Modeling Liturgical Integrity in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition: All Saints, Margaret Street, London, England Easter Vigil, 19 April 2003

Article excerpt

In many churches, Sunday worship is a theological quiltwork. The presider chooses either a Reformation rite or a Liturgical Movement rite. The ceremonial is an amalgam of congregational tradition, current fashion, and what the celebrant learned during his or her curacy. The music director chooses hymns from Isaac Watts, John Keble, Frederick Kaan, and Graham Kendrick. Scripture readings are chosen from the ecumenical lectionary. The sermon incorporates middle-class morality, some Biblical criticism learned in seminary, and Henri Nouwen. If the result threatens to require more than seventy-five minutes, elements are pared. The worship plays out in a gothic revival building or a post-war modernist building which is too large for the congregation. Here is Anglican diversity in action. It sends worshipers a bewilderingjumble of messages about God.

By contrast, the anglo-catholic revival of the nineteenth century, once it gathered momentum, sought a thoroughgoing liturgical integrity by which ceremonial, architecture, music, preaching, and all other elements of worship would be conformed to a consistent theological vision. In later years, many churches calling themselves anglo-catholic lost this vision, and became museums for the preservation of elaborate ceremonial. But All Saints, Margaret Street, in London, one of the world's earliest anglo-catholic churches, continues to model liturgical integrity. At the Easter vigil mass of 2003, a visitor who usually makes his theological home elsewhere in the Anglican universe felt deeply drawn into and engaged by the profound wholeness liturgically ministered in this remarkable church.

All Saints was founded in the conviction that the practice of ministry should grow out of theological conviction and scholarship. Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880), a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and an early supporter of the catholic revival, saw the importance of trying the effect of tractarian principles upon a practical scale. In 1839 this almost stereotypical academic, short of stature, poor of eyesight, reticent, skilled in Latin, accepted an appointment as minister of a small proprietary chapel on Margaret Street, London, near Oxford Circus, in what was then a residential area.

Oakeley launched into radical changes at Margaret Chapel which predictably landed him in serious controversies with a few long-time members of his congregation and with his bishop. He began dismantling symbols of protestantism, such as the three-decker pulpit, and importing symbols of Catholicism, such as tall altar lights. He wore a surplice in the pulpit, and celebrated the eucharist facing east. He introduced Gregorian chant into Matins, with the help of his up-and-coming organist, a young tractarian friend named Richard Redhead (1820-1901). Today Oakeley is chiefly remembered as the translator of "Adeste fidèles", which he wrote for Margaret Chapel.

In the year that Oakeley went to London, a group of undergraduates at Cambridge formed a study group in church art and gothic architecture, which they called the Cambridge Camden Society. An early member was an ultra-tory, very leisured Victorian gentleman named Alexander Beresford Hope (1820-1887), the heir to a large business fortune. He would soon increase his social influence by marrying a daughter of the marquess of Salisbury and securing a seat in Parliament, and would devote his life and wealth to two great causes, the gothic revival of church architecture and the southern confederacy in America. In 1845 the Cambridge Camden Society was reorganized with the name Ecclesiological Society, and Beresford Hope became chairman. He determined to build a model church to show how well the gothic style would suit the modern English townscape. His eye fell on Margaret Chapel.

Oakeley had already begun to raise funds for a new church, but, hounded by his bishop, he became a Roman Catholic in 1845. Beresford Hope seized the initiative. He committed funds, gathered support, negotiated the purchase of the church, moved the proprietary chapel towards parish status (this required an order-in-council), and retained an architect associated with the Ecclesiological Society. …