World needs parishes to deliver grace, true community, says Candler

The Very Rev. Samuel Candler, dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip, preaches Sunday in the Amphitheater. Brett Phelps/Staff Photographer

Column by Mary Lee Talbot

The Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler titled his Sunday sermon, “I Sing a Song of Parish Ministry,” and he began his sermon by singing, “Show me the place / Where you want your slave to go / Show me the place / I’ve forgotten, I don’t know,” by Leonard Cohen. 

“The parish is a wonderful and erratic place, so I want to sing a song with three verses in praise of parish ministry,” he said. Candler preached at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. The scripture reading for the sermon was Genesis: 15:1-6. 

Candler wove verses from “Woodstock,” written by Joni Mitchell, and from “First We Take Manhattan,” written by Leonard Cohen, into his sermon. 

“Leonard Cohen died the day Donald Trump was elected president and things changed,” Candler said. “We all became a little more fundamentalist, unwilling to bend, to undulate, to change keys. The parish is the salvation of the world. It is where we learn.”

The English word “parish” comes from two Greek words, “para,” meaning alongside, and “oîkos,” meaning house or where we live. The parish is the people we live alongside, he said, whether they go to church, synagogue or mosque — or just live. “We all need a parish.”

Life in a parish is never easy, Candler said. “‘They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom / For trying to change the system from within.’ That is what I have tried to do in the parish.” 

He told a story about a boy, sitting in church with his father, listening to the new minister give a very long sermon. The boy turned to his father and asked, “What does he do the rest of the week?” The father said the minister visited people, went to meetings, and prepared the service for Sunday. “It is not very easy work,” the father said. The boy responded, “Well, listening to the sermon is not easy either.”

Candler described a day in parish life when he was in a town in north Georgia. “I began the day counseling a woman who had lost her husband. There is no way around death, but a parish knows this and it knows how to deliver grace in the midst of change,” he said. 

Later in the day, Candler hosted a ecumenical luncheon for the other churches in the area, most of which were more conservative than his. On the day of the luncheon, Candler went from being a patient pastor to pastoring patience. 

Still later that same day, Candler went into Atlanta. He was going to a meeting and dressed in clerical garb. On the train, he met a “lively and rowdy group of people. I asked them, ‘Are you going to the Stones concert?’ They said yes and I said, ‘So am I.’ It was priestly sympathy for the devil.”

The faithful witness of people in the parish is most critical to the world. “The world needs parishes to deliver grace. The parish is where we meet conflict face to face. Parishes are laboratories for forgiveness and places to learn about relationships,” he said.

Candler told the congregation, “The parish is the antidote to the pass/fail, either/or way of looking at the world. The world needs true community to simmer the raw ingredients into a feast. Parishes teach us to be patient in order to celebrate the feast.”

Two-dimensional screens define our world. “Flat screens make for flat people, and our communities are more complex than Democrat vs. Republican, Black vs. White,” he said. “A wanderer, Abram, believed God and ‘the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.’ ”

In the Bible, to count someone as righteous is not a transactional event, but describes a relationship, a right relationship. “How did faith make Abram righteous? Faith put Abram in relationship with God. Faith puts people in relationship and faith saves the world,” Candler said.

He continued, “Anywhere you see the word ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness,’ substitute the word ‘relationship.’ Abram believed God and the Lord reckoned it to him as a relationship. The community of heaven is about right relationships.”

Candler had just returned from India at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. His church community was looking for a way to recognize each other and give each other the sign of peace without touching. They found the Indian greeting of bowing with hands together and saying “namaste” worked perfectly.

“In the service, at the passing of the peace, we bow and say, ‘Peace be with you,’ but we are saying the Christ in me greets the Christ in you,” he said. 

Leonard Cohen wrote, “Show me the place / Where the Word became a man / Show me the place / Where the suffering began.” Candler said, “It takes two people for the word to become flesh, and as we tell 5-year-olds when they ask where babies come from, we say, ‘When two people are in love.’ ”

He continued, “Every time we love, we are helping incarnation grow. We are making God incarnate. In the words of theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, science and faith show us God becoming incarnate in all creation. Over every living thing that grows this day, say ‘this is my body,’ the words we use to consecrate the bread in the Eucharist.”

All people are part of the incarnation of God. Joni Mitchell sang: “We are stardust, we are golden / We are billion-year-old carbon / And we’ve got to get ourselves / Back to the garden.” 

Candler said, “Imagine singing to the flora and fauna, ‘This is my body,’ and bowing to the larger body of Christ. We do it by bowing to the  parish, to each person. Namaste. In righteousness we are made holy and are the salvation of the world.”

The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, senior pastor for Chautauqua Institution, presided. Sonya Subbayya Sutton, a member of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2023, read the scripture lesson. The prelude, “Fugue in D, BWV 532,” by Johann Sebastian Bach, was played by Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, on the Massey Memorial Organ. The anthem, sung by the Chautauqua Choir, was “The Call,” music by Z. Randall Stroope and text by George Herbert. The choir was under the direction of Stafford and accompanied by Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar. For the offertory anthem, the Choir sang “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you,” music by Philip Stopford and text by Gerard Marklin. The Choir was under the direction of Stafford and accompanied by Stigall. The postlude, played by Stigall, was “Prelude in B Major, Op. 7, No. 1” by Marcel Dupré. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.