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Hallo again to all.

Whit Sunday. Whitsun. Pentecost. The seventh Sunday after Easter. The tenth day after the Feast of the Ascension. Gaping Sunday. We figure it by various means and know it by different names in different places. It's how we commemorate the events described in Acts 2:1-31: 'All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit...'

'All of them' refers of course to a group including the apostles, who were gathered for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, sometimes referred to in Greek as πεντηκοστή, Pentecost. The apostles' Pentecost was certainly pivotal, but it would seem that no one really had any solid ideas for how to remember or commemorate this day, because there are so many traditions. Anglicans, especially, seem to have had a hard time figuring out how to commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit and thus perhaps the founding of the Christian church. Anglican Whit traditions include morris dancing, cheese rolling, and great consumption of ale. Oh, and attending church. Perhaps wearing red clothing.

Whit Sunday (known as Pentecost until 1066) has traditionally been the first holiday of summer in Britain. The secularization of Britain has swapped the Spring Bank Holiday for Whit Sunday to usher in the season, taking cheese rolling and most morris dancing with it. But you can still find morris sides busy on Whit Sunday in the Old Country if you look hard enough. All this serves, of course, to further cloud the mysterious purpose and meaning of this unusual day when the Holy Spirit first descended upon a group of people.

Some churches focus their worship and emphasis on commemorating and repeating the experience of that first Pentecost. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit can give you a direct personal link to God, with no need for an intercessor. The word 'Pentecostal' is sometimes used to describe churches with this emphasis. When the Holy Spirit visits, it can leave you with a spiritual gift, a charism, some of which are noted here and there in the New Testament. Thus the word 'Charismatic' is sometimes used to describe churches with this emphasis. Terms like 'Pentecostal' and 'Charismatic' and 'Apostolic' and 'Full Gospel' and 'Spirit-filled' do not seem to have sharply-defined meanings. If a person says he is a Charismatic Christian then he probably is. If a person says she is filled with the Spirit, then she probably is.

There are lists of spiritual gifts in a few places in the New Testament. Our favourite has always been the short list in 1 Peter 4:10-11, 'speaking' and 'serving'. Pretty much anything can be a spiritual gift, even if the Apostle Paul didn't think of it in time to write it down.

Anglicans in general seem to get wild-eyed with fear at the very thought of charismatic or Pentecostal worship. Well, if not fear, then disdain. When we've attended Anglican services with charismatic friends, they tend to have to struggle to stay awake. And once a charismatic friend told us: 'An Anglican and a charismatic walk into a bar. The bartender says to the Anglican, "Hey Elvis, who's your friend?".' We attended a charismatic Presbyterian service with a friend a while back, and it was obvious that this was his element, his milieu. We watched him fill with the Spirit during a hymn, while we mostly wondered whether the percussionist and the electric guitarist were an item.

We think that in general, across the Anglican world, the Holy Spirit gets short shrift. We recite words about the Trinity, we sing the Doxology, we use phrases like 'Triune God', but we don't seem to take the Holy Spirit as seriously as do our friends on the charismatic side. We go to church on Whit Sunday/Pentecost and listen to readings about tongues of flame and rushing wind. It's a lot of work to listen to the Holy Spirit and attempt to follow its advice. It's not always easy to recognize the spiritual gifts of others or even to notice them in ourselves.

What would charismatic Anglican worship mean? Would it ruin everything that was good and redemptive about divine worship? Would the rushing wind blow out our candles? Would excessive congregational emotion be annoying? How would we feel if during a charismatic Anglican service the Holy Spirit descended on the people in the pew in front of us but not on us? Would we have to add a vested drummer to our choir?

Not to worry. We Anglicans won't have to think about these things until next year.

See you next week. And on 19 May 2013.


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All of us at Anglicans Online

  27 May 2012

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