A multi-parish congregation gathered at All Saints’ Cathedral Sunday evening, June 2, 2019, for a Choral Evensong service celebrating the gifts of lay readers in the Edmonton diocese.
The congregation may have been unaccustomed to the Book of Common Prayer liturgy (Choral Evensong is offered by the cathedral on the first Sunday of the month at 7 pm) - taking direction from Bishop Jane as to when to sit or to stand - yet worship participants were enthralled by the poetic language and exquisite music performed by All Saints’ music director and organist Jeremy Spurgeon and the cathedral choir.
In her reflection, Alison Hurlburt, a lay reader and lay evangelist from Christ Church, Edmonton, said one of her strongest experiences of God’s presence was during a tumultuous time in her life, as she sat alone in a choir stall in a darkened church.
“As I stared into the empty space, suddenly I could feel a river of motion flowing past me, up the aisle, up the stairs, to the altar, in an endless cycle. I was flooded with a deep awareness of all of the people who had walked that same path, week after week, decade after decade in their desire to meet God, to taste the bread and the wine, to draw nearer to something holy… My angry wall crumbled, and my frustration fell away. I knew that I was already where I needed to be, where God wanted me to be: one of many caretakers of a holy place,” she said.
Hurlburt spoke of a common call uniting all lay readers: “a love of Sunday mornings, of prayers and of worship; a call to sit with people in their pain; a commitment to being continually worked on and transformed by God… and the particular and special pleasure of sitting alone in an empty church. Whether we arrive early to set up, or a lingering conversation makes us the last to leave, or whether we snag a few quiet moments while cutting through on the way to the closet where the snow shovels are kept… we’ve likely all known that echoing quiet, the way stained glass looks when the lights are off, the smell of extinguished candles.”
A professional educator, wife, and mother of a toddler, Hurlburt fills her rare spare moments with weaving. She said much of what lay readers do is “a natural extension of the lives we already live in God,” extending far beyond the walls of the church. “Shout out to all the knitters, crocheters, spinners and sewists in the room! We take humble materials and transform them into expressions of love and comfort for our neighbours. Many of us are musicians--using our bodies as a vessel for expressions of God’s love. Many of us are hosts and cooks--gathering strangers around a table and transforming them into friends. Many of us are parents, caregivers, and healers--sacrificing our bodies and our labour in the loving service of others. Many of us are teachers--holding up examples of the good and inspiring those who see them to ‘go and do likewise.’ (*I didn’t manage to come up with a romantic description of how vestry meetings and narrative budgets also carry echoes of the eucharist, but I’m sure with so many theologians in the room, we can get there.*) Everywhere we go, God has already gone before us. Every person who we meet is known so completely by God that every hair on their head is numbered. Every step we take is already on holy ground.”
“We all know that the river of love I felt flowing towards the altar one quiet Sunday runs in more than one direction. We are drawn together and drawn to God in order to be healed, restored, and filled with the spirit. That same spirit sends us back out into the world to share what we have been given,” said Hurlburt.
Bishop Jane Alexander and the Rev. Nick Trussell, warden of lay readers, called forth for commissioning the lay readers of the Edmonton diocese. Before their parish rectors, friends, families and church communities, they were acknowledged for their faithful commitment to using their gifts for ministries of the common good.