The Rev. Rob Courtney
Fr. Rob is the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church & School.
As we enter what for some will be a long, July 4 holiday weekend, I've been reflecting on Independence Day as an official feast of the Church. Did you know that? It may seem a little odd, but it's true--Independence Day is a major feast of The Episcopal Church.
If you have some knowledge of the history of The Episcopal Church's start in the U.S., it may make some sense. The Church's formation was happening in the same timeframe as the Declaration of Independence, and many of the our nation's Founding Fathers claimed the Anglican tradition as their spiritual heritage. Independence Day did not, however, become a major feast in The Episcopal Church until 1979.
This was not for lack of trying, however. Creating or changing the Book of Common Prayer requires passage at two subsequent General Conventions, which take place triennially. A set of propers (aka readings and prayers) proposed for inclusion in the first American Book of Common Prayer of 1789, passed the 1786 convention, but were ultimately rejected in the final edition.
Why would this be? Weren't those early Americans just bursting with patriotism and national pride? Well . . . not all of them. In his book Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy, Fr. John Julian, ON explains, "Since a large percentage of clergy . . . and a considerable number of laity had been Loyalists [to the crown]--or at least less-than-enthusiastic patriots--during the Revolutionary War, there was considerable opposition to this proposed Book of Common Prayer, and writing of this opposition to [Bishop] William White, [Bishop] Samuel Provost of New York said that, 'The Thanksgiving for the Fourth of July is in all probability the one principle cause for he opposition [to the Prayer Book].'"
Bishop William White was, himself, an ardent Patriot. Yet, when the time came at the 1789 Convention, he was the primary opponent to the feast's inclusion, and convinced his fellow bishops to follow him. According to Julian, "[White] wanted to spare his brother clergy who in good conscience had been Loyalists and Tories during the war, [and so] the provision for the celebration of Independence Day was deleted. . . ."
I have always been touched by Bishop White's lesson in restraint and charity on behalf of others. Can you imagine, in our current politically divided climate, how such a move might be received today? Bishop White's patriotism surely would have been questioned, and the headlines about The Episcopal Church shunning Independence Day in the name of "political correctness" would certainly drive social media into a frenzy.
"I have always been touched by Bishop White's lesson in restraint on behalf of others. Can you imagine how such a move might be received today?"
The next edition of the Prayer Book wasn't approved for another 100 years in 1896. As part of that process, the Committee on the State of the Church wrote:
"Your Committee has been asked to consider the propriety of the holding of special services upon the fourth of July each year. Your Committee believe that the Nation cannot endure unless a spirit of true patriotism prevail. It is well that the people should feel their strength by civic and military display upon Independence Day. It is well that the people assemble on that day to have rehearsed to them the ethics of government. But knowledge without righteousness is vain; power without love is a danger; love of country without love of God is a perversion. We pray that this Nation may endure, but it cannot if the blessing of Almighty God rest not upon it. Your Committee believe that this Nation and this people need to be taught these things. It is the duty of the Church to strive to guide the people of the land into the safe paths of enduring peace. It will conduce to this end if, upon Independence Day, the church bell calls to prayer, and a godly part of the annual commemoration of the Nation's birth is had within the courts of the Lord's Sanctuary."
"Knowledge without righteousness is vain; power without love is a danger; love of country without love of God is a perversion."--Committee on the State of the Church, 1896
I wonder how we think of what the committee calls "true patriotism"? I think Bishop White's charitable example from 100 years earlier holds a clue. We are connected, even to the people with whom we disagree, and especially so as Christian citizens.
This appeal from the committee might seem like it would easily sway the convention. Nope! The propers would not be added to the 1896 Prayer Book. They did make the final revision of the 1928 Prayer Book, and Independence Day would not be given the status of "major feast" until the 1979 edition.
While we will not be holding a special service this year on the 4th, you might take a moment to read the Collect for the Day on p. 242 of the Prayer Book in your own devotions. You might also pray the alternate prayer "For the Nation" on p. 258. There is also a beautiful short litany "For the Nation" under the "Thanksgivings for National Life" on p. 838 that is worth reflection.
Consider, as well, these words from Fr. Julian's book in the section on the feast of Independence Day:
"It cannot, therefore, be with merely a mindless and chauvinistic patriotism that this occasion is celebrated in the Church today, but remembering the act of charity by which the commemoration was originally deferred in the 18th century, and with appreciation for our freedoms, we may pray for the protection of the principle of liberty and equality for all human beings--even those we might style our 'enemies.'"
Dr. Jeanne Robertson, PhD, LPC, LMFT
Dr. Jeanne is the Director of St. Paul's Center for Counseling & Education. Learn more about the Center here.
An aging abbott got tired of his novice complaining, so one morning he sent him for some salt. When he returned, the abbott told the unhappy novice to put a handful of salt in a glass of water, then drink it.
“How does it taste?” asked the abbott.
“Bitter,” spit the novice.
The abbott smiled and asked the young man to put an equal handful of salt into the lake. Once he had swirled it in the water the abbott told him to drink.
As the water dripped from the novice’s chin, the abbott asked how it tasted.
“Much fresher,” replied the novice.
“Do you taste the salt?”
“No,” said the young man.
The old abbott looked at the young novice who reminded him of himself and gently said, “The pain of life is pure salt, no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.” (Adapted from 101 Zen Stories www.sciforums.com).
Bitterness or anger - at physical, emotional, spiritual pain - can hold us hostage. Are you holding things in that need to be let out? Do you lack the room or tools to move them?
Can you enlarge your container to enable you to stop being a glass and become a lake?
Give me a call, we can work together to expand your container!
If you need support of any kind, reach out to Dr. Jeanne and the Center for Counseling & Education. "The mission of the Center for Counseling and Education is to serve the individuals, families, faculty, and staff of St. Paul's Episcopal Church & School in a nurturing spiritual environment. Through counseling and educational services, the Center seeks to promote and enhance the well-being of individuals and families within a confidential environment of compassionate listening. The Center is interfaith, serving people wherever they may be on their journey in life."