Three West Florida mission churches celebrate Pentecost together
On Pentecost, the three churches of the “crazy experiment*,” St. Cyprian’s (Pensacola), Epiphany (Crestview), and St. Agatha’s (DeFuniak Springs), gathered with Bishop Russell in a covered garage at the home of Cathy and Mark Hilliard in Baker, Florida to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. The clouds parted, the sun shone, the rain held off, and voices were raised in praise and thanksgiving. As we sang our hymns, we were bound together and reminded that we are known as Christians by our love. We were very sure the Lord was present in that place.
The meticulously planned, spontaneous and unrehearsed service embraced expressions of our liturgy in various languages and traditions, recalling the power of the Holy Spirit that enabled the disciples to speak simultaneously to people of many nations in Jerusalem, and ultimately to be witnesses to the power of the Spirit to the ends of the earth. We were reminded that we share a mutual mode of worship in the Holy Eucharist with our sisters and brothers of the churches of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and whereas the expressions of our faith and worship vary across cultures, nations, and times, the common essence of our liturgical worship continues to identify us, and unites us as the body of Christ.
Bishop Russell reminded us that God cares deeply for us. He noted the wind flowing generously through the open ends of the shelter, and the fire awaiting our barbecue and burger; both offering a reminder that the Holy Spirit was present and active among us.
The asperges following the renewal of our Baptismal Covenant doused, cooled, and blessed the congregation. The sprinkling became “holy water flak” in the flight paths of the squadrons of gnats that buzzed about us. The Great Thanksgiving transformed into a “kid-celebration” of the Eucharist as younger children joined Bishop Russell, Vicar Jim, and Deacon Tricia at the altar. And as the altar party processed out across the straw-strewn floor, red streamers crisscrossed the congregation as we heard once again in song that we will be known as Christians by our love.
Afterward, we embraced our more earthly identity as Episcopalians by setting up tables, resetting chairs, and laying out our Pentecost banquet prepared by members of the three congregations. And on Monday, even though it was only the second day, we rested.
*The Rev. Jim Popham serves as the regional vicar to three churches in our diocese. A new venture for both Popham and the Central Gulf Coast.