“It’s orthodox Christianity,” said the Rev. Dr. John Wells Warren, priest at St. Dunstan’s, the Episcopal Church at Auburn University. “It’s based on a 500 year tradition of liturgy… really that way of worship that’s found in the Book of Common Prayer,” Wells said about the Episcopal faith.
“It’s traditional Christianity set in a more formal framework,” Wells said. “The focus of our worship is more on the sacraments of our church rather than on the sermons given by the preacher.” The seven sacraments are: baptism; Eucharist, which is another name for Holy Communion; marriage; confirmation, the way an adult joins the church; ordination, the way a person is ordained a minister; reconciliation, or private confession; and unction, which are prayers for the sick. Unction can also be known as last rites, which are prayers for the dying.
In regards to reconciliation, Wells said there is another saying in the Episcopal Church. “All can, some should, none must.” In other words, anyone can make a private confession, some should make a private confession if that person feels a spiritual call to do so, and none must make a private confession.
Anglican priests’ view of the way that spiritual knowledge should be sought differs from some religions. “Scripture is the first source of knowledge and understanding and wisdom, but so is the tradition of the church,” said Wells. “There is a third in our (Episcopalian) way, that we call reason. It’s really your intellectual ability, the experiences of your life,” said Wells. “So you make an important decision based on scripture, tradition and reason. People come to different conclusions; well-meaning sincere Christian people come to a different result, perhaps, about a social issue or a theological issue.”
At St. Dunstan’s, there are several services held during the week. They are held on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Sunday, a formal Eucharist service is held at 6 p.m. On Tuesday, there is folk mass at 5:30 p.m. On Wednesday, there are three services, during which there is no music, but prayers for healing.
St. Dunstan’s sits at Magnolia Avenue in Auburn, Alabama. The original church was built in 1886, but was eventually torn down and re-built. The current building was completed in 1924. The church currently has 200 members, with an average of 136 attendees per week.
At the Sunday Eucharist service, hymns were sung and passages from the Book of Common Prayer were recited. Holy Communion was served. Rev. Wells engaged in direct conversation with the congregation, which is different from many other churches where it is usually just the preacher who speaks. During Holy Communion, each aisle of the congregation walked to the front of the sanctuary and took the wine and bread. If someone does not want to take Communion, they can cross their arms over their chest and the priest will bless them.
There really is something special about the Eucharist church. It seems to be more tolerant than others. According to Rev. Wells, there is a saying in the Eucharist church: “‘There is a wideness in God’s mercy and a wideness in the episcopal church.’ It means there are a lot of ways at looking at important issues,” he said. “There’s a willingness to withhold judgment on another person’s opinion. In our baptismal covenant, we say, ‘Will you respect the dignity of every human being?’ and I think that has to do with this idea of wideness and tolerance and withholding judgment.”
This feature story was written for the JRNL2310 Reporting course at Auburn University in fall 2014.