Peter's Corner: Ship of Fools and the daily Eucharist at Saint Stephen’s

When I wrote last time, Saint Stephen’s had received some very significant “ink,” as a good friend refers to media print coverage. One piece was a front page article “above the fold” in the Philadelphia Inquirer and another piece was in the nationally syndicated Religion News Service. Both were unusual coverage for a single parish, especially a parish that not many people had heard of or knew anything about. But there was another bit of “ink” that came most unexpectedly and that was a “Ship of Fools Mystery Worshipper Review.” Ship of Fools is a website and online community, which, among other things, features a project called “The Mystery Worshipper.” For over 20 years, Mystery Worshippers have been visiting different churches incognito and reviewing them using a pen name. A Mystery Worshipper visited our 12:15pm Eucharist on Wednesday, June 5, and we found the review—with online comments from readers—about two weeks later.

The significance of the “Ship of Fools Mystery Worshipper Review” is that, for us, it is focused solely on the very heart of what we do and who we are at Saint Stephen’s: the daily 12:15pm Eucharist. The Eucharist reviewed was for Wednesday in the Seventh Week of Easter, the Commemoration of Saint Boniface, Archbishop, Missionary and Martyr. Here are some comments from the review: “A straight forward by-the-book Rite II said eucharist. Several of us took turns giving the readings… The sermon was given a 10 on a scale of 1-10: “The vicar spoke clearly and conversationally as if our small group was engaging in a talk about Saint Boniface.” Overall, the reviewer gave the service a 10: “What a lovely experience! It’s not often you get to run through the daily lectionary in an Episcopal church. If only all church gatherings were this amiable. Should I ever be in Philadelphia again, I’d be happy to stop by…and did the service make [me] feel glad to be a Christian? Most definitely, yes!

Our daily Eucharist is meant to be a celebration and is the principal way we build an unabashedly religious and spiritual community, one person at a time. As the Ship of Fools reviewer noted, we follow the Episcopal lectionary of Holy People, A Great Cloud of Witnesses, the grace-filled account of prophetic witnesses of all kinds, with life stories of great meaning and significance, a lectionary that is very much a formative geography of Faith. On the day I am writing, for example, we commemorate Catherine Winkworth, the late 19th-century Anglican poet, translator and women’s rights advocate, so we have an opportunity to consider not only the language of the readings for the day but the language of poetry, especially the poetry of our Episcopal hymns.

At Saint Stephen’s, we try to live by and with the Gospel, yes, but we also are committed to four (4) guiding principles of our daily life in the church and, especially, in our daily Eucharist. These guiding principles may, in fact be the most important qualities of life that we maintain at Saint Stephen’s, all qualities that are present in our daily Eucharist: Welcome; Accommodation; Sensitivity; Intimacy. These four qualities are part of our firm belief that the Eucharist is an act of thanksgiving in the presence of God and one another.

If you haven’t already, I hope you will join us at 12:15pm, Monday through Thursday. We welcome your presence.

Until next time,

Father Peter