Last night we joined the Diocese of New Jersey in celebrating the beginning of a new life at Church of the Ascension in downtown Atlantic City. The occasion was the installation of The Rev. Timothy Holder as their new rector. The local paper coverage can be found here. Tim, also known as "Poppa T," is an amazing person. He claims to be an introvert who is trying to let his inner extrovert come out. I think he's accomplishing that quite well. His energy and creativity is phenomenal.
This is good news for Ascension. The parish, which has a long history of Anglo-Catholic worship, has fallen on difficult times, as have many of the former parishes that were once in Atlantic City. With the exception of St. Augustine's, they have all closed and moved to the suburbs.
The diocese is to be commended for being willing to take a risk to keep this important presence in Atlantic City alive. They developed a plan to fund a priest for a few years, and then intentionally sought someone with the unique gifts necessary to guide this parish, nestled in the midst of the casinos, to flourish. The way Bp. Councell (now also known as "Big Poppa G") put it was that they had to find a priest crazy enough to take on Ascension. Well, they found one in Tim. But, in this case, "crazy" is a complimentary adjective.
The architecture of the church itself is very Anglo-Catholic, and was obviously at one time a beautiful shrine. It is still beautiful, but has become a bit worn around the edges. Tim is inclined towards high church liturgy, but with one big difference; he is the founder and creator of the Hip Hop Mass at Trinity in the Bronx.
So, last night we had a quite unusual solemn high mass. Smells, bells, Anglican chant and rap. During the traditional presentation of gifts to the new priest, which includes a bible, water, bread and wine and a set of keys, additional gifts included a new pair of Nikes, a black jogging suit and three bottles of rum (representing the flavor of the Caribbean).
The preacher was Jim Lemler, Director of Mission for the Episcopal Church. Some of you may recognize Jim as the co-author with Charles Fulton of a booklet entitled Truth and Hope. If you have never heard of this booklet, I highly recommend that you get a copy and read it.
I must admit that I was uncomfortable swaying with my hands in the air, keeping time by clapping and shouting out "Word!" periodically. I watched, and smiled, as my brother and sister clergy tried to join in. It's just too radical of a switch for this liturgical conservative. Give me some time, and maybe, someday...but no promises!
Afterwards the reception was held at the entrance of the church, with a hip hop concert beginning at the transept. When it finally became time to head home, we stepped out onto the sidewalk, and the music poured out of the open door. A number of people walking by stopped and peered in, checking out this new thing going on at the corner of Kentucky and Pacific.
God is doing a new thing in Atlantic City. Thanks be to God!