EPISODE 25

I used to get mad that no one introduced me, during 35 years of being an Episcopal minister, to the writings of James Gould Cozzens. Here was a man who wrote in detail and insight about the inner workings of Episcopal parishes, Episcopal clergy and Episcopal people. In novels like The Last Adam, Men and Brethren, By Love Possessed, and Morning Noon and Night, the Episcopal Church figured, again and again and again. And the portraits were accurate.

Just one glance at pages 289-294 of “The Last Adam”, published in 1933, offered the exact insight I needed to get through the funerals I kept being called upon to perform. Why, I kept asking, do these funerals seem to be all the same:  one dead Episcopalian, a tribe of adult children who are hippies or Buddhists (and sometimes both), and a generation of grand-children who have never been inside the church of their ancestors? Through reading Cozzens’ explanation of why the character ‘Virginia Banning’ would never go to church again, I found the answer.

So I began to get a little mad, in a kind of “why didn’t they tell me this stuff before?” way.  
Had no one read Cozzens, that mole, who declared himself an agnostic during early days at the Kent School but went on to become a unique chronicler of Episcopalian culture and its inner game of tennis?
Well, no one said anything to me about it, that’s for sure. Only a man, a most seasoned and delightful Episcopal clergyman in Manhattan, now many years dead, understood the way things were, I mean, really knew; and possessed the wit, the charm, and the love to help me along.  One week’s study of “Men and Brethren” could have had the same effect. At least I had the Rector of St. Michael’s, Upper Broadway to instruct me. Thank God for him!
But you may not have a Mr. Hill.  You may have to settle for a writer who knew it all, from the inside out. You’re able to have his excellent novels, with characters such as ‘Mr. Cudlipp’, Rector of St. Ambrose on the Upper East Side; ‘Dr. Lamb’, Rector of Holy Innocents four blocks west; “Canon Conway”, that ‘hell of an Anglo-Catholic’ (the quote is from “Morning Noon and Night”); Mrs. Banning of the Altar Guild in New Winton, Connecticut, together with her Senior Warden husband; Elmer Abbott, the dedicated but underpaid organist/choirmaster of Christ Church, Brocton, PA; and ‘Dr. “Whit” Trowbridge’, Rector of Christ Church. You’ve got those people — we’ve got those people — to instruct us.
They’ll instruct us about vestries, clergy ambition, flower arranging Saturday mornings, diocesan investment trusts and parish endowments, church staffs and sextons, episcopal elections ‘out West’, priests who live — who live! — to turn ‘Morning Prayer’ parishes into “Eucharist-Centered” parishes (and always succeed), ‘liberal’ curates in relation to ‘conservative’ rectors (and vice-versa), and church organists on collision courses with ‘micro-managing’ rectors.  Cozzens’ characters will teach you a lot of what you need to know to understand The Episcopal Church, or what used to be known as The Protestant Episcopal Church.  
This podcast is one of two concerning the old “P.E.”, which really doesn’t exist anymore, but sort of does. Underneath the new norms and the new forms, it’s not really changed very much. Except that its former constituency has become mainly Buddhist. Just attend a funeral at St. Whoever’s-in-the-Fields next week. If you listen to the eulogies — which the old “P.E.” did not countenance — you’ll see. You don’t have to take my word for it.  Then go home and read Cozzens’ late short story “Eyes to See”. There it is, everything you need to know.
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