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Hallo again to all.

It has been a week of church meetings. We've been back and forth from one of the older theological colleges in the Anglican world to a venerable parish church, to an important academic library with strong theological holdings, and also met in service of a church publisher whose work is entering its thirteenth decade. The soles on our shoes are tired, as are our feet themselves.

With a mind to get away from meeting-saturation, we repaired this weekend to one of the finest museums in our region, the Morgan Library & Museum. We had heard about a new exhibit related to the history of the Reformation, started in advance of Luther Year 2017. It met and exceeded expectations. We saw a chasuble worn by Luther, early woodcuts about Reformation controversy, manuscripts by Luther and his opponents, and even mundane survivals like domestic pottery owned by the Luther family.

It was an occasion to reflect much on the five centuries since the Lutheran reforms began—particularly in light of the Joint Roman Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation to be held tomorrow in Lund and Malmö. But it was also an occasion to think on the life of one of the most prominent lay persons in the history of the Anglican Communion, JP Morgan.

John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) was a banker and financier whose wealth bankrolled a wide variety of projects in the Gilded Age Anglo-American world. He supported museums, hospitals, universities and a great variety of other institutions, but his personal projects often focused on the maintenance of his church, the Protestant Episcopal Church. He gave serial donations of $100,000 (contemporary numbers) to support the work of triennial meetings of the General Convention. He offered a $300,000 pittance to jump-start the building of the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City. He funded the liturgical revision committees and private press publishing for the American Book of Common Prayer in 1892, and supported the work of the commission that produced the 1928 Book. (He was reputed to have committed the entirety of the BCP—collects, Psalter, epistles, gospels, all of it—to memory.) His parish church benefited from his largesse, too, creating in Manhattan a model of English squirearchy dependent in a fresh way on the takings of industry, railroads, shipping, manufacturing.

JP Morgan has left to the world his banking company (much divided after 1930s qualms about monopolies), a personal legend redolent with anecdote and story, and a library-museum in his former home on Madison Avenue where one can see a permanent collection of Gutenberg Bibles, Shakespeare folios, Beethoven and Mozart manuscripts, an exquisite array of paintings and changing exhibits, and a museum café menu with food the old man would not have recognised. (Avocado? Chorizo? Arugula?)

He has also left to the world a model of churchmanship that is perhaps unexamined in terms of its long-term influence for Anglican culture. In the same breath, we long for the likes of a latter-day JP Morgan who could support with financial abandon our churches' efforts at refugee resettlement, racial reconciliation, environmental stewardship, ecumenical cooperation; and still we know that the dependence of our churches on the largesse of billionaires in days of yore is much unlike anything we experience today or can expect to know again.

We have not begun to examine in a thorough way the unchecked capitalism that catapulted Anglicanism into positions of power and influence outside of the Established Church in Great Britain in the nineteenth century. Nor, perhaps, have we reflected carefully on what it must have meant for generations of Anglicans around the world to worship with a Prayer Book funded and also influenced by one of the greatest plutocrats of his age.

With a century of remove from the life of JP Morgan—who has met his end in the same way each of us will, in his case in a simple grave in the soil of his native Connecticut—we can acknowledge with gratitude his support of church life and still offer a critique of the methods by which he came about the wealth that enabled him to offer it. This is among the greatest benefits in the passage of time: perspective, evaluation, thankfulness, learning. Do join us in the project of being thankful for what has been built before us; asking how it was built; and seeking ways to understand our work today in light of those who have gone before us sealed with the seal of faith, who sleep the sleep of peace.

See you next week.

Our Signatures

Richard Mammana

All of us at Anglicans Online

30 October 2016

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