I found Dr. Sumner’s address to convention to be very interesting and inspiring during these times. I’m glad they posted it on the Diocesan website.
In the spirit of the past as prologue to the future, and of reclaiming the rich treasure of our Anglican past, let us begin this morning by asking what clergy life and ministry were like at the parish grassroots two centuries ago in merry old England. If we listen to the commentators of the time, the answer is often very, very odd. One priest, we read, would give a normal homily in the morning, but at evensong insisted on preaching only about the Empress Josephine. An historian named Brendon tells us that another parson in the West Country did not enter his church for 53 years, and kenneled the local foxhounds in the vicarage. A neighboring priest refused to do any services, but would greet the parishioners in the Churchyard wearing a flowered dressing gown and smoking a hookah. Yet another drove his flock away, replaced them with wooden and cardboard images in the pews, and â€œsurrounded his vicarage with barbed wire behind which savage Alsatians patrolled.â€ Another spent his whole ministry searching for the number of the beast while the rector of Luffincott devoted all his time to calculating the date of the millennium. Yet another installed his own sanitary arrangements in his choir stall, while a nearby priest declared himself a neo-platonist and sacrificed an ox to Jupiter on the church grounds.
But my personal favorite is one Joshua Brooks of Manchester. During a burial service he abruptly left the church, went nearby to the confectionerâ€™s shop, bought some gumdrops, and came back to finish up the service. One Easter Monday, the traditional day for marriages in the parish, he had a number of couples to marry at once, got the names confused, married several to the wrong spouses, and so at the end of the service declared imperiously â€œjust sort yourselves out when you leaveâ€¦â€ All this inspired the archdeacon to tell the new bishop â€˜your clergy, my lord, may be divided into three categories: those who have gone out of their minds, those about to go out of their minds, and those who have no minds to go out of.â€ And then there was Montague who hung the coat of his late dog Tango in the sacristy closet â€¦maybe that is enough! So good news, Bishop John, our little history lesson makes even your most vexing priest and parish of the diocese of Tennessee look pretty good! My point, brothers and sisters, is simply this: if you have your days when Episcopal church life seems to you confused and deformed, right you are, and if you think this is unprecedented, think again!
And it was into just this sort of a church, a church so moribund that many commentators did not suppose it could survive another generation, that Charles Simeon had, by the grace of God, a most fruitful and groundbreaking ministry. My topic this morning is mission, but I want to get at that topic through the historical lens of this one parish priest in the town of Cambridge, diocese of Ely, Church of England. You might call this a bit of missiological hagiography, since Simeon finds a place in the list of saints in Lesser Feasts and Fasts of our Church on November 12. As a young man Simeon came to Cambridge in 1799. He was not a particularly religious sort, and in that time evangelicals were looked down upon. Six had recently been expelled from Oxford for Methodist practices, and many bishops frowned on what they called â€œthe serious clergy,â€ far too earnest, and their sermons far too long. At matriculation Simeon was told that as a student at Cambridge, he had to prepare for, and make his communion, three times a year. He was a dutiful young man and so set about reading what he could find about a holy life, concluding his own lack of that quality, which in turn disturbed him. During lent he heard in university church the story of the scapegoat in the Old Testament, and became fascinated with the idea that one could bear away the wrong of another- all this on his own, not bad for a freshman! On Easter morning, the Holy Spirit touched his heart, as he writes: â€œJesus Christ is risen today, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul, and at the Lordâ€™s Table (of kingâ€™s chapel), I had a sweetest access to God through my blessed savior.â€ He held to this, the insight of a moment, the core of the Gospel, throughout his whole life. He was ordained soon thereafter, and was offered a struggling old parish in the heart of the town called Holy Trinity.