As promised, this is the second in a series of truthful postings about what’s really been happening at S. Clement’s Church, Philadelphia. This particular truth deals with the slow elimination of the Anglo-Catholic Traditions long held at S. Clement’s, and how most have been dismissed without any replacement at hand. 

For those who perhaps are not familiar with S. Clement’s, a little history would be suitable (don’t worry; it’s just a summary). The church was built in 1859 as a very typical Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America (PECUSA) in a part of town that was in no way affluent (typical of Anglican churches which were usually established in the needy parts of cities and towns to minister to those who were in need). It was designed as a church typical for that time period – not really an altar, more of a table with no candlesticks, no crucifix, etc. This was the humble birth of S. Clement’s parish.

Little by little, the parish grew, as did the Oxford Movement in England, and caught up to the PECUSA, to Philadelphia, and to S. Clement’s Church. Little by little, the parish became higher and higher in its form of worship. First candles were placed on the table, then a crucifix, eventually, the sanctuary was expanded to fit a high altar, 6 candlesticks, tabernacle, crucifix, shrines, side altars, etc. (over time). The Cowley Fathers came to Philadelphia and took over the administration of the parish which eventually led through to the rectors of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s when S. Clement’s rose above the other Anglo-Catholic parishes as a diadem (Okay, so I’m using literary license, but it’s still true).

During the 70’s, and the rectorate of Fr. Hendricks, S. Clement’s saw the decline and ultimate decimation of Anglo-Catholic traditionalism. In response to the dictates of the church-at-large, a free-standing altar was placed in the main church and S. John’s Chapel, and the liturgy followed the more modern Book of Common Prayer. Truly, the church halls were full during these years, but not the masses themselves. People would spill into the parish hall on Sundays after mass from the nearby clubs to continue their partying into the afternoon rather than going home.

But, as prayers were answered, a new Rector was called to the parish, and S. Clement’s rose again like the Phoenix from the ashes, and dove deeper into her Anglo-Catholic traditions. Fr. Fitzhugh restored the missal and the traditional lectionary, as well as a regular Sunday evening service. The free-standing altars were taken away and the great traditions of Solemn High Mass and Low Mass were re-instituted. Fr. Laister restored the English Missal, and was a renowned spiritual director and confessor, organized regular parish retreats, and (with Fr. Swain as his curate) the only parish mission at S. Clement’s in modern times. Fr. Swain (as Rector) restored the full Western ceremonies, the silent Roman Canon, the traditional Holy Week, the Roman lessons for much of the year, and the Latin congregational creed, and he organized American Anglo-Catholicism’s millennium “Christ our Future” celebration at S. Clement’s. This was followed by an increased use of the Roman offices, including Vespers on Sundays, and all of the Hours at Christmas and for the Triduum, and the remainder of the Roman lessons.

And through these rectors, the pews at the services of S. Clement’s began to fill.

S. Clement’s had a full parish and liturgical life because it had a Gospel to preach, and everything else grew out of that. S. Clement’s was finally, once again, the hallmark of Anglo-Catholicism. People came to spend time there more than just Sunday mornings. There were weekday Guild masses as well as meetings of the different Guilds; there were large receptions on major feast days that entertained lots of visitors; major feast days were announced, and notices were sent out to people who had an interest in seeing what S. Clement’s had to offer at these times; there were parish dinners, and meetings of committees; there were Lenten activities throughout the season with Stations of the Cross and dinner on Fridays and Lenten talks and instructions. There was a Christmas bazaar and a summer parish picnic, quiet days of reflection and introspection in Lent and Advent for preparation. There were two masses daily, every day. S. Clement’s even volunteered at a soup kitchen once a month – a reflection of times past when S. Clement’s ran a hospital, a hostel for women, and other supports of the community.

The parish had a busy and fulfilling life, and people came because there was something to come to; a use to be had, and a Gospel to be preached. And most importantly, S. Clement’s was at its strongest in holding fast to the liturgy that was “stuffy,” “antiquated,” and a “museum” (as some have called it). Rather than people being turned off by the beauty of the ancient traditions, they were coming to see them, and experience them.

When the current Rector, Canon W. Gordon Reid, was called to S. Clement’s in August of 2003, he swore to defend, uphold, and protect the Anglo-Catholic traditions the parish so dearly treasured and for so long fought. He called to him a curate who was impeccable in qualifications, staunch in the Anglo-Catholic traditions, and eager to learn what he could of the ceremony at S. Clement’s. By Corpus Christi of 2007, the pews were full, and because, for so long, many people wanted to see what a Corpus Christi mass looked like at S. Clement’s, even though they were too far away to attend, a DVD was created, having been recorded live during the mass.

But even by that time, things were changing. The second daily mass had been cancelled Mondays through Saturdays (only kept on Sundays), even though there were enough priests to say those masses (including a Curate and an Honorary Assistant Priest). And over the next couple of years, even with the presence of that Curate and Assistant Priest in residence, our traditions began to disappear for no reason.

By 2008, our Curate was gone, having been called to be the Rector of his own parish, and by early 2011, our Assistant Priest (one who dearly loved just being at S. Clement’s and being part of our traditions) had passed away, having been continuously marginalized by the Rector for his adherence to the catholic faith. There were no more Guild meetings or masses, quiet days of Advent and Lent were never scheduled, and everything else was either cancelled or just deleted from the schedules. The only services retained through this period were Stations of the Cross and Benediction on Fridays during Lent, and Sunday Vespers. That is, until recently, when the Rector saw fit to cancel Sunday Vespers for no other reason than as retaliation against a Vestry which remained vigilant in their fiduciary responsibilities. His reason publicly (on his personal blog) stated that it was merely because there was lack of attendance, even though there were always some people sitting in the pews. It reminded me of the article in the Philadelphia Inquirer in a previous year about the Low Mass (also known as the “Shepherd’s Mass”) on Christmas morning (S. Clement’s being one of the very few churches that still hold it). In the article, the Rector was quoted as saying, “We would continue to do this, even if only one person came.”

If the Rector had never made promises at the time of his selection, this blog entry would never have been written. But the issue remains that he swore and promised to uphold these traditions to the search committee and to the vestry. His direct quotes from the minutes of the 2003 meeting of the search committee: “My heart is with the Tridentine Mass.” English Orthodoxy with its very ancient liturgy is growing,” (when discussing the liturgy at S. Clement’s). Most revealing from the minutes, when discussing the Daily Office, “Father does not mind if it is Evensong or Vespers as long as it is done.” And finally, regarding his priestly duties of care of the sick, “The parish is widespread, and he believes in taking the Blessed Sacrament to the sick.” Sadly, he has not continued with visitations either.

And now we see a parish which was once rich and vibrant with parochial life waning and spiritually starving, and only offering the absolute bare minimum of Sunday Low Mass and High Mass, and weekday Low Mass Mondays through Saturdays, said Evensong Mondays through Fridays, and a “perpetual novena” which is no longer even said on Sundays anymore at the Shrine of Our Lady of Clemency.

The next truth to be unveiled: How a Vestry and Parish can have their Voice stolen from them.

To be continued…