In praise of the pipe organs of Greenland

I don’t travel as much as I like, or I think I’d like, so I let my mind wander instead. As a child, I occupied myself with atlases and encyclopedia. In college, I heard the Iron Curtain fall by shortwave and met strangers by Usenet. Since the early 1990s, I’ve trekked down the back alleys of the internet. Today, I remembered a site I once enjoyed about the pipe organs of Greenland. I could have picked something else as a window into Greenland; indeed, I also look at sales flyers. (Frozen pizza, anyone?) But with pipe organs, I not only get something of obvious ecclesiastic interest — I know nothing of organs but I do like to snoop around a church — but also a slice of what Greenlanders value in music, architecture and religion.

Pipe Organs of Greenland (randallharlow.net)

I’ve written about churches in Greenland before, but not for ten years or so.

The site has been nicely updated since I last looked it up. Be sure to click on the photos, which cycle you through the images for the town or village. The dramatic landscapes! Both the spare Nordic modernism of the larger towns, and the colorful historic churches. The lighting fixtures!

I think I prefer the more homespun choices. For example, I rather like what appear to be metal house numbers used in lieu of cards on hymnboards. (I’ve seen something like this before, at the now-demolished Third Church of Christ, Scientist, here in D.C.)

That little church in Nutaarmiut (2010 population, 36) is simple but endearing, and I might harbor wistful, romantic notions of the hamlet if it hadn’t been the scene of a triple murder in 2012. (I think that was about the time I stopped looking at Greenlandic churches.) Which, I suppose, is the value of travel — in fact, or by armchair — namely, the appreciation of what is, and not you would imagine to be.

Liminal spaces, providing sacraments and Universalist theology

Responding to Tuesday’s post, Demas asked in the comments:

I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on what modern churches with less-than-optimal resources could do about the sacraments, and what your underlying beliefs about those are, if you wish to share them.

Dear Readers: You know I live for this, so I’ll reply as much as makes sense in one post, with a Universalist hook, of course.

First, what do I mean by the sacraments?

I’ll speak out of my belief and tradition, and even there only in brief. Sacramental theology is the kind of thing that could take up a lifetime so I’m not even going to pretend to scratch the surface. I hold two sacraments, or ordinances if you prefer: baptism, and the communion of the Lord’s Supper, as commended and ordained by Jesus Christ. I group all other actions, like confirmation, marriage and funerals as pastoral acts, though in practical terms providing them probably requires the same solutions in small and liminal communities.

And yet the sacraments derive not only their origin but their authority from Jesus Christ. He is the great and eternal High Priest, and we have, with boldness, a hope through those who gather in his name. The sacraments are valid and effective because they fulfill his promises. These promises include being known, being present and drawing us towards him. Which is to say the sacraments encourage, revive and sanctify us. They do not contort us into a state of being better or apart from other people, but throw us both morally and mysteriously into a greater likeness to God. Which is hardly a Zwinglian interpretation of the sacraments, though that’s probably more typical among denominational Universalists historically.

And the liminal communities?

While I’ve read about religious services in submarines and on Tristan da Cuhna, communities can be isolated in other, more ordinary ways. Dying towns, linguistic minorities, or cultural minorities — say a predominately gay church — might have a hard time getting a minister for the sacraments, even as an occasional visiting supply, to give three examples. I’d think the greatest isolator would be poverty, which might also rob a church of a pastor, or subject them to bad options out of necessity.

Two typical solutions are lay presidency and local ordination, which are likely to become more common in time. But there are risks. The former rejects officiating the sacraments as proper to, or necessarily from, the clergy, while the later tends to create different classes of clergy. I suppose neither is ideal, but being without the sacraments is worse. King’s Chapel in Boston, not Universalist but Unitarian, pivoted away from the Church of England when, denied the sacraments for years because of the Revolution, ordained their reader whom the Bishop of London wouldn’t. Thus a local ordination by the laity!

Back to the present. I would think that either a lay president or local minister would need training, perhaps something practical under the mentorship of a minister or (better) a group or association of ministers. That will depend on the setting. But even more, I would hope there would be plural presidents or ordinands as a practical matter, and to ease the responsibility of a single person being the last of last options for each and every service. Indeed, plural eldership (if coming from a low Reformed tradition) might be better still.

Universalist notes

As with most theological points apart from the final salvation of the world, Universalists held a variety of opinions and usually didn’t let those opinions get away of the essentials, of which the sacraments were not included. Yet there was tolerance. So while some ministers would not abide communion, it would always be found at meetings of the conventions, for instance. An open table was a condition of ministerial and parochial fellowship for generations, not being removed from the Laws of Fellowship well into the 1950s. In short, the sacraments were recognized, even if there wasn’t agreement about what they were or that they were necessary. There was this one point of agreement though: with two particular exceptions, their administration was the province of the clergy.

The first exception came very early on. Delegates at the 1790 convention at Philadelphia passed:

Whereas a great diversity of opinions has prevailed in all ages of the Church upon the subjects of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; as also upon the subject of Confirmation, the Washing of Feet, Love Feasts, and the anointing the Sick with oil, &c. and as this diversity of opinions has often been the means of dividing Christians, who were united by the same spirit in more essential articles, we agree to admit all such persons who hold the articles of our faith, and maintain good works, into membership, whatever their opinion may be as to the nature, form, obligation of any or all of the above named ordinances. If it shall so happen that an application shall be made to a Minister to perform any of the said of ordinances, who does not believe in the present obligations of Christians to submit to them; or if he shall be applied to to perform them at a time, or in a way that is contrary to his conscience, in such a case a Neighbouring minister, who shall hold like principles respecting the ordinance or ordinances required by any member, shall be invited to perform them; or, if it be thought more expedient, each Church may appoint or Ordain one of their own members to administer the ordinances in such a way as to each Church may seem proper.

In other words, don’t get into fights about the ordinances. If your minister doesn’t agree, he (women weren’t ordained yet) should invite another minister who does to fill in. Or you can “appoint or Ordain” a member to do it. Appoint suggests a lay role within a church. A friend once pointed out to me that the resolutions at this convention were never repealed or repudiated.

The other example came late before the 1961 consolidation with the Unitarians. By that point, the ministerial shortage had become acute. Universalists had long had licensure: originally a probationary year before ordination where a lay person could preach and pastor a church, but could not “administer Christian ordinances.” Licensure was also a way to induct ministers from other denominations, and later became a status in its own right. (I think the last of the Universalist licensed ministers lived into the 1990s, and the rule allowing for them was quietly removed shortly thereafter.) By no later than 1946, licensed ministers were permitted “to administer Christian ordinances” “with the approval of the Central Committee of Fellowship,” a concession to the ministerial shortage.

But it’s worth noting that in both cases, this is an extension of church authority to a lay person to meet a particular need. Which is to say, there is a solution where people do not have access to the sacraments, but not one that individuals can confect in the presence of an orderly church.

Which is not to make it entirely about the Universalists, of course. At least in the United States, and perhaps anywhere Protestant missionaries (foreign or domestic) served: a shortage of ministers and a can-do spirit tends to make exceptions, and consider new options. Distance (literal or social) from seats of power intensifies the process.

And what if there’s not an orderly process? In such cases, God provides and ecclesiastical authority yields.

Thou shalt neither…

Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Other translations

Like others who look to the Bible for a revelation of God’s character, and sure of God’s nature, which is Love, this is my witness: the migrant concentration camps cannot stand.

Christians ought to band with whomever seeks the just treatment of migrants and demand of civil authorities the immediate relief of all who suffer inhumane conditions (especially children and vulnerable adults) and a prompt investigation in the cause of this cruel and unnecessary crisis.

Your church options in the Antarctic

We had a bit of unexpected warm weather yesterday afternoon in Washington, D.C. but fear not for the cold weather is returning! Which made me think of very cold weather. As in polar.

More than a decade ago, I wrote about the churches of remote northern Greenland, so it’s only fair to go south. Fortunately, others have had the same idea. There are several churches and chapels in the Antarctic. Most are Catholic, two are Orthodox and one (American, in case you wondered, at McMurdo) is multi-faith.

This page reviews the chapels, in English, to plead for a chapel at the Italian base Terra Nova.

This page, in Spanish, has better photos. (“Las iglesias de la Antártida, las más meridionales del mundo.“)

All are fascinating in their own way, but the chapel at Belgrano II — well depicted at the second link — is made of ice and has a special beauty.

A summertime analogy for ministerial formation

Summer is at its peak. It’s hot. And for reasons outside your control, the otherwise-reliable power supply has been cut. No air conditioning, and since you don’t know when it’s going to come back (it will come back, right?) you don’t dare pillage the fridge, so to preserve the chilled food you have left.

What do you do to stay feeling cool? These make my list

  • keep the curtains closed when the sun is up
  • try to draw a breeze by opening two or more windows
  • keep meals light and cold, or at least uncooked
  • keep the lights out, even if modern lights don’t produce much heat any more
  • take frequent, light showers (or at least make good use of a damp wash cloth)
  • drink as much cold water as possible
  • air the bedclothes before sleeping
  • wear modern fibers, which wick sweat, dry quickly and minimize feeling sticky

Of these, all but the last was common in my grandparents’ day, and perhaps their grandparents’.

When we read about — heck, know — about highly educated (and deeply indebted) ministers who are unemployed or under-employed in church work, it’s not hard to sense that times are changing, and are very unlikely to return to the go-go days of postwar Protestantism. The power is going out: short stoppages now, but there may be a day when the grid fails completely. We need to prepare for this risk, and be grateful that we still have choices (if not always happy one) and that these are not fundamentally life and death issues.

And, looking back on that hot weather solutions list, I’d like us to consider the wisdom of an earlier time that faced some of the same problems and had to cope. Relying on a practical ministerial education more, say, than an academic model. Forming more parish yokes. Making ministerial fellowship more flexible for dip in and out of (better paying, one would hope) secular work. Revisiting credentialed lay ministry, an inheritance from the Universalists, was only formally laid down a few years ago. Not to mention making conference attendance and professional development less of a financial burden.

There is surely room for modern technology, but I bet we already know and have known the essential steps to making necessary changes. The will is another matter. Until then, the heat is on.

 

 

 

 

R&E Newsweekly: Expulsion of Iraqi Christians

It’s been a hard week in the news. Central American children in the borderlands. The deaths in Gaza. The Malaysian flight downing. Frightening news — let’s hope not all true — from ISIS/ISIL. You’d be forgiven for being overwhelmed.

But please spare a prayer for the Christian minority of Iraq, and particularly of Mosul
, an ancient community that’s been extirpated. Remember them, as they take refuge, mainly in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This interview on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly is of Syrian Catholic (that is, in union with Rome) Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan.

Unitarian worship resource for Union soldiers

This small 1865 American Unitarian Association assortment of rousing songs and Bible readings (arranged for unison or responsive reading, and with headings like “Those who turn from Holiness are condemned”) isn’t explicitly for Union soldiers, but songs like “Arise, New-England’s Sons!” and “The Massachusetts Line” weren’t likely to appeal to Johnny Reb.

The Soldier’s Companion: Dedicated to the Defenders of Their Country in the Field by Their Friends at Home.

Let's review: the British Orthodox Church

Certain churches (as in denominations) attract my attention as an observer. What I suppose each of them has in common in marginality: being on the edge of culture, the edge of a theological spectrum, the edge of extinction or the like. But that’s not to treat them like playthings. Something can be learned from people “on the edge” and particularly if their faith keeps them, not marginalized, but in the middle of things.

I put the British Orthodox Church, a small autonomous Oriental Orthodox jurisdiction under the Coptic OrthodoxPatriarch, of Alexandria, in parallel to the Coptic jurisdiciton in the UK. In its own words,

Our mission is to the people of the British Isles, and whilst being Orthodox in our faith and practice we remain British in our ethos with a deep appreciation of the Orthodox heritage of these islands.

I’m more interested in how they operate, and the ethos they bring to their work, than the specifics of their theology or liturgy. I wrote a bit about them in 2012:

And good news: the Windsor mission I wrote about then in ongoing with prayers once a month.