March 3, 2019, 2pm Marsh Chapel, Boston University
A Celebration in Memory of the Life of Horace T. Allen
January 14, 1933 – February 5, 2019
Beloved, I greet you in the name of the one who calls us to be One, Jesus Christ.
On behalf of the Massachusetts Council of Churches,and dare I say millions of preachers and worshippers across the Church who may not even know from whence our common Scripture readings come, I give profound thanks to God for the life, ministry, and legacy of The Rev. Dr. Horace Allen.
I do not know Horace as well as some of you, though I fondly remember meeting him for the first time in person at O’Leary’s pub as we met to talk before we honored him at our 2012 annual meeting. I was entranced. My God, what a storyteller! I like to imagine that in his time on Scottish soil at Iona Abbey, Horace taught the Celtic Christians a thing or two about storytelling.
In the days since Horace’s death, I’ve heard from liturgists in Micronesia and scholars in England, denominational leaders in Louisville and pastors as near as Cambridge. Horace’s work was wide-ranging and expansive.
The statement from the Mercersberg Theological Societyproclaims “ his knowledge of the history, use and meaning of Christian worship was dazzling,” which seems just right on this dazzling Transfiguration Sunday. In the official statement from Horace’s home denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), they write, “Among many other contributions, Allen’s critical role in shaping the Revised Common Lectionary will stand as a tremendous gift, remarkable achievement, and enduring legacy.”
A tremendous gift, a remarkable achievement, and an enduring legacy.
We don’t always recognize the gifts we receive. And God knows, the Church does not always know how to receive the gifts of some people.
Of all the many stories to tell, and I pray you keep telling Horace stories, it is a story from one of his colleagues on the Consultation on Common Textsthat moves me today. Dr. Fred Kimball Graham is the retired Worship Officer of the United Church of Canada, and served with Horace on the Consultation of Common Texts. From 1975 through 1997, Horace Represented the Presbyterian Churches on the North American Consultation on Common Texts and co-chaired the English Language Liturgical Consultation. There were great high watermarks, like the 1992 promulgation of the Revised Common Lectionary.
But what Dr. Graham recalled to me was Horace’s letter of resignation from the Consultation on Common Texts in 2001. In 2001, the Vatican issued a new liturgical directive that constrained Roman Catholics from the prior ecumenical collaboration. Dr. Graham writes, “In my capacity as Chairperson of CCT, I was the recipient of a letter from Horace, in which he resigned from CCT and other ecumenical enterprises. He was wounded profoundly by the fact that the Roman Catholic sector had withdrawn from ecumenical discussions… He declared the age of ecumenism over, protesting that those who continue to meet had merely become a Protestant discussion group. For him, there was no hope of rescue for the offspring. It is understandable that his toil in the field over a 40-year period was close to his heart, and the loss of momentum in things ecumenical was too painful to countenance.”
Church, I am so moved by Horace’s heartbreak. He caught a glimpse of a divided Church unified in worship, reading those same sacred texts together and he fell in love with it. He worked for it, organized for it, studied for it, reached for it. He caught that vision as a young man at the World Council of Churches in Evanston in 1954. He studied that vision of common worship at Princeton, and Harvard Divinity and Union Seminary. He embodied that vision in his joint appointment serving two divided parts of the Presbyterian Church decades before their reunification in 1983. He felt that vision in the worship at Iona Abbey. He worked for that vision of unity in all those interminable ecumenical meetings and consultations, where it takes years to get to consensus and change. Later, he lived that vision and taught that vision at Boston University School of Theology. So when the possibility of such unified worship slipped away, Horace was heartbroken.
Horace loved the Church enough to be wounded by it. And Horace loved the Church enough to perfect our worship, expand our welcome and do everything in his power to unite our broken, breaking body. I need this witness of Horace’s hope and Horace’s heartbreak, in a season when so many of us are grieving the wounded and wounding Church in these days.
I do not think we have fully harvested the fruits of Horace’s labor, even as it has not yet reached the completion for which he worked. For many, the Revised Common Lectionary and our shared hymnody is simply the way it is, an ecumenical reality. It was an utter joy to honor Horace with the Mass. Council of Churches Knapp Award in 2012.When I told him of this honor, Horace said, “I feel vindicated.” Church, it is good to tell people that we are thankful for their obstinate dedication and labor.
Saints, here is my hope: that Horace now rests in the enduring embrace of the Almighty, soaking in the joy of unending worship, with choirs of angels singing in four-part harmony out of a shared hymnal, with deacons and acolytes and vergers aplenty, with radiant robes and resplendent vestments, and reading together from our common text and feasting at a common table.
According to the 2005 book “Liturgical Renewal as a way to Christian Unity,” in 1994, just after the Revised Common Lectionary was made broadly available, in Eastertide, Horace appeared in the Vatican to ask for “experimental Roman use of the lectionary system we had produced. ” Horace spoke of “this attempt of our, to bring Christians of all languages and continents into an audible unity around the table of the Word of God.”
The Church proclaims a full visible unity, but Horace envisioned more- and audible unity, a polyphonic, multi-lingual unity. Keep listening for that unity that Horace heard. It is a vision more expansive than one lifetime can hold. Beloved, we are inheritors of his vision.
The Revised Common Lectionary reading for today comes from 2 Corinthians 4:1 “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Even as our hearts are breaking, broken, we do not lose heart.