The Procession of the Holy Spirit (Part One)

Brother Causticus views with a certain disquietude a recent transmission from ++Gregory Venables of the Province of the Southern Cone – invoking the blood of martyrs and buttressed by a prominently displayed lodestar logo of the Anglican Communion - offering an ecclesial home to breakaway dioceses of the Episcopal Church on behalf of the primates of the Global South or, in his own case, the south of South America, which is no doubt doubly orthodox indeed.

BC was mildly surprised to learn that the Bishop of the Southern Cone apparently hath jurisdiction in this realm of North America. Only mildly, because the addition of a purple shirt to one’s wardrobe has, in BC’s sad recollection, foundered many a fine pastor on the shoals of ecclesiastical overreach. Though delicacy forbade the direct appeal, the subtext all but screamed, “Here am I, ready, willing, and practically in your backyard. And did you notice the logo?”

Such a realignment scheme, BC avers, would make a certain sense, seeing that, save for the intervening regions of Brazil, Central America, and Mexico, the two areas in question are very nearly geographically contiguous. It goes unchallenged that having one’s archbishop in the same half of the planet allows for more efficacious spiritual and temporal direction, much to the detriment, BC might add, of the equally open-armed Bishop of Nigeria’s cause.

The accession of the seven American dioceses currently seeking the oversight of a more doctrinally compliant chief pastor would precisely double the number of dioceses – and roughly quintuple the Anglican souls - now in the good primate’s cure. With the addition of a select few dissident Canadian parishes, the Communion could be blessed with a right-thinking province 150,000 strong encompassing the whole of the Western hemisphere – with gaps too minor to mention - thus streamlining arrangements for primatial convocations and other functions of the Instruments of Unity.

But such speculations quickly outrun Brother Causticus’ ken, since his own modest preferment within the Church Catholic admits to no such grand enticements, thanks be to God. He is privileged to humbly serve his home parish of St. Euphemesius-By-The-Freeway in the ancient and honorable, but fallen unfortunately into much disuse, office of verger or, as it is known to the improperly catechized, “the guy in front with the stick.”

The stick in question being, of course, a verge, a stout piece of lumber with antecedents in the Middle Ages when it was carried before a procession and wielded to ward off rabid animals, violent ruffians, and episcopi vagantes bent on extracanonical skullduggery. With two of the three threats largely nullified, the verger nowadays engages in a mostly ceremonial ministry, but serves as a potent reminder of a very muscular Christianity indeed.

Though occasionally called upon by the rector during Divine Services to urge garrulous congregants back into their pews when the Peace begins to teeter in a more social than liturgical direction, Brother Causticus’ primary exercise of his office occurs on the feast day of the parish patron, when the congregation processes in choir through the byways of our town to the saint’s shrine.

This charming custom was endowed early in the last century by Miss Felicity Jowett, the grandniece of a noted Tractarian, and served not only a devotional end, but as a preludium to a generous fete on the grounds of the spacious family property where the tastefully appointed shrine was situated. Saint Euphemesius Day follows hard upon the third Sunday in Advent, so in deference to the penitential nature of the season, only sherry and port were offered as accompaniment to the groaning board, spirits being eschewed unless absolutely needed, in which case they were surreptitiously swigged behind the stables.

But time and urban renewal alters all things, as the poet observed. In the 1970s, the central “Holy Row” where most of our town’s churches were located was targeted – along with the bulk of the small downtown itself - by highway officials seeking a more direct route to the capital city. Businesses, homes, and houses of worship were extended relocation offers that were accepted with alacrity by nearly all except eccentric cranks and the vestry of St. Euphemesius, who were advised by lawyers – of which the parish had a disproportionate number - to persist in negotiating more advantageous terms.

This sage strategy coupled with native Episcopalian aversion to taking expeditious action of any sort delayed the project for a season, but, in the end, the route was redrawn, and as Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and even Pentecostals ended that year breaking ground on more commodious facilities up the road, St. Euphemesius maintained possession of its moldering Gothic Revival pile while the soon-to-be eponymous freeway commenced construction yards away.

Here endeth the lesson of Part I.