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Easter Day at St. Aidan’s: Bolinas, California (AEH 92-1)

1 Mar 2023 12:00 AM | HSEC Director of Operations (Administrator)

Download reviewSt. Aidans, Bolinas, is not easy to nd. If you are driving north from the Golden Gate Bridge on California Highway 1, Bolinas is on a side road to the left, but the turn is unmarked. They say the highway department has put up signs, but the locals have taken them down. That tells you something. If you know your way and nd the correct turn, you will come in a few miles to a weather-beaten village such as you might nd along the New England coast on Cape Cod or in Maine. Theres a pro- duce store on the main street and another one hidden behind it where you will nd products not easily available in your neighborhood super- store such as agave ber wash for clothes, organic cake cones, and Japanese sweet potatoes.

St. Aidans is on a side street and not well marked. It sits well back from the street behind a trellised lychgate. Looking as weather beaten as most of the other stores and houses in town, you might think it had been there forever, but in fact it was erected less than fty years ago and consecrated by Bishop James A. Pike. It retains something of the questioning, eccentric avor associated with that bishop.

At 9:50 a.m., on a shining Easter Day, the church, once found, stood open and welcoming. Only four or ve of the forty seats were occupied, and the vicar, fully vested, stood in the aisle chatting with parishioners and welcoming new arrivals. A woman wandered down to the front left, sat down at the piano, poked at a few keys, and left again. More people arrived. When it was 10:00 a.m., the vicar said, Good morning! and Welcome! and announced that we would begin by singing The Light of Christ three times on successively higher notes while she held a short, thick, lighted candle, and we did. She also announced an opening hymn, but the pianist had disappeared. The vicar walked back to the front door looking for the pianist, who returned, sat at the piano, and gave us a belated prelude before accompanying the opening hymn, Jesus Christ is risn today. All but two or three of the forty seats were now lled and the singing was hearty.

Lychgate at St. Aidan’s Church, Bolinas, California

The lychgate at St. Aidans Church, Bolinas, California
(photo by the author; re-printed by permission).

Light from the east window created a cross-shaped pattern on the west (liturgical east) wall of the church behind the altar and moved slowly to the right until it briey aligned with the cross on the wall behind the altar before moving on. The voices of children playing in a small tree outside the open front door could be heard.

The Gloria was sung to a simple and familiar tune, and the vicar then called on the congregation to say the Collect of the Day in unison. A member of the congregation went to the lectern and read the Hebrew Bible lesson from the Prophet Isaiah. Another member, in the front row, then stood and explained how the psalm verses were to be said antiphonally and assured us, Youll gure it out. After that, the Epistle was read from the lectern. Hymn 199, Come, ye faithful, raise the strain, was sung and the gospel was read by the vicar.

All then sat, including the vicar who was presiding from a plain wooden chair placed directly in front of the altar. The sermon, delivered without notes, wandered around a number of subjects Buddhist meditation, science, life in general raising questions that were not always answered, but, as they say, It gave us a lot to think about. One sentence that stuck in this listeners mind was, The church wants us to believe that love has triumphed, but we know better. Resurrection was questioned – though strongly afrmed in the liturgy and life was proclaimed.

The usual practice following the sermon at St Aidans is to pass a simple wooden cross from hand to hand around the congregation and each holder in turn is invited to make some comments about the sermon. In the usual congregation of twenty or so, thats feasible. For an Easter congregation nearer forty, we were gratied to hear that it would be omitted. Instead, we moved directly to the Nicene Creed and a peremptory intercessory prayer was led by a lay reader. (Peremptory in that it told God what to do rather than asking God to do it: Forgive us and all people, Bring your peace to the world, Guide Christians everywhere, Reassure those who are troubled by doubts  ) The petitions built on various resurrection appearances to invoke Gods blessing as appropriate. The statement that Your Son appeared to Mary Magdalene as she was grieving, for example, led to a demand that God Comfort those who are sad, lonely, or grieving now.

The Peace was exchanged almost everyone greeted almost everyone and we were asked to rehearse the elaborate setting for the dismissal before launching into an Offertory Hymn, At the Lambs high feast we sing. The Sursum Corda was sung toa tune that seemed familiar, though it isnt in The Hymnal 1982. The Eucharistic Prayer had familiar para- graphs as well as unfamiliar ones possibly from supplemental materials with which your observer is unfamiliar. The closing paragraph was sung and so was a seven-fold Amen, the music for which was provided in the service leaet. Christ our Passover was sung at the Fraction and the leaet provided the full setting, which was not in the hymnal. The leaf- let also provided an Invitation and response. Invitation: The gifts of God for the People of God. Response: May we be found in Christ and Christ in us.

During Communion, the members of the congregation made their way to the head of the crowded, narrow aisle where the vicar and a lay member stood with the chalice and paten. Meanwhile a member of the congregation came forward to the piano and sang Hymn 186, Christ Jesus lay in deaths strong bands. The words are by Martin Luther and the music by Johann Sebastian Bach, but the feeling conveyed was somber and somehow more Lenten than Easter-y.

The post-Communion prayer and blessing were unfamiliar but brief and appropriate. The closing hymn, He is risen, he is risen, was familiar and well sung but not as familiar and joyous in your reviewers opinion as Jesus Christ is risn today with its four-fold alleluias in every stanza.

The hymn being ended, we sang the elaborate dismissal that we had rehearsed at the Offertory and the vicar then walked down the aisle to greet us between the door and the lychgate as we stepped out into the brilliant sunshine.

Christopher Webber                                 All Saints Church, San Francisco

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