April 2, 2020

Thoughts on 10 a.m. Eucharist: Church of the Holy Cross, Sullivan’s Island, SC

sm_tcsi_big2I discovered last night that the large church I’d passed several times this week here on Sullivan’s Island was an Episcopal church with a 10 a.m. Wednesday Eucharist service. After checking the church’s web site, I noticed that one of the contributors at Mockingbird, John Zahl, was a pastoral associate at Holy Cross. IM readers know of my appreciation for what these Lutheranized Anglicans are doing, so I hoped that John would be leading this weekday service.

I was delighted to discover that I was right, and that Pr. Zahl was the minister preaching and leading the service.

Holy Cross has two worship centers. The smaller one where this service was held is a beautiful chapel that seats approximately a hundred. I was one of approximately 15 worshipers, all adults and mostly older than me. We did the Eucharistic liturgy Rite I from the Book of Common prayer, minus music. (Interesting, there was no music in either of the services I attended this week.)

When you’ve been to a Catholic Church and then come to a Protestant chapel, both liturgical of course, the differences make an immediate impression. The absence of statuary, immediately. The absence of the stations of the cross. The more accessible worship books. The liturgy without the Catholic elements. And the presence of the preaching pulpit.

My wife attended two services at the Catholic church and I attended one with her. In both, the “sermon,” amounted to a brief encyclopedia-type description of the particular subject of the day, in the first case the angel Michael’s three traditional responsibilities, and the second a very brief description of the significance of St. Jerome. The priest was erudite and eloquent, but this would not be recognized as preaching by most Protestants. It would be more accurately categorized as footnotes to the particular aspect of tradition presented in the calendar or in the readings. They were appropriate, but the homily is not the sermon in a Protestant sense. That’s been apparent in all my visiting of masses.

sm_JohnZahlWebThe chapel at Holy Cross had a large, elevated preaching pulpit, close to the congregation and at some distance from the altar. The architectural presence of both a large altar and a large pulpit is significant. When the lessons are concluded, Pr. Zahl preached for 20 minutes on the theme of the Old Testament and Gospel readings.

I enjoyed the sermon immensely, in no small measure because Pr. Zahl has his father Paul Zahl’s voice, cadence and approach to a text. Paul Zahl is an unusual preacher who is unafraid to be vulnerable, humorous and highly personal in application. John does all three as well as his father (and I say that as a compliment to him in making his father’s strengths his own unique strengths as a preacher.)

I was truly ministered to by the message and, of course, the following Eucharist. It seems that traditionalism is alive and well in Charleston, as the altar was placed ad orientum and Pr. Zahl stood/knelt with the congregation facing the altar for much of the service.

I identified myself to Pr. Zahl and he was surprised he knew me so well. Good ol IM family. Always amazing. He was very gracious in what he had to say to me and to others about me. I hope I can see him in the future and spend some time together. He understands what I am doing here at IM and I feel a real kinship with these Gospel-centered, application loving Episcopalians.


  1. “…and I feel a real kinship with these Gospel-centered, application loving Episcopalians.”

    That’s great, Michael. I am glad you got a chance to hear and meet John Zahl.

    I think you would get a kick out of the homilies given by my local Catholic priest. He has a good sense of humor mixed with a profound appreciation for the Gospel and love of Jesus. When he was recently talking about the letter of James in the New Testament, he compared James to Supernanny, which is a TV show he watches and likes, but which I have never seen. He got a laugh with that one.

  2. iMonk,

    As a former Episcopalian, I can imagine what draws you to a well done service in that tradition. To be honest, TEC is not known for its preaching. As a young person, I even felt the need to apologize to my Baptist/Methodist/etc friends who I brought with me to worship about how bad it was going to be. Given the right congregation, though, the liturgy from the BCP can be life-changing. Cranmer beats Shakespeare, IMHO. However, please ponder the theology, or lack thereof. I spent 40+ years thinking that being an Anglican meant something, and now I’m not sure that it ever did.

  3. Michael,

    I’m glad you got the opportunity to experience the warm welcome of our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of SC. Charleston is a unique city for conservative Episcopalians.

    Church of the Holy Cross is also interesting because it is one of the few Episcopal congregations that is multi-site. The last I knew there were three locations: Sullivan’s Island, Daniel Island and in the planned community at I’On. They’re doing some interesting ministry there.


    While I understand the sentiments of former and soon to be former Episcopalians, I think your advice about looking to the theology or lack thereof is best applied on a congregation by congregation basis. Unfortunately, as one of my priest friends said the other day, regardless of our ecclesiology, we’re all being forced by reality to be congregationalists–perhaps it was ever so.

  4. textjunkie says

    Speaking as an Episcopalian, glad to know we’re representin’ well. Sounds like a lovely service!

  5. Dr. Paul Zahl is a wonderful preacher and teacher. It is good to hear that his son follows in that tradition. When Word and Sacrament truly receive a place of honor, it is not surprising that it also “pleases” the people. Yes, both Zahl men can also preach messages that call one to painfully reflect on one’s many sins. By “pleases” I do not mean that it always is comfortable. But, it does mean that something in one rings like a bell and says that God is present.

    Which I think is the point of your series on evangelical liturgy.

  6. this makes me jealous

    having both word and table in the service is very rich, in fact, just having preaching now, which is my church’s custom, seems like half a meal,

    also, as a minister, I can appreaciate having the table as well as a sermon, b/c it doesn’t make the preacher the “main attraction” – i’m not sure folks realize how much pressure there is on preachers to be the “big show” every week, like the entire service or how well it is percieved to have went hangs on you

    this is the draw that has developed for me since visiting an anglican church from time to time when i can,

    the only TEC close is liberal, I probably agree with the rector and assistant rector on very little, but i still am drawn back to the service for the oppurtunity to experience the table

    • Christiane says

      Austin, could you not celebrate what you call ‘The Lord’s Supper’ more frequently?
      You could incorporate the reading of the Words of Christ as He spoke them when He instituted what you call ‘the ordinance’.
      If the Lord has given you a need to ‘experience the table’, maybe it is for a reason.
      Maybe you could make ‘the Lord’s Supper’ more central in your church’s worship.

      • Christiane,

        Good thoughts and I have as pastor moved us from a twice a year to about every two months, i’m working towards once a month celebration of the Eucharist. Realisticly, that is probably as often as my congregation would tolerate without suspecting me of bad intentions:)

        And I have went to using Christ’s own words during the celebration.

        thanks for the tips

        • @austin: Realisticly, that is probably as often as my congregation would tolerate without suspecting me of bad intentions 🙂

          Can you, or Michael, or anyone else school me as to why this is? I really don’t understand the aversion to a weekly “observance”, or more often… It is Zwingli again?

          • Justin,

            here is what my folks would say, and i don’t want to belitle them, b/c I love them very much or I wouldn’t try to minister to them the best I can, and they do have a love for Christ

            the complaints would be

            1. it is too ritual and formal (they value spontanaity sp? more than anything else, for example, they would prefer a really bad of the cuff sermon with little prep to a well thought out studied sermon, because the former would be seen as being given by the Spirit while the latter was made up by man

            2. they are very ignorant of outside traditions, and by ignorant I mean that the common person in the pews at my church would see little difference from a formal UMC service and a Roman Catholic service, you and I know they are miles apart but that is what they would see, and I’m not exaggerating that, and they have a very strong aversion to anything that might appear RC, so as i follow the lectionary, i am very careful to not use words like Lent, or Advent too much, Good Friday is okay , but even some would object to that

            Some folks ask then why do you stay in that type of situation? the answer there is very complex and needs its own space

        • Austin, Robert Webber’s classic book Worship is a Verb recommends taking a very long term approach to worship renewal (which includes more frequent celebration of the Table). I’d recommend checking it out.

        • Christiane says

          My prayers are with you.
          I admire when evangelical pastors want ‘something more’ for their church, and work gently and with great patience towards that end. There is something ‘Christ-like’ about that, I think. Follow His example as you have been doing, and your congregation will love you for it.
          How could they not?

  7. I’m just glad you’re enjoying your time away from your day-to-day responsibilities back in KY. We’re on Fall Break next week. Praise the Lord! 🙂 I hope to participate in some meaningful worship, too.
    Going to Destin, Florida. I trust your poison ivy’s cleared up by now. May the Lord continue to bless you, Bro.

  8. Most morning or noontime masses that I have attended have not had music; occassionally, a hymn is sung acapella. It places the focus elseware, on the mystery of the moment. I don’t think that is readily understood in our hyperactive worship culture, where everything pushes for sensory overload.

    • The “mystery of the moment” is something that can be expressed, captured, and experienced well through music, provided that the congregation singing is the focus, and not the accompanists. Acapella is great. More churches should do that more often. As far as sensory overload, I think hyper-modernists simply focus all the stimulus on a few select senses (rock band and light show). The liturgical traditions, most often, are more targeted at a balanced sensory experiences invoking all five in the liturgy.

      • Agreed. Liturgical traditions seem much more balanced, far more subtle. I’m amaze how the smells of incense, candle wax, and especially communion wine faffing through the sanctuary communicate so much. Subtle sounds, such as the tinkling of a bell in a Catholic service, are so very powerful. Subtle visual ques, such as a flickering candle, can capture ones attention. I don’t think it is just contemporary services that can be sensory overload; Lutherans particularly can overdo it with too much organ music, blaring brass quartets, or even clanging bell choirs. I know, that sounds down-right heretical. And it’s not that less or no music is better. I think solemnity has lost its place in worship. There have been so many preachers insisting that worship should be as raucous as a football stadium that I don’t think we know any different. The psalmist’s call to “Be still and know” is so alien to our hyperactive culture.

        Modern evangelicalism, with its emphasis upon personal decision, is constantly at risk of being tempted to coerce decisions with overpowering presentations, powers of persuasion, and by mesmerizing people into an altered state of conciousness more open to the power of suggestion. (Don’t take my word for it; read Wil Metzger’s “Tell the Truth” or J.I. Packer’s “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God”). As a result, solemnity almost seems counter-productive to evangelical objectives. It’s almost like we don’t believe in the Holy Spirit anymore.

        • Well put. However, I still do believe there is a place for football stadium type celebrations. You kinda just gotta every now and then, God’s grace is just that good. But there is a need for balance. Jubilation and serenity. Evangelicals are too off balance on the wild side, but many high churches will never get excited about God, which leads many people to falsely believe that their services are dead. Signs of life are vital in the church, be they big or small.

          But on the personal decisionism thingy, I think that is what Derek Webb is singing about on “The Spirit Vs. The Kick Drum”. I’d say overall us evangelicals could simply benefit from applying the simple maxim: “less is more.”


          • Agreed. I’m not looking for anyone to impose worship “thou shalt not” lists. I actually think that is part of the current problem. Too many churches think they have to buy into the latest worship fads in order to be a successful, growing church. It results in a lack of variety in worship. Every church is still trying to be Willow Creek or Saddleback, rather than what God wants them to be. It seems like no one would think twice about an evangelical church hosting a worship service in a football stadium, but if an evangelical church were to start a liturgical service, they would be accused of being emergent, new-age, papist, out of touch, and/or culturally irrelevant. The result is more and more me-too megachurch-wanna-be worship shows, because no one believes that can do anything else.

            Having said that, I hope and pray that liturgy doesn’t become just the next worship fad, in a long line of worship fads. I can just imagine a handful of churches experiencing dramatic numeric growth after starting liturgical services, then the pastors of those churches will write best-selling books about their success, then every pastor in America will be trying to make lightning strike twice with their own versions. Then a few obscure churches will start experimenting with electric guitars in small worship circles, and the whole cycle will repeat. The Quakers will probably watch the whole thing and laugh.

  9. Michael, ususally if you avoid having music at a Catholic Mass, that’s a plus 😉

    • Martha is it really that bad?


      Maybe y’all should try singing the Royal Telephone, it is one of my most despised songs in our hymnal

      “Central’s never busy always on the line, you can talk to Jesus almost any time…”

      Then the chorus

      Telephone to glory oh what joy divine, I can feel the current moving on the line, built by God the father for his one and all, if your life’s in trouble give this royal line a call.”

      i cringe

      • Cringe? Why? I think that is incredible clever. What an imaginative and modern illustration. Written probably when the telephone was rather recent, I’d wager. I like it. It’s right up there with Sonseed, IMHO.


        btw, what hymnal is that in anyways? I gotta git me a copy. Maybe we’ll use it. For youth or something 😛

        • Add Jesus as your Facebook friend,
          He won’t reject or ignore you in the end,
          Write on his Wall,
          He reads them all,
          And will often a private message send.

        • it is the Church Hymnal, it is published out of TN, I think and have always been told it is a Church of God hymnal, but a lot of baptist use it, it is full of convention type songs, it is a shape note hymnal

        • Is that Sonseed thing serious, Miguel?? Or are they making fun.

          • Beats me. You decide 😛 They were a Catholic Band. I know that much. Lutherans tote them around as the consequence of trying to be relevant, saying all our current “relevance” tricks will look that dumb in about 20 – 30 years. But the whole “Mountie” line… You wonder how anyone could possibly sing that with a straight face.

      • Two words about Catholic music:

        Marty Haugen

      • Thomas Day’s book “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” is a good introduction to the topic. http://elise.com/books/el/archives/why_catholics_cant_sing_thomas_day.php

        Basically, it has less to with Catholicism per se as much as it has to do with Irish culture and history, which is heavily linked with American (and Anglophone in general, really) Catholic culture and history. Long story short: 400 years of the English gumint killing people who had the audacity to sing in Church left a rather large psychological scar that still remains. German Catholics in the Midwest can still carry a tune, as they are largely free of that baggage, but since the priests and Bishops in most other parts of the country till quite recently were all Irish, Irish traditions trumped Polish/Slovak/French/Spanish traditions, by and large (and of course, in Ireland, Irish musical traditions dominate).

        There’s an anecdote from the book about an Irish-American priest who was giving Mass at a Polish immigrant parish, who was incensed, absolutely incensed, that they were *singing* through the whole Mass, in Church! The Irish, before quite recently, had to be silent during Mass, as they were celebrating it clandestinely in barns. Some still feel that good music in Church is sacrilegious.

      • Miguel, I can’t quote any of the lyrics, but last Sunday there was one song at Mass which did make me go “What? Huh?” because the lyrics were so inapposite.

        Absolutely nothing even vaguely religious – not even the mention of “God” as in your telephone song. It sounded to me like some version of a pop song that someone liked and thought “Wouldn’t it be great to sing this?”

        In comparison with that effusion, when they launched into “Walk, Walk in the Light”, I was so relieved to be singing something that was within an ass’s roar* of a hymn, I joined in myself 🙂

        *Clarification for ‘two countries divided by a common language’ moment: that’s “ass” as in “donkey”, not “ass” as in “American for backside” 😉

  10. I’m a member at one Methodist church, on staff at another Methodist church, but worship as often as I can get away with it in an Episcopalian church for all the reasons above.

    Typically on a Sunday, UMC 1 thinks I’m at UMC 2 and vice versa, while in actuality I’m in another denomination 🙂

  11. I attended St. James while in Fairhope, Alabama last year and loved hearing the stories told by Rev. Mark Wilson. Always engaging and always challenging.

  12. The homilies you heard at the Masses this week are pretty typical of weekday Masses. As you can imagine, it is not easy to write an original, engaging sermon for every day of the week, so the priest often cuts corners by giving the “footnotes” (excellent description, I might add). I’m actually surprised there was preaching at all, as many traditional parishes do not have preaching at Low Mass.

    But, to be honest, I really enjoy weekday homilies, as they do tend to delve into more esoteric subject matter. Sunday homilies often stick with a basic “Jesus loves you, trust God” message and they are rather boring, if well-intentioned. I’d far rather hear how Jerome plucked a thorn out of a lion’s paw or how St.Michael protects us while we sleep.

  13. My wife and I recently started attending Fr. Paul Zahl’s last parish (All Saints Church in Chevy Chase, MD). We started one of the last Sundays that he was still rector, but we have found the church – apparently because of a lot of his influence – to be very similar to what you have described here.

    It is certainly Biblically founded, respectfully but warmly liturgical, and more than friendly. Now, the Rt. Rev. Edward Salmon is the interim rector, and, again, the description you’ve given of Fr. Zahl could easily fit Bishop Salmon. We have truly been blessed, and I am glad that these parishes are still out there.

    If we ever make it to Sullivan’s Island, we’ll have to make it a point to attend this church.

    Blessings to you and yours.


  14. Austin, I can relate to your assessment of your parents worship. I have grown kids around thirty years old and until recently felt as your parents did. A slow process of the past couple of years has begun to change my viewpoint. I sense a respect through your comments toward them that blesses me. Who knows what the future may hold for them? I recommend Ray Simpson’s book, Celtic Worship Through the Year as a start for those older, more traditional evangelicals. Blessings!

    • henry,

      thanks for you kind words, i will get that book

      • Austin, as someone who reflexively twitches every time the word “Celtic” gets tossed around (because I’m Irish and the term has been abused to cover ‘vaguely New Age pap’), may I throw cold water on the project by saying “You can’t call it ‘Celtic’ until you can sing something like this”


        Iarla Ó Lionáird singing Seán Ó Riada’s setting of a hymn for the Cúil Aodha Mass 🙂

        • Martha

          🙂 I’ve seen you many times defend the “celtic” brand on this blog, and as one of Irish heritiage myself, albeit over 250 years removed from Co. Cork, I understand. I think we had this similar conversation months back when I mentioned a Celtic Liturgy I was attending from time to time at an episcopal church.

          I have the same hesitation as a Southerner when I see things labeled as Southern that really are not.

          As soon as I get my young children in school and the wife can go back to work our goal is to come visit your lovely island.


          • austin, part of the reason that usage makes me break out in hives is because a lot (and I’m not including the liturgy you mentioned because that seemed a bit more rigorous) but a lot of the stuff wafted about as ‘Celtic spirituality’ is so dang “hello trees, hello sky!” type thinking when in actuality, Irish anchorites and the monastic tradition were so harsh that part of the reason indulgences became so popular in Europe was because of the severity of Irish penitentials 🙂

            I mean, I don’t think the celtic liturgist crowd are thinking of practices like this, from the monks’ rule of St. Columbanus:

            “Thus him who has not kept grace at table and has not responded ‘Amen’, it is ordained to correct with six blows. Likewise him who has spoken while eating, not because of the wants of another brother, it is ordained to correct with six. If one has called anything his own, with six blows. And him who has not blessed the spoon with which he sups with six blows, and him who has spoken with a shout, that is, has talked in a louder tone than the usual, with six blows.”

            And that’s just for poor table manners! Imagine what he’d do for a *serious* sin 😉

        • I liked that song, Martha. Very pretty.

          My husband and I go to the Highland Games in Lincoln New Hampshire every year and there are always singers from both Scotland and Ireland. Albannach is a real hit at the Games!

  15. I attend a little Episcopal Church in Alaska and love it for many of the reasons you noted in this blog post. At one point, I was sneaking into the Catholic services (and a few Russian Orthodox, too) and found them like a soothing balm on a post-evangelical/fundamentalist soul….but yet certain theological differences made it impossible for me to take the plunge…

    The Episcopal church, though I realize there are significant issues/problems with some, was such a beautiful match for me. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much…but the first service my kids and I attended, it felt like “home” for all of us. What a wonderful surprise that service was. It will be a year, next month, since we’ve been a part of the family at St. Francis and I’m still just as at home, if not more so. 🙂

    • You sound like me! 😀

      I spent the summer (before I even started looking) very disillusioned. I had just left Calvinism, and didn’t tell a soul. I couldn’t speak to my mom, because she’s caught up in destructive Nigerian Word of Faith theology (it’s horrible over there!). And then I remember my father figure mentioning attending an Anglican church.

      Looked one up – it was a 10 minute walk from the dorms. The first day I stepped in, I almost cried.
      I was baptized Episcopalian years ago, but never stepped into a Episcopal church afterwards because my dad was agnostic and my mom Word of Faith. So, it was like coming home. Sure, the “pew acrobatics” were a bit weird (I learned to juggle the BCP and Hymnal like a pro!) and I was the only African-American in the congregation (the evangelical church down the main street was more diverse!) But I love my church family, and they love me. I made a dear friend there, who passed away in May, and his words resonate in me every day.

      I’m yet to come across any problems – except the raccoon in the attic Christmas morning and the big divide in the dioceses of Fort Worth and Dallas. The shame. 🙁

      • L. Winthrop says

        Are you in Ft. Worth or Dallas? Which university?

        (I think my mother may go to your church!)

        • I’m in Denton, actually. 🙂 But my church is part of the diocese of Dallas.

          I attend Texas Woman’s University in Denton. It’s a really tiny place.

          • L. Winthrop says

            My mother went to TWU too! (Just a few years ago, for library science.) But she goes to church in Ft. Worth.

    • Molly,

      I hear so many good things from folks who start attending anglican churhces. It makes me very curious. To me, as an outsider, it seems that Anglicanism has in its core enough structure to ensure tradition, but enough flexibility to welcome a wide variety of folks.

  16. This blog post brings a smile to my face.

    I’m a fairly new Episcopalian (the anniversary of my confirmation’s in November), and in a sense, a young convert (became one at 18, though I’ve been in the Protestant Church for years). Most people couldn’t believe I could be interested in liturgy, and my Catholic friends were playfully telling me to convert.

    If anything, I’ve learned to pay attention to my rector’s sermons (most of my life, I spent sermons daydreaming – a habit to break) and I love how everything in an Eucharist is linked, and all goes back to the Bible and to Christ.

    If I wasn’t so dark, I would be blushing with pride when speaking of my little Episcopalian church. I don’t fit the liturgical stereotype, but I love my church and the people in it. And the growth. 😀

  17. I have a question for Anglicans because I have read different things.

    I know that infant baptism is the norm, but if a person who had children really prefered an older age baptism by immersion, not thinking it better or wanting to cause an issue in the church, but just out of conviction, preference or whatever you want to call it, is the church allowed to accomadate such a request?

    • That would not be a problem in any Anglican Church I can think of. Also, the Anglican Church is not (strictly) confessional; I don’t think anyone would make an issue out of it. Of course, talk to the pastor at that church for more clarification than an internet person could give.

    • At the Sydney Anglican church I was until recently a member of about half the parents opt for infant baptism and the other half have an Infant Dedication as they prefer that their children be baptised as mature believers.

      • i’ve got to say that our comment is exciting news to me, i had no idea that there was that much “lee-way”

        thanks a bunch

  18. I’m glad to hear that you got to meet Fr. John… he’s awesome! ;o)

    You would be happy to know that there are actually 7 weekly worship venues that we have… 2 traditional on Sullivan’s Island, 1 contemporary on Sullivan’s Island… 13 minutes away… 1 Traditional and 1 Contemporary on Daniel Island… and 16 minutes away… 1 contemporary at The Citadel. We also have a monthly service at I’on.

    We rotate the preaching between five priests… and each one, if I may be so bold, is excellent. While stylistically different, we all treat the Word as vitally important and relevant. We also hold the Eucharist to be vitally important…

    Multi-site, Traditional, Contemporary… and Biblical… that’s Holy Cross

    Fr. Greg Smith+ (One of the five at Holy Cross)