Celebrate The Whole Of It!

I spent several days last week visiting the Community of Celebration in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania (See http://www.communityofcelebration.com).  I serve as Bishop Visitor (a kind of official adviser) to the Community and have for many years. My relationship with them actually goes back decades.

When charismatic renewal swept the mainline churches back in the 1970s, my home Diocese of Central Florida was deeply affected. Our bishop, William H. Folwell, was quite supportive of the movement which he saw as opening some doors and windows in what had been a basically conservative and pretty Anglo Catholic diocese.

Many of us were part of prayer groups and Bible study groups, explored the ministry of healing and deliverance, and prayed in tongues (often privately due to the lack of an “interpreter!”). Mostly we became comfortable sharing our faith, praying easily and extemporaneously (no small feat for Episcopalians!), and singing “renewal music” some examples of which was better than others it must be said.

Some of the best came from the Celebration Community and their traveling music group, The Fisherfolk, out of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston. This community was led by Graham and Betty Pulkingham and consisted of extended “household” made up of single folks and married people with children who, in early church fashion, shared all things in common and celebrated all of their Christian lives lived in community.

As things developed the Community grew and spent some time in the south of England as well as later on in Scotland. They wrote music, sold tapes and later CDs, traveled and led worship in countless venues across the church. Eventually, they were invited by the Bishop of Pittsburgh to move to Aliquippa which was a devastated, rust-belt community ravaged by the collapse of the steel industry and filled with racial and economic tensions.

One of the things that characterized their musical offerings and set them apart from so many of those in the renewal movement was that most of it was designed for worship, and Eucharistic worship at that! There are songs and hymns, yes, but also Mass settings, psalm antiphons and chants, seasonal music to enhance the church years from Advent to Pentecost. Almost no one else did this…or did it as beautifully.

The Community of Celebration’s vocation in Pittsburgh was to “incarnate” themselves into this urban neighborhood and become a praying and singing and witnessing presence seeking to bring the love of Christ to people who desperately needed to experience it. They purchased a bank of row houses both to live in themselves and to provide affordable housing to others.

When they were told that they shouldn’t put potted plants on the porches because they would be stolen, they lavished such beauty on their porches, planted beautiful gardens on their property, and rejoiced as plants appeared on other porches and the neighborhood slowly began to take pride in itself again.

Over the years, they have joined community organizations for the improvement of the area and supported the Common Grounds Cafe which has become a safe haven for poor and young people of all races and backgrounds. Priests of the Community have also served as chaplains to the police and fire departments, Civil Air Patrol, and even the F.B.I. !  Most importantly, they built a beautiful chapel in which Morning, Noonday, and Evening Prayers are offered everyday and a Vigil Mass on Saturday nights followed by a common meal to which all are invited.

Like so many intentional religious communities and the charismatic movement itself (at least in this country), Celebration has declined in membership from scores to only five professed members, but they are strengthened by many official Companions and unofficial friends of the Community throughout the U.S. and the U.K.  And they continue to make solid contributions to Aliquippa and are clear-eyed in their determination to make plans for the ministry to continue even after they are no longer able to carry it out.

I am proud of my association with this faithful band of brothers and sisters and rejoice to sing with them their “Celebration Song:”

For our life together, we celebrate/ Life that lasts forever, we celebrate/ For the joy and for the sorrow,/ yesterday, today tomorrow, we celebrate/. For your great creation, we celebrate/ for our own salvation, we celebrate/. For the sun and for the rain/ through the joy and through the pain, we celebrate/. Ah! There’s the celebration/ Ah! There’s the celebration!/ Celebrate the whole of it!!! (C-213, Come Celebrate! songbook)

Indeed!

 

 

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