Over the last few weeks, I have been asked a number of great questions for which there is no canonical answer or hard rule either at the national or diocesan levels. As such, these questions fall under “the prerogative of the priest.” Some priests do things one way, and some do them a different way. Here are some of the reasons why I do a few things differently than other clergy.
“What’s with the monk at the altar?”
In the Anglican tradition we have a rich history of monastic vocations that dates back to our Roman Catholic roots. Even after England’s separation from Rome under Henry VIII and his successors, when monastic vocations were prohibited, many men and women still continued to feel called to a monastic lifestyle of prayer, study, and service. Although these people were no longer affiliated with a monastery or convent, they adapted the monastic rule of life to their lay lives. These practices were so loved among some English faithful that the Anglican Communion restored monasticism during the nineteenth century. We now have people in various monastic disciplines throughout the church. Some live in monasteries and convents and take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Some live in the world and have the option to marry, but still follow the guidance of a monastic superior like an Abbot or a Mother Superior, and lead a life of prayer, study, and service. Many of them have secular jobs and find ways to lead monastic lifestyles within the context of their busy lives. Some are retired and follow schedules of daily prayer, service, and study.
We have a number of monastic brothers and sisters here at Saint Dunstan and you will see them wear their habits to church on Sundays. Brother Allen White, OSF is a Franciscan Friar with the Order of Saint Francis, an active, Apostolic Christian religious First Order within the Anglican Communion, in communion with the See of Canterbury. OSF Brothers are consecrated male religious who take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience (expressed in a contemporary charism) for life, but just like priests in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion can marry. Brother Allen is blessed to share his life and ministry with his wife, LeslieAnn.
OSF Brothers are designated as Friars of the Order by their Minister General and Bishop to serve Christ and their communities wherever they are called, wear the Franciscan habit, may be clergy or lay, and are geographically dispersed all over the world to serve as many people as possible. They are usually deeply involved in the life of the local parish. For Brother Allen (a native Houstonian), this calling has led him to serve at both Saint Dunstan’s and at Hope Center Houston where he is the chaplain and a member of the board of directors. He is the only OSF Friar in Texas.
In addition, Brother Allen is a commissioned Stephen Minister, licensed eucharistic minister, licensed lay preacher, and licensed worship leader. He leads Morning Prayer on Thursdays when the Rector is out, and he assists the rector on Sundays performing various lay functions during the Holy Eucharist and special services.
“Are priests allowed to do funerals at a place other than the church?”
The short answer is “Yes.” The more nuanced answer is that some priests only do funerals at the church, within the context of a Holy Eucharist service. This has been the tradition of Saint Dunstan’s for many years, but there is nothing in the canons of the national church or the diocese that prohibits the celebration of the rite at a funeral home, grave site, or some other offsite location. There is also no requirement for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I have always considered a funeral to include three movements: “The service,” which I often call “the celebration of life.” The Book of Common Prayer allows this service to be done with or without the Holy Eucharist. The second movement is the “Commendation,” in which we commend the person to God’s care for the last time before they are taken to their final resting place. The third movement is the “Committal,” which is a brief service that takes place at the cemetery, columbarium, garden of repose, or final resting place.
I believe that a funeral is a pastoral emergency in the life of a family, and the response of the priest and the church should be marked by generous pastoral concern, flexibility, and love. In an ideal world, the funeral service should take place at a church, within the liturgical practices that fed the person’s faith when they were alive. Life, however, is often less than ideal. There are times when the appropriate pastoral response is to do the service away from the church. I have done these types of services many times and I will continue to do them in the near future. If this is an issue for you, let us talk.
“Are priests allowed to do destination weddings?”
The short answer is “Yes,” but a more nuanced answer is that some priests will only do weddings at a church and within the context of a Holy Eucharist. There is nothing in the canons, however, to prohibit a priest from doing a wedding at a park, family home, or reception hall. There is also no canonical requirement that the Holy Eucharist must be celebrated at all weddings. This should be a decision of the couple in consultation with their loved ones. I have done many offsite weddings and I will continue to do them, with and without the service of Communion. The only canonical requirement is that the couple receive ample counseling and training on the purpose and mission of Christian marriage. The rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer indicate that at least one member of the couple be a baptized Episcopalian; that the ceremony be a public affair, attested by at least two witnesses; and that the marriage conform to the laws of the State and the canons of the Church.
“Are you allowed to do Baptisms on any given Sunday?”
Absolutely! In fact, the canons allow for Baptisms to be performed on Sundays or at any feast of the church, even if they take place during weekdays. Having said this, however, some priests only baptize on the famous “Five Baptism Sundays” of the church (Easter Vigil, Pentecost Sunday, All Saints Day, Christmas Day, and the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord.) The BCP does state that, “It is recommended that, as far as possible, Baptisms be reserved for these occasions or when a bishop is present.” (BCP 312.) There is no canonical prohibition whatsoever, however, about the celebration of the Holy Baptism on any given Sunday of the Church year. There might be local limitations in some places, as some dioceses prohibit baptisms on the so-called “penitential seasons” of the liturgical year (Lent and Advent.) I don’t believe there is such limitation in our diocese. I am in the process of researching this.
I baptize on any given Sunday. I love baptisms on the five traditional days, but I see no impediment, nor any reason why the sacrament should be withheld from anyone “whose parents and sponsors (or self) have been properly instructed in the meaning of Baptism, in their duties to help the new Christian grow in the knowledge and love of God, and in their responsibilities as members of his Church.” (BCP, 298.)
“I have seen you raise your right hand when praying or singing. What is this about?”
It simply means that I try to worship with my body, mind, and spirit. The entire person is involved in the act of worship, and not just the mind. A simpler answer is that I became an Episcopalian within a broad church that tended to prefer praise and worship music. I then went to an Evangelical Episcopal seminary where raising our hands in adoration was customary within liturgy. Old habits are hard to break, and this one is very meaningful to me. I consider myself a broad churchman and cherish traditions that are Anglo-Catholic as well as Evangelical. I hope my behavior is not distracting to you. If it is, please close your eyes and pray to your God who sees in secret. If this doesn’t help, talk to me and I will dial it down a bit.
These are just a few of the questions I have received. Please keep asking and I will keep answering. If you disagree with any of my answers, please call me and we will talk about it.
Blessings to all,