Thinking back upon last week in London and our very busy Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday, I have joyful memories of our chance to witness the historic 150th anniversary celebration of All Saints Anglican Church, Notting Hill. And of course I carried with me a copy of my third novel, Inheritance, to give to the vicar, Father John Brownsell, who I thought might share some of my love of our Anglo-Catholic heritage.
This Victorian Anglo-Catholic Church calls people to worship from far away with its mighty stone steeple that stands high above the neighborhood of townhouses and shops. Inside the balanced proportions, three naves lead to a sanctuary with an impressive stone altar lit by five large candlesticks. Stained glass windows glimmer beyond and above in the apse. All Saints is a light-filled church with white painted walls and gently pointed arches rising from the darker wooden pews.
We arrived early and were able to finds good seats, but the church was soon packed and great expectations danced in the air as folks greeted one another. Sister parishes from the Caribbean joined in the celebration, with officials traveling from afar, and choirs sang, and a section devoted to the Mothers Union was ably represented in white, some with colorful sashes. I could see that All Saints was a well loved parish, with a history of devotion. There was even a group of former curates who had travelled to their “home” parish to be a part of the celebration, and they lined the side of the chancel.
The procession into the church was magnificent with all these folks taking part, with flags of many colors held high, and many generations represented. The Bishop of London, the Hon. Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, presided from his episcopal chair and soon rose to the carved pulpit in the center of the nave, this sea of hopeful parishioners. He preached on the historic stages of this church, and how after triumphs and tribulations we now faced a time of tempests. Today, he said, it was the Church’s job to wait it out, wait out all the political missteps, the wars and rumors of wars as it were, to still be there with the truth when the world recognized its folly and turned about for answers. I wondered, how best should we wait this day, how best do we preach the Gospel of Christ crucified? Quietly or with gusto?
The Anglo-Catholic stream in the Anglican Communion, generally one of quiet gusto, has largely been marginalized in the Church of England. Those of us in the international community of Anglicans who saw Canterbury as our historic Mother Church have cried as we parted ways. Now we watch from America as those in England could face such a parting. Many of these devout men and women have left the Anglicans and become Roman Catholics, and Pope Benedict with his Ordinariate for Anglicans has now provided a structure for bishops and clergy to join, smoothing the way further.
Faith and the practice of that faith, the interpretation of moral law, the nature of truth are not small things in the scope of man’s life on earth. Many have been martyred for less. So it was with great thanksgiving that I visited All Saints for their afternoon celebration of their stalwart history, of their holding fast to the truths of orthodox historic Christianity. For without orthodoxy and without history, as T.S. Eliot would have agreed, we have nothing.
The love of God is immense, and I trust that he will guide us all through this present and coming tempest. We shall emerge from the tunnel, a bit like rising from the Chunnel onto dry land, our feet firmly planted in the faith of our forefathers, prophets, martyrs, saints.
In the meantime, throughout the darkness, we shall celebrate God’s love among us as we sit together in the pews and line up to receive the Eucharist. We shall celebrate God’s love and steadfastness in time, in this lovely church of All Saints Notting Hill, London.
After the Mass this Laetare Sunday, Father Brownsell gave out roses to the mothers for this was also Mothering Sunday. As the line ended I gave him my little novel in thanks for his life and witness in London. And I gave thanks to God for the lovely and light filled parish of All Saints.