Worship at St. Athanasius   1 comment

In 1887 a hearty band of American sons and daughters of the English Reformation finished a project that had held their hearts for the previous eleven years — the construction of a cruciform chapel to serve as the center of their communal service to the Lord.  Constructed of virgin East Texas pine, beams and furniture hand-worked (there were no electric power tools in those days, because electricity would not be commercially available for another 30 years), and designed as the locus of parish worship in the tradition of the English Church, the Chapel has fulfilled its original purpose for over eight generations of Waxahachie Anglicans. Today, the Francesca Chapel (named after a nine-year old girl whose Christian worship, from her baptism to her final communion two weeks before she died, flourished within its walls)  continues as the venue of Protestant faith and worship in the tradition of the English Church.  The photographs on this page provide a glimpse of that faith and worship as it has continued for over 125 years.

The windows inside the Chapel are the most prominent features of the interior during the daytime.  No one today knows how the Chapel was lighted before it was electrified in the 1920s, but it is clear from the size and transparency of the windows that daylight was the sole form of illumination during the day!

The original windows were designed with lower sashes which could slide upwards, allowing fresh air to circulate across the nave during hot summer days.  In the late 1980s, vandals shot out many panes in every window.  Parish families and individuals dontated funds to restore the windows.  Plaques alongside every window name the benefactor and the ones in whose memory the restoration was completed.

The oldest items in the Chapel are the pews.  They were hand-crafted from virgin East Texas pine in Jefferson, Texas, then carried by ox cart to Dallas where they were deployed in the first Episcopal missionary diocese of Dallas.  Twenty years later, when the Chapel was completed, these pews had been replaced by newer pews in the Dallas Cathedral, and so they were donated to the new missionary parish in Waxahachie.  The tops of these pews are deeply distressed with gouges and scratches from many decades of rings, belt buckles, and children’s teething.  They have been in continuous use for over 140 years.

The hymn board, pulpit, prayer desk, and altar were built by the first priest of the parish and have served the worshipers in the Chapel ever since they were first put into service.  The origin and date of the removable numbers and labels are lost to parish memory, but their condition is so obviously aged that one is tempted to guess they may go all the way back to the beginning of the parish.

The altar hangings were sewn by a skilled parishioner, Mrs. Anita Davis, in the 1970s, providing the altar with coverings for green, red, purple, and white seasons of the church calendar year.  The tabernacle was constructed by a deacon from First Baptist Church from Texas pecan, while the brass and copper door is recycled from the wall aumbry of a decommissioned church.

The tabernacle contains the reserved sacrament  — bread consecrated for use in the Eucharist and held in reserve for distribution to shut-ins or for use in a Deacon’s Mass.  Here a close-up shows the detail of its exterior: pine beadboard which has first been coated with several applications of oil-based red paint, then gold-leafed by Fr. Bill, the first vicar of St. Athanasius Anglican Church, finally sealed with several coats of high-gloss polyurethane.

Sanctuary lamps date from the Israelite tabernacle in the wilderness, where they burned inside the Holy Place before the Presence of the Lord behind the veil which masked the Holy of Holies.  In Christian churches, a sanctuary lamp alerts those who enter the sanctuary that consecrated bread is present in the vicinity of the altar (ordinarily, in the tabernacle), so that the Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated bread now corresponds the Shekinah in the Old Testament tabernacle and Temple.

After a call to worship, the service at St. Athanasius begins with a hymn chosen from the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal, one of the finest collections of congregational hymns drawn from almost every single century of Church history.  On the wall in the background is one of 14 plaques that adorn the walls of the nave, made by a Waxahachie High School student in 1938 when he was dating the Episcopal priest’s daughter.

The altar as it is prepared for the beginning of worship during the long Trinity season of the church calendar.  In the foreground, a chasuble — a vestment worn by the priest during the celebration of the Eucharist — is draped over the communion rail, awaiting the time when the priest dons the vestment.  Centered on the altar is a brass table censer from which incense will rise during the Prayers of the People later in the service.

The first half of the worship service is the Order for Morning Prayer, a Prayerbook service which may be read by any Anglican layman.  At St. Athanasius parish, it is read by a Deacon or a licensed lector.  Here, Lector Ian directs the congregation in the first part of the service, a confession of sin, followed by an absolution by Fr. Bill.

In addition to hymns from the Hymnal, the congregation sings Psalms from the Old Testament and other portions of Scripture (called Canticles) to Anglican chant tunes.  Here, Fr. Bill sings the Psalm appointed for that Sunday along with the congregation.

During Morning Prayer, the congregation hears portions of Scripture (called “lessons”) read from the Old Testament, New Testament Epistles, and one of the four Gospels.  Here, Lector Stuart reads one of the lessons appointed for that Sunday by the Revised Common Lectionary, a three-year cycle of readings for all Sundays and for all feasts and fasts during the Church calendar.

A hymn “brackets” the reading of the Gospel, the first verse sung before the Gospel is read, the remaining verses after the reading of the Gospel.  Here, parishioner Kate sings with the congregation.  Her mother Lisa in the background is the parish organist.

The Gospel assigned for each Sunday is customarily read from from a location near the center of the nave, to symbolize the word of Christ in the midst of His people.  The Gospel is the last portion of Scripture to be read before the homily is delivered by the priest, and the subject of the homily is usually taken from the Gospel reading.

While the Gospel is being read, all congregants turn and face the reader.  Here, parishioner Sam faces back toward the center of the nave while the Gospel is being read, even though he is standing near the front of hte nave.

After the Gospel reading and while the remaining verses of the Gospel hymn are being sung, Fr. Bill ignites the coal in the table censer.  This coal will be fully burning by the end of his homily, ready for the application of incense at the beginning of the Prayers of the People.

After lighting the censer coal, Fr. Bill takes his place at the pulpit from which he will deliver the homily.  Here he joins the congregation in singing the last verse of the Gospel hymn, using a magnifying glass to read the tiny print in the compact version of the Hymnal.

A worship service at St. Athanasius is always a ministry of the Word and Sacrament.  The ministry of the Word, begun by singing Scripture, and hearing three portions of Scripture read, reaches a climax with the homily, based on the Gospel, the last of the Scripture passages read earlier.  Following the homily, the congregation responds by confessing its faith in a recitation of the Creed and the offering of the Prayers of the People.

Resuming his leadership of the Order of Service for Morning Prayer, Lector Ian leads the congregation in the first of its responses to the ministry of the Word, a corporate confession of faith using either the Nicene or Apostles’ Creeds.

Prior to leading the congregation in the Prayers of the People, Lector Ian lays incense atop the glowing charcoal in the table censer.

While Ian leads the congregation in The Prayers, incense rises from the censer on the altar.  The offering of incense during prayer originates with the altar of incense in the wilderness Tabernacle.  The altar of incense is also found in the Temple down to the time of Jesus (Luke 1:9-11). The offering of incense during the prayers at St. Athanasius fulfills the prophecy concerning the days of Messiah in Malachi 1:11  —  “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall begreat among the Gentiles. In every place, incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering.  For My name shall be great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts. “

After the Prayers of the People are concluded, Fr. Bill extinguishes the censer coal while an offering is collected from the congregation.

Acolyte Benjamin assists Fr. Bill as he removes the censer from the altar and prepares it for the beginning of the Eucharist.

Now wearing the chasuble, Fr. Bill commences the Prayer of Consecration before distributing the bread and wine to the congregation.  His hands uplifted in prayer is a posutre that dates from the worship of the Old Testament and appears in catacomb paintings from the earliest days of the Christian faith.

Attendees at the ordination of Fr. Bill to the priesthood receive bread and wine from Bishop Parlotz and Archdeacon Garrett.  The custom of receiving the bread and cup in this way is described by St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the Fourth Century.

After the Eucharist is completed, Fr. Bill and the congregation sing Gloria In Excelsis Deo before departing the sanctuary as the recessional hymn is sung.

For over 120 years, the Francesca Chapel has served as the venue for worship as it took shape in the first three centuries of the Church, and matured in the Western Church in England, down through the English Reformation and the first English Prayer Book in 1549.  The Chapel has seen the use of four American Prayer Books — the one authorized in 1789, 1892, 1928, and 1979.  St. Athanasius Parish uses the liturgy of the 1928 American Prayer Book for its worship.


Posted July 23, 2011 by Fr. Bill

One response to “Worship at St. Athanasius

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  1. Oh memories! I can’t wait to come see everyone again! Great pictures!

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