“Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!” (Psalm 96:6) That line from yesterday’s Morning Prayer lectionary was still in my mind and heart as I hiked up Mt. St. Alban through the brisk morning air in the nation’s capital. In town for a series of different meetings, I had decided to get to the 11 a.m. Eucharist at our National Cathedral, a favorite place of mine for many years.
Seeing the magnificent, white towers framed by a bright blue sky is always a thrill to me. The founding concept of “a great church for national purposes” speaking truth to power, from hill to hill, in Washington — while not always realized — seems a noble mission for the Diocese of Washington and for the Episcopal Church. The huge nave was comfortably filled with many hunreds of the faithful, the music was splendid (but quite participatory; not a concert), and the “new” Dean preached a thoughtful sermon, taking on the complex theme of the Gospel for the day — “why bad things happen to good people,” theodicy, justifying the ways of God to humankind.
In the ecumenical movement, we sometimes speak of “ecclesial density.” Does this particular denomination or Christian communion have “ecclesial density,” meaning the size, the history, a cogent theological rationale, faithful communicants, and such other things that make it a church to be reckoned with, a church to be taken seriously as a church in the worldwide ecumenical scene.
When I visit our cathedrals such as this one in Washington or Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, historic parishes such as St. Michael’s and St. George’s in St. Louis, Trinity Church in New Orleans, or indeed countless large and small congregations across the Episcopal Church, I am reassured that we have such “ecclesial density,” that we are indeed “a church to be reckoned with.”
Despite our difficulties — and they are many — I am encouraged and renewed by the fact that such congregations are filled with solid, faithful Christians who seek nothing more, Sunday by Sunday and day by day, than to worship Almighty God, bear witness to our Savior Jesus Christ, and participate in God’s mission in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit.
What else would you want a church to be?