Three hundred and fourteen, that’s how many – how many years The King William Parish at Manakintowne will have been around as of this December 5th. That’s a lot of years. That’s a lot of parishioners, priests and bishops. That’s five church buildings. And that’s an incredible amount of devotion, dedication, and sacrifice, from nearly a dozen generations of God’s People. Some current members are direct descendants of those earliest Huguenots – in an unbroken succession of Baptisms, Some are brand new to our life together. Each generation of members has faced challenges and seen changes. And yet, here we are, ready to celebrate and new, three hundred and fifteenth year of faithful service to the Lord who led those settlers here and saw them through the first generation of challenges and changes.
Our challenges aren’t as scary as those in the first era of life together in Christ in this place. But we do have our challenges. Just as the Church was in a time of turmoil and change when the Huguenots left France for England, and then England for the wild, unsettled New World Colony of Virginia, the Church at large is also in a time of turmoil and change. Long as most of wish that the Church could be the one place in an ever-changing world that could be “stable” and “unchanging”, the reality is that, as the living Body of Christ, the Church, by its nature, must be ever-changing. The Church is made up of people, each of whom and each generation of whom, is different from every person uniquely made in God’s image.
Change is always a bit scary for most of us, as “the unknown” almost always is more daunting than that with which we are familiar and comfortable. But living organisms, including this peculiar one of which we are a part, by their nature, change – or die. Thus it is in all of life. In 314 years, Manakin (we’ve even shortened the name – a change) has changed drastically and repeatedly. Five buildings, a dozen generations, as I mentioned, the switch from worship in French to English, drastic changes in liturgy (and not the “recent” ones you may be thinking about), even electric lights and organs and indoor plumbing are parts of a heritage of change, growth, and progress. How women and children are viewed, not only in worship and in their roles in the Church, but in everyday life, is vastly different in three centuries – thanks be to God!
Our discernment work together this year, beginning with the CAT Survey and continuing with our guest speakers from the Diocese in our Lenten programs, has shown us that honoring our heritage is a vital part of our life together, but seeing ourselves as part of an evolutionary stream, a changing, growing procession through history, is equally important. The place of balance between tradition and evolution is hard to find, sometimes, but Manakin has done a good job, it seems, of finding that place. Changes have, indeed come, but in the context of maintaining the essential core of that heritage. Churches that do not change do not thrive, and some do not survive. Churches that change radically and too quickly, or do not hold on to the elements that have defined them historically do not thrive either. Those that make lose their sense of history do not thrive either. As in all things, the Anglican ethos of the via media, the “middle way,” seems the place of viable compromise.
As we begin a new Church year on the First Sunday of Advent, we will see another minor change – a “tweak” in the way we do worship – but one that has symbolic importance. The elements of the Eucharist, the wine and bread that represent our lives, will be presented at the altar by representatives of “the people,” the congregation. At present, they are brought from the credence shelf beside the altar – then they will be brought from the back of the Church, from the midst of the people, by the ushers or by “oblationers” – persons who offer “the oblations (offerings) of our lives.” When you see the elements presented, re- member that they represent you, your life- and that in their presentation, all of us are offering ourselves up to God. In the Eucharist, God takes our offerings, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them back to us whole in their brokenness. In this four- fold process, Christ’s Body and Blood become real and concrete in our midst once again. The more we are able to see our- selves in that process, the more meaningful will be the gift given back to us, and the more we will experience this most critical experience of having God’s grace restored in us.
Like the use of intercessors for the Prayers of the People, which was instituted last year, this new way of presenting the elements is designed to involve more individuals, but also to engage the whole congregation more directly. Both are parts of the liturgy in its best meaning – the “ergon” (work) of the “laos” (the people.) Liturgy is not simply the provenance of the clergy, but of the whole of the people of God. Here’s hoping that this slight alteration of how we do the liturgy will enhance our worship – and that the “work of the people” will draw us closer to God.
Thanks be to God for all the forms of Grace we experience, and for the great blessing of experiencing them in this wonderful Household that has honored and served our maker for these three centuries. Let us rejoice in this, our time, to continue that work and to find ways to deepen our Faith even more.
Yours in Christ’s Love,