A Barmecidian Feast – Visit to an Episcopal Church

The title comes from a tale in The Arabian Nights. A Barmecidian Feast is an expression that refers to anything that promises much and delivers little. It comes from the story of a very rich host who would invite beggars to his resplendent home for a feast only to serve them empty plates. They would each go along not wishing to appear so silly as to not see and taste such fine food.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is small, in the sense of tiny, me being not a respecter of numbers even as our Lord wasn’t, was not put off by the size. There were 20 people in attendance. It was a lay-led service of Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. It was liturgy and liturgical, and here was the only food. But that liturgy, the historic one, promised the full meal deal, but it turned up empty.

The message was one of 3 or 4 authorized by the local Episcopalian Diocese to be read in the absence of a priest. It was written  by a current-day Episcopalian priest. It was based on the Gadarene demoniac. The theme was that we were created for both community and isolation but too much of the later or forced sameness in regard to the former are demonic. I think the point is a valid one of the, but Christ was not the stated solution to either. However, the reading of the Gospel prior to the message would imply that.

While the Gospel was read, it wasn’t preached or sang, it was however confessed in the Apostle’s Creed though you only got Jesus “descending to the dead” presumably in the manner of the common lot of us all as opposed to “descending into hell” as a victory march. We were never told that Christ kept the law in our place by His innocent life or paid for our not keeping it by His the shedding of His holy precious blood.

This is where the Barmecidian nature of the service was most keenly felt. The hymns were from the 1982 Episcopalian hymnal, and they did a great job of expressing the fallen human heart’s longing for God. The chosen Psalms did the same and here there was an answer of sorts “hope in God.” But again, while hoping in God is an answer, it’s the answer of the Law unless poor miserable sinners are shown why, for Christ’s sake, they may and are to “hope thou in God.”

Prior to going I had braced myself for an exercise in anguish over the Orlando shootings. (See below from their website which would warrant such a conclusion.) There was none of that. It wasn’t even mentioned in the prayers except – as I believe is meet, right, and sufficient – in the General Prayer for all people according to their needs, for the suffering, the sick, etc.

There was no Communion but even if there had been Episcopalians officially embrace it as a Barmecide Feast, i.e., Christ doesn’t really give you His Body and Blood at that time and place. No, according to their own confession your faith must go and get him. Good luck with that, as they say.

Unlike Contemporary Worship’s deconstruction of worship, there was a dialog between God and His people here. It was a Divine Service because it wasn’t people driven, people focused, or emotion seeking. And because it was a Divine Service you expected an encounter with the Divine, the small worship space with altar, candles, cross, and reverence for the sacred did indicate this was what was to be expected. But you didn’t even encounter the back side of God which Moses did whose mercy endures forever for Jesus’ sake. You only encountered the God of fire, earthquakes, and breaking rocks found in the Law.

The people of God are here gathered around the liturgy, reading the words of the Eternal life, but how long this will remain is doubtful. This is from their website and appears to be an official statement passed down from above as I encountered it on another Episcopalian website:

The Episcopal Church was active in the Social Gospel movement of the late nineteenth century. Since the 1960s and 1970s, it has opposed the death penalty and supported the civil rights movement and affirmative action. Some of its leaders and priests marched with civil rights demonstrators. Today the Church calls for the full civil equality of gay men and lesbians. Most dioceses ordain openly gay men and women; in some, same-sex unions are celebrated with services of blessing. In 2009, the Church’s General Convention passed resolutions that allowed for gay and lesbian marriages in states where it is legal. On the question of abortion, the Church has adopted a nuanced position. About all these issues, individual members and clergy can and do frequently disagree with the stated position of the Church.

The Episcopal Church ordains women to the priesthood as well as the diaconate and the episcopate. N.B. The fact that there is a paragraph break here means you are NOT free to disagree with having priestesses which is the feminism that begets the LGBTQ-ism atrocities.

            In the bulletin, right under the church’s name the first thing you read is “All are Welcome at the Lord’s Table.” Nothing, of course, is there except bread and wine, but all the above and more are welcomed there. And here I correct myself. I did come away with more than the Law ringing in my hears and a smattering of liturgical Gospel. I came away with an oversized coffee cup and pen.

A guest at a feast prepared by Barmecide eventually got the real deal after he went along with his host for so long. Unless the Episcopal church repents of their centuries old error of the symbolic presence you will always come away empty from their altars. Unless they repent of their 20th and 21st centuries error you could well come away poisoned.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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