It's a lovely little nave, decorated in excellent taste -- as simple as Anglo-Catholicism allows, with dark wood furniture highlit by plain white walls and ceilings, small and lovely stained-glass windows, a few decently-written icons, and the cloying brasswork kept to a bare minimum.
On our last visit, many years ago, the rector had been a stuffy old man who preached a sermon the mediocrity of which was mitigated only by occasional interjections of intense social conservatism. During coffee hour, we overheard the old duffer sharing some historical tidbits with the altar boy, all about dogs and cats sleeping in the roofs of thatched medieval cottages -- a series of utter falsehoods which we recognized from one of those asinine chain emails that right-winger share with each other and believe because they trust each other, regardless of the facts.
We hadn't felt the need to return. We've got a church up that way, at least in the summer time.
But we're glad we went back on an early-winter Sunday. The new rector is a conspicuously young man, no less genial than his predecessor and seemingly less prone to sharing either political opinions or false history. Although the shade of Austin Farrer need not look to its homiletic laurels just yet, his sermon was earnest and sincere. We liked the guy, and pray that he will enjoy many happy years in his post.
This being the start of Advent, the liturgy had been adapted nicely. The Great Litany was sung in place of the Introit, Kyrie and Gloria. (We enjoy singing the Litany, and wish that it were more common.) The clutter on the altar had been reduced, although it was still more than ample. A brief Marian devotion followed the dismissal. The paraments and vestment were a simple and elegant matched set, hand-stitched by a member, indigo trimmed with violet. Because the chasuble was quite full, our pew-companion did not even see the maniple, but we certainly did. We notice the little things.
And indeed, we couldn't help but notice a couple of very,very little things. Minuscule things -- and just the sort you aren't supposed to notice in worship, because they distract you.
The rector was wearing gray slacks. Or maybe brown. Anyway, they contrasted sharply with the cassock that was hanging down under his alb, and we couldn't help staring at them. And that, friends, is why your cassock should hang to the tops of your shoes -- and if you don't wear a cassock, then your alb should reach the shoe-tops. So that you can wear any damn pants you want, or no pants at all, and nonetheless attract no attention whatsoever to yourself.
The rector was also wearing a wristwatch. And not one of those dinky jobs that they used to call watches during the 20th century, with their 35 millimeter cases and 16 millimeter straps. No, Father was wearing a typical contemporary sports watch, roughly half a pound of stainless steel, 47 mm or more across, with a solid-link bracelet. You couldn't help but notice it; they probably noticed it on Mars, too.
Which is why, dear brothers and sisters, there is a loooong-standing custom of removing your jewelry when you lead worship. Unless it is a bishop's cross or a wedding ring or some other testimony of a particular religious vocation, your watch (or ring, or necklace, or earring) cannot help but draw attention to your person, and therefore away from your message. (Cf. Kavanagh, Elements, p. 62. Luther D. Reed made a particular point about removing expensive fountain-pens, something which has always confused us a little. Did mid-century surplices have pen pockets?)
Anyway, we don't mean to rag on our new friend. He sings beautifully, preaches ably, and presides with grace and elegance. We're just surprised that somebody with such a clear commitment to highly, even self-consciously, traditional worship would miss these basic preparations. Doesn't Nashotah House teach these things?
Then again, it is a dismal reflection upon our own spiritual life that, long after we have forgotten the guy's sermon, we will remember his pants.