Eve of Annunciation - St. Cyprian's 90th Anniversary Evensong
Happy Anniversary! There is some really delightful possibility in using the readings for the eve of Annunciation to celebrate your 90 years. There must be a story of Hannah or Elizabeth in the offing. Are we to expect a surprising birth in an aged household? Actually, I think we are supposed to do just that, and I think you all have been in on the story for quite a while.
There have been many offspring in this community over the years, including some in your recent past. The Cyprian Center’s work is particularly energetic, and it’s bringing a whole lot of new life through music, arts, cooking, and even Lutherans! The Village Project is helping to form children who will take their place as leaders and faithful members of the larger community.
Who could have anticipated that kind of fruitfulness from this body 90 years ago? Like us all, St. Cyprian’s is actually the child of even older parents, including Fr. Peter William Cassey, who began Christ Mission in San Francisco some 140 years ago, and Fr. David Wallace and the people of St. Augustine’s, Oakland in the early 1900s. Then, after the Panama Canal was finished and the Panama Exposition opened here in 1915, the nucleus of African-American Episcopal families here was joined by West Indian Anglicans (Afro-Caribbeans). This has been a remarkably cosmopolitan place for centuries, and we would be remiss if we didn’t remember that the first Anglican worship around here was in 1579, when Francis Fletcher, Sir Francis Drake’s chaplain, read prayers on shore somewhere north of here, in the view and company of a group of Native Americans.
St. Cyprian’s was born of journeyers, people who had come across this continent seeking greater liberty, and laborers from the Caribbean who came seeking employment as well. After early services at St. Paul’s, that community gathered here in this cathedral, and applied to Bishop Parsons for recognition. The first formal service as St. Cyprian’s was held 90 years ago. The journeying continued, however, as the congregation moved several times before settling in a new building at Turk and Lyon in 1960.
Now, there are more parallels with the great Genesis story than we’ve paid attention to thus far. Arriving in San Francisco 140 years ago, or 100 years ago, or even today, is hardly like returning to the garden (actually, I think the garden of good and evil is supposed to be in Savannah). The people who came here so many years ago, and the ones who keep coming here today, are often looking for some version of home, and some way of returning to that idyllic state of strolling in the garden in the evening breeze. We all want a belonging-place, and we all want to know we’re loved.
Those prototypical human beings in the garden so long ago had some kind of identity as creatures, but they didn’t have any identity that was linked to race, or national origin, or economic class. The story seems to say that they didn’t have any consciousness of their gender or sexual identity – or at least weren’t worried about it – until after the apple event. They were companions and friends, because it’s not good for human beings to be alone. And in that sense they are an image of the God we know as Trinity – the divine society of persons in relationship, one and yet distinct. The differences in that pre-apple Garden were not occasions for value judgments – one person was not better than another.
That vision of oneness in community amid valued and blessed difference is why we’re here, why St. Cyprian’s is still lively 90 years on, and why you’ve helped to build such a profoundly life-giving engagement with the larger community of San Francisco. People matter. Every human being matters. And we discover that we matter, we learn that we are beloved, as we discover our connectedness to God and to one another.
This body, this part of the Body of Christ, is the offspring of many parents through the years – English pirates, Native Americans, descendants of slaves from several parts of Africa, members of Carib and Taino tribes, a motley crew of immigrants from Europe, and still more migrants from all parts of Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas. And here in this body they – we – become one. Those distinct identities don’t disappear, but they do become one, and they offer an image of the God we know as three in one.
That process is what Paul is talking about in Galatians. He speaks of children and slaves who remain as dependents and minors until the father decides they’re mature enough to live as adults. The God we call father did that a long time ago, when God entered human flesh in the child whose birth announcement we’re anticipating tomorrow. The result is that we’re no longer slaves or minors, Paul says, but now we are children of freedom, and people who reflect that God-in-relationship, that oneness and distinctness. We are inheritors of that vision, and it becomes our legacy to pass on.
St. Cyprian’s is a very particular example of that kind of community of oneness and legacy. The work you do in worship keeps on forming mature heirs of that vision, people who, together, are inviting others into this kind of community. The work of Cyprian Center and the Village Project are passing on that inheritance, building larger communities where people know they matter, know they are beloved, and know they are connected to something and someone larger than themselves.
What a remarkable privilege and responsibility to share that vision of community! May you continue to discover God-in-community together with those around you and among you, and may that vision of a whole and healed world continue to emerge here, one person at a time. The holy child of God has been born in your midst, and the mature child is risen in your midst, and together we are sent to make more of this God-in-relationship. Pray that St. Cyprian’s keeps birthing children and raising adults for that kind of healed and holy community. Fill it with life and love and hope, for the Lord is here, and he is risen – in our midst and all around us!
 Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt. Random House: 1994.