Some folk are wary of Anglicans, with their traditions and (sometimes) 'bells and smells', and all that high church stuff, but in reality the Anglican Church is a broad one, encompassing everything from very high formal to very low casual.
Robes, liturgy, pipe organs, pulpits, prayer books, and candles are these days frequently replaced by jeans and t-shirts, informal prayers, guitars and drums, sound desks, words-on-the-screen and mood lighting. And it's all for a good cause!
One of the things I like about being Anglican is marking the seasons. Not just Christmas and Easter, but the noting of other significant events in our Christian life.
The seasons and the lectionary followed by many churches throughout the world form, for me, an important link with Christians elsewhere. We know that each Sunday as we worship in our churches in Australia, there are millions of others doing the same in other countries.
It is like a huge wave of prayer and worship that continually flows around the globe, following the sun (+Son!) joining us all in one large community. In social media terms, you'd say it's 'going viral'.
At the moment we are in the season of Pentecost, recalling that incredible event reported in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit came on the assembled crowd and everyone heard the message in their own language. After Pentecost Sunday we celebrate Trinity Sunday, remembering the three aspects of our amazing God.
Trinity Sunday is also the one day in the church year when many Anglicans get to sing that ancient Irish hymn, St Patrick's Breastplate. The hymn is based on a prayer attributed to the 5th century Irish Bishop Patrick and instructs the Christian to put on the breastplate and full armour of God, for protection.
It echoes Ephesians 6 where Paul says: 'put on every piece of God's armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil.' (NLT)
St Patrick's Breastplate is a long hymn, with a lot of words and an uneven meter. It can be tricky for singers and musicians – let alone the congregation – which is perhaps why it is not sung too often. I know from experience that you need to have all your wits about you: it is too easy to lose your place! Not only is the word pattern different for most of the verses – the tune is completely different for one of them.
Some historians say that the hymn itself was originally a pagan poem invoking the protection of Creation and 'the Creator spirit' and that Christians appropriated the ancient words and used them for evangelism. Just as we've done with the Christmas tree, fruit buns, and possibly the chocolate eggs at Easter time. (I think we've avoided highjacking the Easter bunny, for now.) Creative Christians have long adapted beliefs from other cultures to enhance the gospel message. Very effectively too.
From slave to missionary
Patrick died around 460 AD and while there are many myths about his life and works, it is known that he was born to a Christian family in Roman Britain, was captured by Irish pirates and sold as a slave. His Christian faith grew and deepened during some very dark times and he prayed often for his captors. After he was freed, he was ordained as a bishop and became a missionary to the Irish, eventually establishing Christianity in Ireland. He was faithful to the end of his life, and God used him well.
Patrick is said to have prayed the words included in this hymn just before one of his missions to convert the pagan Lóegaire, the fierce High King of Ireland.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead ...
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left ...
The tune may be tricky, the text written some 1,800 years ago, but the words remain fresh and powerful - and timely for Christians now, in a darkening age.
Sheelagh Wegman, BA, IPEd Accredited Editor is production editor for the Tasmanian Anglican bi-monthly magazine. Sheelagh does a broad range of editing for self-publishing authors, is a tour guide for cruise-ship shore excursions and is a member of St David's Cathedral Chapter and Cathedral Choir. She has 3 adult children, 5 grandchildren and lives with husband Kees in South Hobart bushland.
Sheelagh Wegman's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html