Like me, he was raised a Catholic. For both of us, Morning Prayer was a big draw to the Episcopal Church. Both of us also read the Book of Common Prayer (different to the English one) and got to know clergy and congregation at the churches we respectively chose.

His experience fully mirrors my own.

Excerpts follow from his defence of Morning Prayer.

His story begins in New Haven, Connecticut. His wife had been raised a Methodist. Both were looking for one church they felt mutually comfortable in.

Enter Morning Prayer, especially Rite I:

Our third Sunday, we visited Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green. The welcome there was warm without being cloying. The music was beautiful. The choir that day was the Choir of Men and Boys. The liturgy was dignified without being self-conscious. It was Rite I Morning Prayer with Hymns and Anthems done with grace, dignity, reverence, and joy. In short, it was classically Anglican and my wife and I both fell in love with the parish.

Coming to New Haven, I had grown up Roman Catholic and my wife had grown up United Methodist. We were looking for a church that we could attend together. The beauty of Trinity on the Green’s Morning Prayer service was that I could participate fully and prayerfully without wrestling with what it meant to come to a “protestant” Communion service. By the time a service of Holy Communion came around at Trinity, I had talked with the priest there, gotten to know parishioners, read large parts of the Book of Common Prayer, and made up my mind that this was the church for me. More importantly, it was the church for us.

Morning Prayer served an evangelical function in the best sense of that word. We were brought into the life of the parish and, over time, made the decision to receive Communion there. It was a service in which the presence of God was made manifest through art and warmth and we were drawn into the Presence of God, in the Sacrament, over time and after much thought. We committed to the parish and felt deeply and warmly cared for.

Hendrickson became a priest, thanks to that profound experience via Morning Prayer:

I daresay that I owe my vocation in the Episcopal Church to Morning Prayer (as well as kind priests who encouraged me).

For those parishes looking for a way to be welcoming while maintaining the historic Reformed and Catholic understandings of the Sacraments, I would urge a re-examination of our Church’s history of Morning Prayer as a central act of worship.

Detractors will say — and they do — that one should not deny the congregation Holy Communion. At the church I attended in the US, the early morning and evening services were Communion services every Sunday. The main one, however, was Morning Prayer on most Sundays. We had one Communion service per month at 11:00.

Hendrickson appreciates what the detractors are saying, however:

If the choice, however, is between Communion without Baptism (an abandonment of the Reformed and Catholic traditions) or regular Morning Prayer with less frequent Communion, then Morning Prayer makes great sense

Now so many have much of the ceremony but little of the theology …

Morning Prayer can be an absolutely beautiful and dignified service full of joy.

It is ideal for newcomers — Christians who are church shopping and especially those who are enquiring about Christianity:

It is a service ideally suited for education, formation, and evangelism. It can prepare believers for Baptism and Communion. For those who are seeking a way to welcome, educate, and form believers for the life of the Sacraments, Morning Prayer is a meaningful and authentic liturgical response.

As more and more people come to our churches with little or no experience of the Church, minimal knowledge of the story of Christ, and virtually no understanding of the Sacraments, regular Morning Prayer may make far more sense than regular Mass. In many ways, it would be a return to a time when we had a Mass of the Catechumens (those being instructed in the faith) and the Mass of the Faithful (those that have received Baptism).

This does not impart judgment or a lesser status! This means we have a group of people being raised up in the faith and that we trust them to hear, learn, and to make the choice as to whether they want to make that step through Baptism to the Altar. If I were to enter a temple, mosque, or any other holy place, I would not expect to be welcomed to their holiest rites as a visitor. In fact, I would assume they were not all that important to them if I were!

Our modern Christian experience is looking evermore like that of the early Church and our practices need to be informed by them. We will have more adult baptizands, more people knowing little of the story of Christ, and less cultural influence. We will have to take the time to bring these folks into the fullness of the faith we have received. It is not our role to dismantle the Sacraments we have been entrusted with but to find new ways to draw those who have never heard to the Remembrance. Morning Prayer may be the perfect Anglican answer for this day and age.

Fully agree!

I see that Saint Philip’s in the Hills still has 100% Communion services, but, here’s hoping the congregation and clergy eventually make the move towards Morning Prayer.