I realise that this blog is primarily devoted to things ancient and mediaeval, but one recent development I felt I should share here is my recent move across the province of Ontario from Ottawa to Thunder Bay, the city of my teenage years. It takes about 18-20 hours to drive between these two cities. It has a reputation for being North, although this Alberta boy would like to remind everyone that at 48° 22′ 55.9956” N, Thunder Bay is south of all three prairie provinces and most of British Columbia.
That said, Thunder Bay is north of most of the population of Ontario, and, regardless of northerliness it is remote. The nearest major Canadian city is Winnipeg, about eight hours’ drive away or so.
So what brings me from the nation’s capital back to the Canadian Shield of my youth? Is it Nanabijou, the giant sleeping across the Bay? Is it Mount Mckay rising at the south end of the city? Is it Kakabeka Falls? Is it seeing the now abandoned site of my high school? Is it Persians? Is it the … grain terminals?
It is none of these things, in fact.
Unexpectedly, I am the manager of The Habit Coffee & Bake Shop, run out of/by the Urban Abbey in Port Arthur (my uncles and aunt from Fort William have forgiven me for betraying the family). That said, the view from behind the counter is pretty good:
Now, although I have been enjoying serving coffee and ordering coffee beans and buying large quantities of milk and suchlike things, The Habit is not actually the reason I’m here. It’s the reason I’m getting paid.
In the long run, I am here at Thunder Bay to work at the Urban Abbey on the pastoral staff as Coordinator of Liturgy and Education (to be honest, we’re still working on the job title!) and, in the longer run, to start a theological college, an Urban Abbey school.
There’s a lot to say about the Urban Abbey (and its ancient-Celtic-future ethos), about the vision of having a school for ministry here, about ministry and mission in Thunder Bay, and so on. These reflections will join the cavalcade of ancient, medieval, Byzantine, and Anglican voices and ideas processing through this blog.
Watch this space for more. Excuse me, time to make a coffee…
This liturgical aspect of a missional church interests and excites me for more than the obvious reasons. I think that prayer must be at the centre of our lives as individuals as well as churches. If we want to see transformation occur in our own hearts as well as in the communities around us, we need to encounter the living God. The witness of Scripture and Christian history tells us that this happens when we set aside time for prayer and worship.
Indeed, Baptist preacher John Piper even notes that worship is our true end; mission exists because worship does not.
This is our chief activity.
I would have been really excited to hear about this venture and mission on behalf of Christ’s church — and in my old stompin’ grounds (well, almost — Port Arthur isn’t quite the same as Fort William) — regardless of anything else. I’m doubly pleased that a friend from high school and her husband (who is fast becoming a friend) are involved in this disciple-making movement of prayer in the broken heart of Thunder Bay.
And I’m humbled that I have been approached to assist with the liturgical angle of this moment of Our Lord’s mission on earth.
Which brings me to the title of this post. The request mentions that they are interested in using ancient/classical forms of prayer (the obvious reason why Urban Abbey interests me), and says:
Anyways, I was interested if you would ever be interested in sharing/creating some liturgies ( I know you don’t just “create” them, but I hope you get what I mean) that you feel would be meaningful/important.
Of course, I directed Scot to this blog, specifically to the liturgies you can see off to your right under ‘Classic Christian Texts.’
I’ve been mulling over this for the past couple of weeks — probably too much, but that’s just the way I am.
It’s true that one doesn’t just ‘create’ liturgies.
For example, I once led a study of a portion of St Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses that dealt with perfection — since Divine perfection is endless, then our own perfection will be endless too. This is the selection in Richard Foster’s book Devotional Classics. For prayers at the start of that evening, I took some of the prayers from the Divine Liturgy of St Basil the Great and modified them a little, making portions antiphonal and giving the selection a beginning and an end — these were prayers for perfection. Obviously, they were out of context. But it was a way to truly pray (one does not pray ancient prayers for novelty) but also to connect with the world of the Cappadocians more thoroughly than a merely intellectual study would or could.
The creation of ‘occasional’ liturgies such as that is a matter of looking at the needs of that community and that moment, and then looking at the resources — the rich and beautiful resources — available to us in the centuries of prayers that Christians have offered up to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I do not think I would ever truly create a Eucharistic liturgy, although once I put together something based upon research into first-century worship and St Hippolytus, but that was basically just the Anaphora/Canon of the Mass. I don’t know if it’s something I would use again, though. (Yes, we had a real priest in Apostolic Succession consecrate the elements that night.)
As a Latinist, I have an advantage over a great many other people in this regard. While some of our earliest Greek liturgical texts, such as St Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition, have been Englished, most early Latin liturgical texts remain untranslated. I can thus more easily tap into the wellspring of ancient and early mediaeval prayer than those unschooled in the Latin tongue.
I think I will prayerfully read through these ancient and early mediaeval prayers and prepare some texts for my friends. They are the same sources that Thomas Cranmer used in the 1500s as well as some new ones that have come to light. They express beautiful truths that all Christians can stand behind. So I will see if we can make them live again today in Urban Abbey’s Tower of Prayer in Thunder Bay.
In my next post I’ll go into some actual thoughts on Christian prayer in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.