Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Worship and Works

The current issue of Washington Window, the monthly newpaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, includes a feature article on the Grate Patrol, a ministry of my old parish, St. Paul's, K Street. Every Saturday and Sunday, early in the morning, members and friends of St. Paul's distribute over 200 meals to homeless people on the streets of Washington, DC.

This sort of ministry is very much in keeping with Anglo-Catholic tradition. A religion rooted in the Incarnation cannot minister only to spiritual need while neglecting more worldly needs – or vice versa. The second generation of Anglo-Catholic priests in England often found themselves assigned to slum parishes by unsympathetic Protestant-minded bishops. So they made the best of it, and it turned out to be a pretty good fit. An elaborate liturgy in a beautiful church was a bright spot in otherwise drab working-class lives. And these priests worked to meet the needs of their parishioners by sponsoring basic education and distribution of charity, among other ministries.

Anglo-Catholics have often been criticized for maintaining this combination of worship and works. The religious and political establishments feared the implications of raising the expectations of the lower classes and empowering them to act. Reform-minded liberals, meanwhile, deplored the wasting of time and resources on worship and church maintenance. But to anyone who has participated in the Anglo-Catholic life, it is obvious that the liturgical life of the Church is the source of motivation and empowerment for ministry, while ministry is the necessary response to the encounter with God in worship. Worship and ministry are inseparable.

When Jesus was staying in Bethany a few days before the Passover, a woman from among his followers anointed him with expensive, fragrant ointment. Some reproached her, saying, "This ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor." But Jesus defended her: "She has done a beautiful thing for me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying." (Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8)

For those who love Jesus, there can be no conflict between worshiping him extravagantly and serving him in the persons of the poor. (Matt. 25:40)

1 comment:

Roland said...

The last time St. Paul's was featured in the diocesan newspaper was the article "Walsingham to Washington," in October 2003: