April 10, 2012

Public Liturgy

I spent Holy Week in the Diocese of Chicago trailing my good friend Dent Davidson, Missioner for Arts and Liturgy. Most of the week we participated with the people of All Saints, Chicago, in the unfolding mysteries of the walk to the cross and the surprise of the open tomb. It was great to be with the folks of All Saints and their rector Bonnie Perry.

But I have to say the most moving liturgy of the week was CrossWalk, a procession through Chicago city streets sponsored by Jeff Lee, the Episcopal Bishop of Chicago, to call attention to the tragic loss of life resulting from the 640 murders of the city’s children since 2008. The service began at St. James’ Episcopal Cathedral near the famous Water Tower and proceeded to Daley Plaza at the heart of the Loop. On the plaza 2000 people made public witness to their resistance to violence and solidarity with the families of the victims. The procession made two more stops: at a Roman Catholic Church and a public hospital where many of the victims died.

News media covered the entire march. Two TV station helicopters captured the long line of participants as its snaked its way through the Loop at rush hour. Both Bishop Lee and Cardinal George were interviewed on all four local news programs and the paper published a well written report the next morning. Bishop Lee put it succinctly, “We want this to be the beginning of a movement.”

While the movement he envisions is against violence, CrossWalk inspired in me the hopes of another movement for more public liturgies. The Episcopal Church carries within its tradition all the tools necessary for great civic drama. Chants, banners, themes, processions, dramatic readings, great speeches have always been central to our worship life. Too bad we leave it inside so much of the time.

The Diocese of Chicago supported another public liturgy at the beginning of Lent that makes a perfect bookend to the CrossWalk procession. Ashes-to-Go stationed priests outside of public transit stops offering the imposition of ashes to passersby. A number of churches in my own Diocese of Olympia did the same and I am sure this practice is catching on in many places - simple, direct, accessible liturgy in the public square brought to you by the Episcopal Church.

CrossWalk had the highest attendance of any Holy Week liturgy in the Diocese of Chicago, beating even the numbers that packed the cathedral on Easter morning. In his Easter sermon, Bishop Lee said, “in CrossWalk, we took our faith to the streets because we believe Christ is not sealed up in the tomb but out there among us in the world, even the mean streets of Chicago. The Crucified One is not in the tomb but in you and in the world. Go find him there. He is waiting to meet you.” The good bishop is right; the time has come for the Episcopal Church to take it to the streets.

More CrossWalk photos.