‘Te Deum Laudamus’

Ernst Cassirer, philosopher, anthropologist, and author, has said that “nature yields man nothing without ceremony.” Neither does God, who gave us nature’s ceremony of seasons and sea-tides, colorful and musical.

Most Christians reflect an inborn need for ceremony in their weddings, funerals, and, in some cases, baptisms. And today many evangelicals are overcoming their historic dislike and distrust of ceremony in worship services. Ceremony properly centered on God, they are discovering, reinforces the glory and majesty that rightly belong to him.

Episcopalians have always known that God yields nothing without ceremony, and they showed this in the colorful and impressive installation of John Maury Allin as their twenty-third presiding bishop. The service took place June 11 in Washington, D. C., in the still unfinished National Cathedral. The interior view contrasts sharply with the exterior. Approaching the cathedral’s entrance the worshiper passes by graveyard-like rows of carved stone awaiting final placement. But inside, the massive blue-grey limestone, cream-colored marble, and deep blue stained-glass windows reflect completion. The tension between the inside appearance and the reality of the total structure seems a fitting symbol of the work of God in his church.

The service lasted an hour and forty-five minutes and began with a dramatic procession. The congregation of 3,000 rose as each of the six segments of the procession entered the cathedral. First came representatives from the church in Mississippi (Allin’s home state), led by bearers of a Coptic cross and the state’s flag. Then a Sinai cross preceded the Washington delegation. Next came another Coptic cross and representatives of the seminarians, clergy, and laity of the denomination. A cross of Paul V led the representatives of other Christian bodies such as Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic. Finally the bishops entered the cathedral, and as they did the choirs sang Leo Sowerby’s beautiful interpretation of Psalm 122.

The marble surfaces and vaulted nave of the cathedral provided a setting for choir, brass, tympany, and organ that cannot be matched by concrete block and laminated beams. The music seemed to reach down to the congregation from the arches of the ceiling rather than rising from ground level. “I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord,” the choirs sang, and the words aptly conveyed the sense of worshipful joy alive in the cathedral. The verbs of the psalm summarized each aspect of the service: the congregation testified and gave thanks to God, prayed for peace, and promised to seek the good of the fellowship of believers for God’s sake.

The ancient costumes of the eastern and western branches of Christendom—robes of black with red hoods for the bishops, a rose robe for Archbishop William Baum of Washington and a brighter scarlet robe for Josef Cardinal Suenens of Belgium (both from the Roman Catholic church), and flat, pointed, black veil-draped hats for the Greek Orthodox clergy—heightened the sense of ceremony and majesty.

After the choir sang the final words of the “Te Deum Laudamus,” “O Lord, in thee have I trusted; let me never be confounded,” a regal trumpet fanfare announced the entrance of the new presiding bishop. He was attended by the bishop of Mississippi and the retired bishop of Louisiana. Francis B. Sayre, dean of the cathedral, officially welcomed Allin, and the people shouted, “The Lord be unto thee a strong tower,” an apt prayer after which Sayre conducted Allin to the pulpit area under the central tower.

Perhaps “dedication” describes the service better than “installation.” The fifty-three-year-old bishop concluded his inaugural sermon with a familiar text from Second Corinthians: “All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” Allin, who takes the leadership of a denomination fragmented by dissent (see the October 26, 1973, issue, page 55, and the November 9 issue, page 64), dedicated himself to the task of reconciling the church in Christ.

For this task the presiding bishop must be a proclaimer of the word, one who prays, pastors, and heals, one who baptizes and breaks the bread and blesses the cup, and one who serves the Cross of Christ as soldier of it. As symbols of these duties Allin received gifts of balsam, water, a Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, a loaf of bread and a flagon of wine, and the primatial staff.

As in Psalm 122 the emphasis here and in every other part of the service was on verbs, not nouns, on acting rather than naming. The service each person owes to Christ because of his work on the cross was never overshadowed by the celebration of the new presiding bishop. The shepherd and the flock together participated in dedicating themselves to obey God’s commands.

The ceremony with which John Allin began his service as presiding bishop proclaimed the glory in God’s creation and the splendor and joy of serving him. It also was an impressive reminder that those who now serve God, however feebly, are part of the “blessed company of all faithful people” who will one day gather around God’s throne in unending ceremony to proclaim his praises.


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