Saturday, August 1, 2009

Marion Hatchett on Historic Voyage

Marion Hatchett was my only liturgics professor at Sewanee. Prof. Hatchett's teaching style was lean and mean. He gave us the basics of the 1979 BCP along with the reasons and histories behind those basics. Cradle Episcopalians had the hardest time with Prof. Hatchett because they had to work through the imprinting of years of bad liturgies. I say "histories" because he encouraged us to know as much about Hippolytus as we did about the revision committees who nursed the "new prayer book" into being. He understood them as members in a single voyage with Cranmer and others.  

He taught this once Southern Baptist boy that even written prayers, including those suffering bad translations, like the Lord's Prayer did more for me than I did for God in praying them. He taught me that much of what Jesus sought to reform in that warped practice of Torah he encountered from the hands of the Pharisees and the Temple authorities was largely bad liturgy. He taught me that Prayer Book reform at its best was a Christian practice of good Torah, as if the word was more verb than noun, as if HOW we remembered and passed on our story was as important as WHAT we passed along. Marion was the householder who brought out what was old and what was new.

So seeing the "swamp fox" quoted by Susan Russell was a gift, especially after having been one of hundreds who were praying for Marion's dwindling health as recently as this past spring. The commentary of his she quoted made a unity for me out of what were decades of ideas, thoughts and lingering questions strung together. Good Torah like good Christian liturgy and by association good Episcopal canonical practice requires an honesty about necessity that avoids simply maintaining the status quo, especially when that maintenance fails to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to include the outcast.

Now, the Marion I know would not brag but he also would not be bullied or let himself be dismissed by pious ones claiming "orthodoxy" as theirs or othrs crying " Jesus said" or "the authority of scripture" as first defenses against scrutiny or question. Like he did in class so many times and just like he is doing in this short entry he has defended a historical/liturgical practice of openness and honesty. His calling us the 'flagship" says more about our risk taking in the face of necessity than it does about our presuming to be the first or always justified when we do something others have not. Thank you Susan and thank you Marion for remembering for us our history of making a way for Anglicanism to go where previous of her sailors have not yet gone.

By Dr. Marion Hatchett in the GTS Alumni Magazine, Summer 2009

The American Church jumped way out ahead of the Church of England and other sister churches in a number of respects. One was in giving voice to priests and deacons and to laity (as well as bishops and secular government officials) in the governance of the national church and of dioceses and of parishes. The early American Church revised the Prayer Book in a way that went far beyond revisions necessitated by the new independence of the states.

At its beginning the American Church legalized the use of hymnody along with metrical psalmody more than a generation before use of "hymns of human composure" became legal in the Church of England. At an early stage the American Church gave recognition to critical biblical scholarship.

The American Church eventually gave a place to women in various aspects of the life of the church including its ordained ministry. The American Church began to speak out against discrimination against those of same-sex orientation, and the American Church began to make moves in establishing full communion with other branches of Christendom.

Historically the American Church has been the flag-ship in the Anglican armada. It has been first among the provinces of the Anglican Communion to take forward steps on issue after issue, and on some of those issues other provinces of Anglicanism have eventually fallen in line behind the American Church. My prayer is that the American Church will be able to retain its self-esteem and to stand firm and resist some current movements which seem to me to be contrary to the principles of historic Anglicanism and to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

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