Eucharist imbued with the spirit of Anglican unity

August 3, 2003

Music drew them the instant they entered the Minneapolis Convention Center. Rousing sounds of a Sousa march, a massive gospel choir, a jazz band filled the halls and spilled out the doors. By 9:50 a.m., when the procession started, nearly 5,000 had found their seats in the mammoth auditorium for Sunday's Eucharist.

Most came early to sway along with the Revelation Choir and tap their feet to Jazz on the Prairie, a smaller portion of the 50-member Eden Prairie Community Band that accompanied almost all the morning’s singing.

Overhead, on a 34-foot screen behind the altar platform, images emerged, faded and emerged again in a muted, sometimes mystical, sequence of color and shape. Photos of sculpted stone and wood alternated with bright collages of Africa, icons, artists’ personal visions of heaven and of earth.

The 200-plus choristers from 20 different Minnesota Episcopal churches lived up to director Howard John Small’s challenge during their early morning rehearsal: “Give it your love as you sing.” They did. So did the Creekside Ringers from St. Stephen’s Church in Edina as they interpreted a haunting Japanese folk tune before the service and, during the procession of 200 bishops, 400-plus clergy, created an cascading cacophony of bells that sounded like a peel ringing out from on high.

On more than a dozen fabric-draped tables waited the glass chalices and hand-made birch bark baskets ready to be carried forward at the Offertory by members of the Youth Presence. One table in the back of the hall, draped in green, held gluten-free bread for those who might otherwise not be able to receive Communion. An equally thoughtful offering of the worship planners stood at the corner of the altar platform. As soon as the music began, the signers for the deaf started interpreting lyrics, alternating, first one, then the other, the graceful, expressive ballet of hands.

As the procession ended and all bishops and clergy took their places, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold declared to his gathered flock: “Bendito sea Dios: Padre, Hijo y Espiritu Santo.” The response, “and blessed be his kingdom, now and forever” came in a number of languages in addition to the Spanish provided in the service booklet.

The spirit of Anglican unity

“We are the new society God has called into being,” proclaimed Nigerian Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon. “It is one people reconciled, of every color and culture, the one and only family of God.”

In a 20-minute sermon notable for diplomacy, clarity, and fervor, the chief pastor of the Kaduna province of the huge Church of Nigeria, undoubtedly satisfied those who have been praying, like Bishop Idowu-Fearon himself, for the unity of the church at a time of crisis.

“Our church family takes the Episcopal Church very seriously. When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. America, don’t sneeze too much,” he said.

Drawing from the second reading, Ephesians 4, Idowu-Fearon described it as a turning point for Paul – and, by inference, the church. “Paul is moving from theology to its practical and concrete applications. I beg you to lead a life that is worthy of that call.”

Those who may have anticipated more pointed comment from the archbishop on issues heating up the 74th convention had to content themselves with reading between the lines of his eloquent message. “They had hardened their hearts, they became callous, they gave themselves to immorality,” he said, of the pre-Christian life Paul describes. Idowu-Fearon called for Christians to “put off the old life, turning away from it in distaste, and put on the new life.”

More pointedly, he continued: “It’s not possible to change the heart, but it is possible to change the behavior. ... Changing one’s dress, one’s attitudes, and one’s behavior are essential to becoming Christian. But we are mistaken if we think it’s all up to God. The way you behave is the way you become.”

Deputy Sandie Brochak from Southern Ohio said, “He made some good points – very pertinent to what’s going on here. There’s more of a subtle message, but if you were looking for it, it was very direct.”

Still, the archbishop refrained from any detailed directives reflecting the more conservative stance of the Church of Nigeria, second largest, after the Church of England, of the member provinces of the Anglican Communion. Instead, he called for kindness, compassion and forgiving among Christians.

Referring to his five-year relationship with Frank Griswold – they met at the 1998 Lambeth Convention – Idowu-Fearon said, “Frank, you’ve taught me a lot. I’m beginning to understand American culture.”

New York Bishop Mark Sisk praised the sermon. “I’m grateful that he spoke kind words about the presiding bishop. He deserves kind words. [Idowu-Fearon] spoke out of his African context, recognizing our American context. It was splendid.”

A former military school student in leadership training, the archbishop said. “I’m the only general from my class still serving in the army – of Jesus Christ.”

In Nigeria, he noted, becoming a Christian marks a major change in a person’s entire life. “Public baptism marks the passage from the realm of estrangement, paganism and darkness to the realm of Christianity.” Noting that he had found Christ at age 12, he said, “I’ve never been the same since.”

In the spirit of Anglican unity, Idowu-Fearon concluded: “We have to repent and to come to Christ and be reconciled to him. Then, we will be able to build bridges.”

The service ended the way it began, with spirited music, the uplifting sound of joined voices: “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” brought the service to a close and John Philip Sousa’s “Minnesota March” accompanied the crowd back into the world, back to their historic time of decision.