Archive for February, 2019

Second Largest Church in the World

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

I had lunch yesterday with the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is located on Amsterdam Avenue near Columbia University. Known as “St. John the Unfinished” because parts of it have never been completed according to the original divine, it is reputed to be second in size only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Maintaining such a huge edifice (and many accompanying buildings, including a school) is a task I can’t even imagine.

Yet cathedrals have in general fared better than the local parish church. In the Church of England, attendance at cathedrals has been growing while regular congregations are declining. People seem to enjoy the relative anonymity of the large buildings and the stately, even mystical worship–often accompanied by excellent music. St. John the Divine on large festivals greets crowds of 3,000 people.

I like to think that Incarnation shares some of the attractions of cathedrals. It is larger than many, seating 800 persons. We have a fine choir and formal liturgy. People can be pretty anonymous unless they want to be part of the parish family. All the better to welcome strangers in Christ’s name. —J. Douglas Ousley


Out of the Armchair

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

While I still hold the somewhat controversial position that politics should usually be kept out of the pulpit, I am of the opposite persuasion when it comes to politics in the secular arena.

As the divide between extreme left and extreme right seems to get wider by the minute, American Christians who care about their country are obligated to weigh in with their own beliefs. For citizens, politics isn’t a mere spectator sport.

Especially if we find ourselves in the under-represented center of the political spectrum, we are bound to make our views heard. We need to find candidates to support and voices to be supported–long before the polls open. —J. Douglas Ousley


Balm for the Soul

Monday, February 11th, 2019

One of the winners interviewed last night following the Grammy Awards was a young woman who was given an award for best Christian rock album.

This reminded me of the vast world of contemporary church music–a world that we at Incarnation touch in our Candlelight Communion service on Sunday evenings. Though we don’t have a rock band, we do have guitar and keyboard music and various forms of modern music.

As for the Grammy Awards show itself, there was little resembling Christian rock and nothing resembling classical church choral and organ music–on which our morning services depend.

I’m not too bothered by this; anything trendy one day is out of fashion the next. Church music has roots that are thousands of years old, and it’s not likely to vanish soon. People often tell me that they like a church that looks and sounds like a church.

Still, we need to be aware of what is going on in the secular world around us. Otherwise, it will rock us. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Shattering of Loneliness

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

In his brilliant new book, The Shattering of Loneliness, the British monk Erik Varden tells of a moment when, listening to Mahler’s Second Symphony, when he discovered that he wasn’t alone. “With a certainty born neither of overwrought emotion nor of cool analysis, I knew I carried something within me that reached beyond the limits of me.”

Thus was Varden’s loneliness shattered forever. His testimony is causing something of a sensation in England–no doubt because it addresses the primal human need to believe that there is a divine out there, somewhere.

And Varden not only shows how loneliness is shattered by belief that there is a God–but also by experience of God. Through faith, we “carry something within” us. That divine something is always with us, whatever is happening in our lives. Thanks be to God.–J. Douglas Ousley