For liturgical churches there are very few Sundays more meaningful than the First Sunday of Advent. It is New Year’s Day for the church, a day to look forward to some excitement ahead but more importantly it marks the beginning of a time of reflection, prayer, discernment and deepening of our commitment to faith. The symbolic imagery of the lighting of one candle each Sunday in Advent prior to lighting the fifth candle usually located in the centre of the Advent wreath on Christmas Eve is one of the most meaningful and beautiful rituals of the Church.
The Parish of St. Anselm’s located across from the University Golf Course at the entrance to the University of British Columbia Endowment Lands is a community of disciples of Jesus Christ who are devoted to their community, their faith and in recent years have contributed to the life of their neighbourhood and the ministry of the diocese through intentional dedication to their baptismal vows particularly the most recent addition, striving “ to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth.”
St. Anselm’s is also a parish that is devoted to welcoming the seeker. The Advent I order of service bulletin contained detailed marginal notes providing context for each component of the Eucharist. Prior to worship, priest-in-charge, the Reverend Alex Wilson spent about 10 minutes introducing the liturgy to those who had gathered and he also organized (with the assistance of Director of Music, Tian Ip) a brief rehearsal of the setting of the Kyrie that they would be using for Advent worship. Rev. Wilson also encouraged worshippers to sing out with a full voice and to understand that St. Anselm’s is a community of prayer. Prayer is at the centre of the worship. He said that there could be pauses and silences which may produce discomfort, however, silences are appropriate and most conducive to worship as times of silence are often those times when we connect with God.
The Reverend Alex Wilson’s homily delivered without notes was about understanding and accepting the busyness of the Advent season, enjoying it, but understanding that although every year we might like to have “the perfect Christmas” that isn’t going to happen. The key to putting the season in perspective is found in the Gospel of Matthew and the realization that we “must be ready.” For God comes to the world in the person of Jesus Christ not to fix the world but to learn about us, to love us, to be in relationship with us. God is also preparing for us, preparing to meet us in the manger. Being human is a mess, “nothing about being human is clean, tidy and neat…we are here to contemplate, to prepare and to pray, to pray and pray.”
To help prepare, Reverend Wilson assembled an Advent devotional book titled, “Interrupted by Hope” that was distributed to the community that morning. It is a 46 page booklet with printed offices to be used to guide prayer twice a day beginning with Morning Prayer, November 29 and concluding with Evening Prayer December 22.
He concluded his homily by saying that it is good to embrace the modern manifestation of Christmas but we also need “to take a seat” and relax as we enjoy the mystery of this time,” always celebrating the incarnation in our midst”. We will never understand the depths and the mystery of God’s love and Advent presents an opportunity to move toward that understanding. “God is calling, come and meet God in the manger.”
The St. Anselm's Choir and Director of Music, Tian Ip led the music in worship opening with "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and concluding with "There's a Voice in the Wilderness". Prior to the Eucharist there was a treat as the seven choristers with Ms. Ip at the piano offered the anthem, Ruth Elaine Schramm's "An Invitation for Advent".
Prior to the dismissal, warden Peg Gabor had an important announcement to share from the Office of the Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster, the Right Reverend Melissa Skelton;
After consulting with the wardens and Archdeacon Stephens, the Bishop is pleased to extend her appointment of Rev. Alexander Wilson as Full Time Priest-in-Charge, Vicar, of St Anselms until Spring 2019. The parish will cease their canonical process as they welcome Rev. Alex's continuation as pastor, priest, and teacher in their midst. Rev. Alex will continue his work of visioning, sacrament, and building community with you in the weeks ahead. His appointment extension begins January 1, 2017. Please continue to pray for him and the people of St. Anselm's."
Congratulations to the people of St. Anselm's and to the Reverend Alex Wilson ordained leader of their shared ministry together, definitely a great way to start the new year, the liturgical new year and the calendar new year.