I have great news to celebrate with all of you today. Sadly, because this is the year 2020, and nothing is easy during this time of pandemic, we will have to wait until sometime in 2021 to rejoice in this good news. Now, let me set this in context. As you all know, the restoration of Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church has taken the best part of 20 years to accomplish, has required extensive fundraising efforts, and has consumed the attention of vestries and rectors for a long time. The last, perhaps central piece of that restoration was the construction of a new Altar that would match the new materials and designs of the church. This Altar was commissioned nearly three years ago, when the money for it was fundraised and designated by the vestry for this use. It has taken a long time for this project to be completed, but the Altar has finally been built and it was delivered to us last week. This is excellent news, as the Altar ends an arduous and long process of restoration.
The problem for us now is that this Altar, which will become the single most important piece of liturgical furniture in our church, must be consecrated or dedicated before we use it. Consecration is the ancient tradition of both Judaism and Christianity through which a person or a thing is separated for the service of God through a special liturgy. In the Old Testament the liturgy for consecration required three different actions: Separating, sanctifying (also known as purifying,) and devoting or offering the person or item to God. This was as applicable to persons being separated for the service of God as it was to items used in the Temple liturgies (See Exodus 24 for more.)
In our Episcopal tradition, the consecration or dedication of new altars, baptismal fonts, and church bells are traditionally reserved to the Bishop. This dedication takes place “immediately before the Peace” (Book of Occasional Services, 197.) The consecration begins with the antiphon, “Arise, go to Bethel, and dwell there, and make there an altar to our God.” After this, the Bishop says, “I will go to the altar of God” and the people respond, “To the God of my joy and gladness.” After this, the Bishop stands with his arms extended and prays a beautiful litany that concludes with a laying on of his hands on the new Altar and the words, “Lord God, hear us. Sanctify this Table dedicated to you…” (Ibid.)
Sadly, all the Bishops of our Diocese have postponed parish visits until 2021 because of COVID-19. In fact, you may remember our Bishop’s address to us at our Summer Annual Meeting in August. That address took the place of his annual visit to Saint Dunstan’s for 2020, which his office had already cancelled. What this means is that our beautiful new altar will remain nicely covered in our Parish Hall until such a time as a Bishop’s visit is possible. I will speak to Bishop Fisher next week at our clergy retreat and inform him of our need for a visit in 2021.
In the meantime, I would like to thank Father Rob Price, the vestry that approved the expenditure three years ago, and those who coordinated the commission of the Altar and its safe delivery to Saint Dunstan’s. It is a beautiful altar as the picture above shows. I am very excited that I get to be the rector that brings the restoration to a beautiful conclusion. I had plans to bless and consecrate the altar on the first Sunday of Advent this year, but when I conducted some research on this consecration, I learned that we must wait for our Bishop to do this special liturgy.
At some point soon, we will do a proper unveiling and invite anyone who wants a quick look of the Altar to come to our Parish Hall. Until then, let us continue to pray for a vaccine against this terrible Pandemic which has already forced us to change so much of our corporate life and traditions. I pray this will end soon and we may return to a new normal.
May our Lord continue to bless you,