Hallo again to all.
It is summer in the Northern Hemisphere. (You knew that.) Although there are places in the Southern Hemisphere that have fierce winters, none of them has an Anglican church. The few southernmost Anglican outposts — Falklands, Tasmania, Invercargill, and the like — all have climates that are quite temperate by the standards of the Northern Hemisphere. It isn't raging winter in any Anglican place right now, but it is certainly high summer in many.
The Christian church was founded in the Northern Hemisphere, and, as such, its calendar is a better fit for a place whose summer peaks in August than in February. As we look at the Anglican Breviary for this past week, we see commemoration of St Peter's Chains, St Alphonsus Liguori, the Invention of St Stephen, St Dominic, and Our Lady of the Snows. If you don't remember what those are, you can look them up online, where you can become impossibly well educated about such arcana as why the Dedication of the Church of Our Lady of the Snows was renamed the Dedication of Saint Mary Major in 1969.
Then on 6 August, it's the Feast of the Transfiguration. You've heard of that. You've seen Anglican churches named Transfiguration (many of which are nicknamed 'the Fig'). Its full name is 'the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus' and it has been around in one form or another since the 9th century. The name refers, of course, to the episode described by several Gospellers and by Peter. Matthew says, for example [17:1-2].
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
Wikipedia reports, under the subheading 'Significance':
Christian theology assigns a great deal of significance to the Transfiguration, based on multiple elements of the narrative. In Christian teachings, the Transfiguration is a pivotal moment, and the setting on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God: the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point, acting as the bridge between heaven and earth.
If your studies did not include theology, you probably haven't spent much time reflecting on the significance of the Transfiguration, or, more likely, you never really knew what it was (but knew that you could always go learn about it if it started to matter to you). Yes, you'd heard that at the Transfiguration God assigned to Jesus a special 'honor and glory' and that it was the turning point at which God exalted Jesus above all others, and positioned him as ruler and judge. But you need to make a trip to the market because you're out of bread and yogurt and Weetabix; maybe you'll look it up next time.
Most Anglican churches see their biggest congregations on well-known major feast days like Christmas and Easter and maybe Epiphany and Pentecost. The crowds are much thinner on Sundays when something incomprehensible would be celebrated if the priest even mentioned it, and when it is high summer. When the Roman Pope* decided in 1456 to declare a Feast of the Transfiguration, he knew what he was doing by making it be in August instead of March. We know of churches that will celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on 6 August, but statistically speaking we opine that yours is not one of them. It's not a draw, even if it is Theologically Significant.
Retailers know how to draw in customers. No sooner has Christmas passed than the decorations and displays in retail stores switch to the next event, regardless of how silly or how far in the future it might be. Every day something is special and something is on special. In 1456, events like the Feast of the Transfiguration, the Feast of St Bartholomew (24 August), or the Feast of St Matthew (21 September) might have packed 'em in, but no more. A clever priest could probably gather a crowd with a high-publicity annual celebration of the Beheading of St John Baptist (29 August) but we're not sure what sort that crowd would be and whether they'd be back on the Sundays that are just Sundays.†
Our church was pretty empty this morning. After all, it's summer here. Publicity stunts sometimes bring people in for a while, but then you have to keep thinking up new stunts. Burnout ensues. As we thought further about the global problem of how to get people to go to church more often, we reached the somewhat radical conclusion that church attendance doesn't seem to have very much to do with churches or clergy or what happens in the churches or where the clergy sleep at night.
We think that church attendance has mostly to do with how much people need church, and realistically that just isn't something that churches can have much effect on. We've seen churches that have figured out what people think they need and turned themselves into that — the classic 'find a need and fill it' marketing strategy. But that's not at all Anglican. We are what we are, and we're here for those who need us. Perhaps one day the world will not need us any more, and then we'll be gone. We don't think that will happen and we hope that it does not happen. But it might, and we think it's better to stay who we are than to work to become something that we're not.
The problem there, of course, is that we've been fighting for centuries about who we are and whether that identity is absolute or relative to the ambient culture. That's what via media is all about, isn't it? Every generation gets to help define what it means to be Anglican in and for that generation. For the first few centuries, we think that process has done OK.
As always, we'd love to hear what you think.
See you next week. Right here.
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