I've made the last scheduled site visit, and the galleries have all been added to the website. The project work has slowed, as I started back at full-time teaching in January. The backlog of sound and commentary is likely to take a while to work through, but I hope to have more slideshows and parish write-ups added in the next couple of weeks.
After two weekends in Sewanee (the first, because an airport terminal on the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving seemed the last place to be; the second, because I was shooting Lessons and Carols in town), it's back on the road. This time, it was New York City, to visit St. Luke in the Fields. A well thought-out liturgy, in a nicely renovated worship space--and the chance to pay my respects at the grave of Howard Galley, who shepherded the 1979 prayer book revision. If my brow is furrowed in the selfie, it's because LaGuardia has even more traffic issues than usual, as construction proceeds.
Next stop: Cleveland. Then a couple of weeks off, two weekends on the road in January and one in February, while returning to teaching full-time.
Last weekend, I visited St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. I went out of a sense of necessity--they are known for cutting edge liturgy drawn from eclectic sources and for practicing communion of the unbaptized. No project on contemporary Episcopal liturgy could ignore them. I wanted to include their food pantry in the project, too, because they see that work as integrated with their liturgical life. I went with a bit of skepticism, though, because I tend to have a different view of baptism, and because I am wary of anything that looks too gimmicky--and I've encountered a few priests who looked at St. Gregory's and appropriated the Ethiopian parasols and ethnic fabrics and applied them as a veneer over their own, same-old liturgy. San Francisco is a long haul from home, so I wondered if the payoff would be worth the travel.
The experience was stunning. Liturgy and action are integrated there. God's overwhelming love is mirrored in their extravagant hospitality. The food pantry gave me a glimpse of the Kingdom. The liturgy is well thought-out and executed-- no wasted movement or sloppy verbosity. The "set dressing" is secondary to the spirit of the liturgy. And if I lived in San Francisco, this is where I would go to church.
A recent trip took me to New Haven, Connecticut, to visit Christ Church. It's an Anglo-Catholic parish with a clear identity, offering solemn high mass on Sundays, but its biggest draw is Compline. Scores of undergrads from Yale flock to Compline, which is sung each Sunday at 9pm, in a church bathed in candlelight and as much incense as the parish interns can burn--which is considerable. It's the ecclesiastical version of a Grateful Dead show.
While I was in New Haven, I visited some of my old haunts at Yale, including the Div. School. As I walked down a hallway, much to my surprise, I saw the portraits of several of my old professors. (Most have long since died, which made me worry about the others I thought to be still alive, until I saw a sign indicating that it was simply a gallery of professors emeriti, and that death was not a prerequisite for inclusion.)
It was both good and strange to go back. I learned serious liturgy, serious photography, and serious history at Yale. I look back on my college career and my time at the New Haven Register with warm feelings--Div. School was more complicated--and there is a certain nostalgia at visiting the sites of one's youth. But the wisdom of Heraclitus applies: a man can never step in the same river twice. It was good to return home to my wife and child and my middle-aged life.
Half of the sites have been visited. There is a mountain of images to edit and hours of audio to sift through, but a couple of case studies should be added to the website in the next couple of weeks.
For my sabbatical, I am wandering around the country, documenting worship in congregations of the Episcopal Church. This site will provide images, field notes, and "audio slideshows" of the congregations I visit, as well as some overall observations and analysis.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2015 voted to instruct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (of which I am a member) to propose a plan for the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. That may make this an opportune time for a guided tour of some congregations' current use of the current prayer book.
But my interest in documenting liturgical practices is rooted in my training as a historian of early modern English cultural history. We know very well what people were supposed to do in sixeenth- and seventeenth-century English parishes, but we have rather less evidence of what they actually did. And we often must use church court records, visitation returns, and similar documents to try to figure out what may have gone on. These are problematic sources, because they tend to amplify cases of conflict and aberration, rather than showing us what normally happened.
So I am trying to create a document that will tell present-day readers about Episcopal liturgy, but might also tell future historians what we have been up to.
(The title of the post is a bit of a pun: I'm a canon of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem (Pa.), which is an honorary title analogous to a Roman Catholic monsignor, and I shoot with Canon cameras.)