St. Luke’s, Enmore, Sydney / October 21, 2018

—Stephen Burns.

Context in the Diocese of Sydney

St. Luke’s, Enmore, can’t really be understood apart from the Anglican Diocese of Sydney of which it is a congregation. It is one of few parishes “in” but not “of” the dominant ethos of the diocese. The diocese has a long history of fostering a particular kind of conservative evangelicalism, going back decades (indeed to near the beginnings of the establishment of dioceses in Australia, with neighbouring Newcastle long having had a quite different—“catholic”—ethos [1]). In recent decades, Sydney has courted controversy within Anglicanism way beyond these shores with its robust ideas about gender difference, locating these ideas both in parts of the Bible (especially notions of male “headship”) and particular takes on Christian doctrine (notably an approach to the divine Trinity which suggests a certain “subordination” of the Son to the Father, which in Sydney’s hands is turned to support female subordination to males). The diocese has also developed some distinctive ideas about worship—not only getting close to official adoption of lay presidency at communion, which would make it unique in the Anglican tradition (and although the archbishop in the 1990s averted this policy, it is not entirely clear that presidency of communion is always reserved to presbyters in Sydney)—but also relating to the very idea of worship itself. There is a tendency in the diocese to talk of “meetings” and “gatherings” in favour of “services” (meant in part to downplay any cultic understandings) and to emphasise the “horizontal” dimensions of such gatherings, especially proclamation of the word, corresponding to a view of scripture that is perhaps more rigid than is commonplace at least amongst most Anglicans around the west [2].

St. Luke’s is itself just along the road from Sydney’s powerhouse seminary, Moore College, which has generated and promoted Sydney’s distinctive kind of conservatism. The seminary has had reach across the diocese over time and also come to have worldwide reach, not least as Sydney has galvanised the movement within—and beyond—the Anglican Communion known as GAFCON [3], pitted against various “liberalising” dynamics: women in leadership and acceptance of sexual diversity at its battle fronts.

Aboriginal Madonna and Child, St. Luke’s, Enmore. All photos on this page by Stephen Burns.

Aboriginal Madonna and Child, St. Luke’s, Enmore. All photos on this page by Stephen Burns.

St. Luke’s consciously fosters some different perspectives. First, it is a distinctive anglo-catholic community. Second, both within and beyond its liturgical life, it promotes an inclusive approach with its commitments clear from first encounter with its webpage and parish literature such as orders of service: “At St Luke’s  Anglican Church we seek to share God’s unconditional love and acceptance of all people, regardless of age, gender, race, marital or family status, sexual orientation, disability or wealth” (See: http://www.stlukesenmore.org.au/). (In the week of my visit, the diocesan synod had ruled against hospitality to celebrations of same-sex partnerships and gay advocacy—see: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/sydney-anglicans-set-to-ban-gay-weddings-and-pro-lgbti-advocacy-on-church-property-20181018-p50aga.html)

When this difference is appreciated, some of what might otherwise present as St. Luke’s liturgical quirks can be seen in a different light. Undoubtedly St. Luke’s liturgy contains some vestigial ritual [4] even as it also involves some striking communalisation that makes it startlingly contemporary. When I visited on October 21, 2018, I joined a community of perhaps a hundred or so others—young and old, of at least anglo, Thai, Indian, and Indo-Fijian, heritage, for the patronal festival of the parish, which being dedicated to St. Luke, whose saint’s day is Oct. 18, had transferred the celebration to the nearest Sunday. The lively liturgy was followed not only by a large lunch but prayers of blessing on new office space and relocated op-shop, now on the church plant rather than around the corner.

Above: close up of window and altar cloth, and Thai songbooks. 

Vestigial ritual

The liturgy itself in some ways smacked of a kind of pre-Vatican II style. This is what I mean when I employ Louis Weil’s term “vestigial ritual.” St. Luke’s undoubtedly includes in the mix a quite quirky appropriation of “high” priestly performance. This emphasis on the priest is itself no doubt a statement about difference from the surrounding norm in the diocese. One manifestation of it relates to the fancy dress the priest wears for communion. And at certain points in the liturgy the cope-donned presider with a liturgical assistant on either side encircles the holy table to reverence it with incense. The exaggerated old Roman ritual here responds to the Diocese of Sydney’s 1949 ban—still in force—on the wearing of a chasuble in its parishes. In the 1940s that ban was a tit-for-tat for neighbouring dioceses’ “catholicising” tendencies—using sanctus bells at what prayer books of the time identified as the “consecration” of holy communion [5]. As a chasuble can’t be worn in Sydney, the priest is togged in a cope, perhaps regarded as the next best thing.

 At St. Luke’s, sanctus bells are still in play. This is not only unusual in the Diocese of Sydney, but quite at odds with contemporary Anglican liturgies which do not suggest any moment of consecration within eucharistic prayer, as rather the prayer as a whole is seen as consecratory. Hence, the discouragement of bells, bows, or other fuss [6]—at least during the prayer (they may be another thing at the end of the whole prayer). At St. Luke’s that contemporary perspective is sacrificed to mark out space from the diocesan weight of opinion.

One dimension in which St. Luke’s is more contemporary is representing women in its leadership. On the occasion of my visit, the leadership was shared by a male priest (in Sydney, the priest would have to be male, as the diocese does not recognise women in such ministry), another male in the role of a deacon (and both priest and deacon were anglo), but a female sub-deacon (of Indo-Fijian heritage), and female preacher from outside Sydney (also anglo; and in the interests of transparency, my spouse). It may well be the case that she was one of very few, and perhaps the only, woman preaching to a gender diverse congregation (that is, including women, men and others—who knows about genderqueer persons?) across the whole diocese on this day.

Above: Stations of the Cross, St. Luke’s, Enmore. 

Communalising dynamics

A splendid dimension of inclusion at St. Luke’s was its lively communalisation of much of the liturgy. So, for example,

the opening procession included the team of leaders just mentioned but seemed to have been pressed open to include as many people as possible within it, for whom various roles had been found—carrying lights, incense, Bible, cross, and so on. And rather than simply making its way from the door to the dias, this procession snaked its way around the building, circling around the assembly in a figure of eight, up and down the aisles, eventually to arrive in place.

—voices emerged from the assembly for roles where lay representation would be familiar in Anglican churches—for readings from the Bible and leading prayers, for example. But in the prayers of the people, one voice after another took turns—a spirited outpouring.

—before communion as the table was prepared, another large and ragtag procession took place, as people came forward with candle lights to place them on the table so it flickered with light through what followed.

for communion itself a further procession had everyone leave their seats to encircle the table in large loops two or three people deep. The ministers of communion then made their way around the circles to give communion as the people sang together a repetitive chant from the Iona Community, “In love you summon, in love I follow…” [7], sung with great tenderness, and lovely in its use in this way.

finally, after communion, the entire assembly bowed in reverence towards the table in the centre of them, and so at the same time to one another across the room, an honouring of “the body of Christ” in both the people assembled and the meal they share. In that latter gesture, a traditional priestly gesture was playfully and profoundly communalised in a most powerful and moving way, tempering the earlier and sometime emphasis on the priest in the liturgy, or at least setting it in a different context.

Candles ready to be carried by all so moved, so that the table is covered with light as as a sign of the liturgy being filled with our presence.

Candles ready to be carried by all so moved, so that the table is covered with light as as a sign of the liturgy being filled with our presence.

There were many things I appreciated about the celebration, and especially its communalising turns. While some of the vestigial dimensions of the liturgy might irritate me in other Anglican contexts, I can see that they make their point in their Sydney setting, despite their curiousness when referred to contemporary Anglican liturgical practice. St. Luke’s has to be one of the most interesting liturgical expressions in this country, a fascinating entry point in to some of the travail and conflict that endures so deeply within Australian Anglicanism, and a robust manifestation of identity within a church that has sometimes not only pushed but fostered extremes, limited leadership, and dealt harshly with difference.

_

 [1] See John Davis, Australian Anglicans and their Constitution (Brunswick North: Acorn Press, 1996) provides insights in the grisly details over time.

[2] For variant perspectives on Sydney, see Michael Jensen, Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2013) and Muriel Porter, Sydney Anglicanism and the Threat to World Anglicanism: The Sydney Experiment (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012)

[3] www.gafcon.org

[4] Louis Weil, The Logic of Rite (New York: Seabury Press, 2013).

[5] See Davis for these details and many others.

[6] See the work of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, notably David R. Holeton, ed., Our Thanks and Praise: The Eucharist in Anglicanism Today (Toronto: ABC, 1998) 

Moore College.