Celebrate The Whole of It, Part Two

Since returning from my visit to the Community of Celebration which I wrote about in this blog on August 16 (“Celebrate The Whole of It!”), I have spent some time re-reading some of the literature covering the birth, growth, and development of this modern-day religious community. That would include two books by the founder, The Rev. Graham Pulkingham, Gathered For Power and They Left Their Nets which describe the early days of charismatic renewal at the Church of the Redeemer in Houston and the community which began to develop out of that movement.

The third book was This Is My Story, This Is My Song by Graham’s wife, composer and musician Betty Pulkingham, providing her perspective on those years as did community member Maggue Durran in her The Wind At the Door documenting their time in England and Scotland. The final book I read was a fine summary of their whole history up to the present day. It is called Following The Spirit by an English priest, Philip Bradshaw. He and his wife Margaret are still members of the Community of Celebration and live in London, keeping the community’s witness alive in the U.K.

This history, covering nearly half a century, reminds me of some my own, being introduced to the charismatic movement in the late 1960s and early ’70s, continuing to grow spiritually and thereby shedding some of the more fundamentalist tendencies which accrued to the movement (though not so much the Community of Celebration) but always appreciating the renewed worship, disciplined prayer life, and the family and community-centered emphasis of this band of pilgrims.

I experienced their music first in the Diocese of Central Florida and later invited them to lead the worship at a diocesan convention and conduct missions in the Diocese of Iowa while I was bishop here. I kept up with them over the years and some fifteen years ago was asked to serve as their Bishop Visitor now that the community was based in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania being a praying, witnessing, and prophetic community in the heart of this rust-belt former steel town and assisting in its restoration and re-birth.

Like many monastic and religious communities, Celebration has seen declining numbers in recent years. They no longer expect a restoration of their community life as it once was, but have begun making plans to transfer the work to others in Aliquippa after they are no longer able to keep things going. For the present, they still work hard, worship together three times day and in a joyous Saturday evening Eucharist in their beautiful little chapel. They continue a ministry of hospitality and are involved in the neighborhood, the diocese, and even the national Episcopal Church.

I believe their contribution to the liturgical life of the Episcopal Church is often under-appreciated or even unknown. They were ahead of the times in liturgical renewal, involving lay persons as well as clergy in worship leadership, experimenting with contemporary language and music but always within the structure of the Eucharistic liturgies and the Daily Offices. Without groups like The Fisherfolk (their traveling music  group’s name) I do not believe there would be musical resources like Wonder, Love, and Praise, Lift Every Voice or even supplemental liturgical texts such as Enriching Our Worship in the Episcopal Church.

One need only look at the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church to see music (“Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord” and “I Am The Bread Of Life”) and even service music like S-247, a setting for the Magnificat) written or arranged by Betty Pulkingham. There are beautiful ballads by Wiley Beveridge and Psalm tones by Kevin Hackett still being used Sunday by Sunday in the U.K. and here.

They were on the cutting edge, but always occupied a position Richard Rohr calls today  being “on the outside of the inside,” fully recognized as congregations or communities in the Anglican Communion, but pushing the boundaries in helpful and challenging ways.

I am grateful this day for the Community of Celebration’s witness in my own life and in the life of the wider Church.

One Response to “Celebrate The Whole of It, Part Two”

  1. Caroline Laubheimer Says:

    Ditto to you.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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