As I sat down early Saturday morning, to start writing this column, my computer decided at that moment to spend the next twelve-plus hours updating everything. It was a good thing, as it gave me time to reflect on how I wanted to write this story.
St. Alban’s is a church located in the Manhattan Heights area of El Paso, just down from Five Points. If you walk down Elm street, a street anchored by St. Alban’s and the First Church of Christ, Scientist, you will think, as I often have, that you are in another place and another time.
Throughout its history, starting with its creation, in 1921 as a mission church by then St. Clément’s Episcopal Church, to how I found it just this past week, it has been a bastion of peace and beauty in Central El Paso.
I sat down with Rev. Dr. Lin S. Lilley, the Rector-Elect of St. Alban’s and had a wonderful conversation.
After our recorded talk, as we were discussing other things, we both mentioned that St. Alban’s feels like home. Even Chantilly Bolgar, who went along with me so she could take her photos felt the same way.
So, I’ve decided to write about that.
I do want to invite you to take a moment, about fifteen-minutes, to listen to some of our conversation by clicking the link above, or the one at the bottom of this column. I think you’ll find Reverend Lin to be a wonderful woman, who happens to be the first woman Rector of St. Alban’s in its almost one-hundred-year history.
Now, on to St. Alban’s!
On any given day, when you walk into St. Alban’s and go into the main part of the Church you are going to be met by a controlled riot of color. It’s no secret that my favorite part of any Church is the windows, but St. Alban’s has some of the most beautiful examples of religious art, in the windows, that I have ever seen.
Walking up and down the aisles of the Church, looking at the windows, it’s as if you are looking into a long-lost family photo album. Each one tells a story from the Gospel.
Then there is the altar. St. Alban’s is part of the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Like altars found in most pre-Vatican II Churches, it is against the wall. As the priest says the prayers of consecration, they face the altar as does the congregation. It’s a tradition that is only found at two Episcopal Churches here in El Paso. (It is a tradition I would like to see revived for any liturgical church)
Another aspect of the altar, it faces east. Or, I should say, as you face the altar, you are looking east. This is a feature found in many older churches in England, as well as most older Catholic Churches. It comes from the Latin ad oriented, the root of orientation. Today orientation means getting your bearings or becoming acclimated to a new situation. However, it has a more ecclesial meaning: “the building of a church or temple on an east-west axis with the chancel and main altar to the east.”
As one prays the daily office or reflects on many of the prayers of the Church, you will see many references for Zion, Judah, Judea, Salem, Ariel, and Jerusalem- the Christian faith began in Israel, and Christians were called to face that direction when they prayed. St. Alban’s maintains that tradition.
Another beautiful feather of St. Alban’s is the altar rail. When one goes to receive communion, they kneel as the elements, bread and a common cup, are passed to them by the priest and her altar servers.
The Episcopal, Anglican, Lutheran Churches, and the traditional Catholic Churches have maintained this ancient tradition. My opinion, for whatever it may count, thinks that this is a more prayer and respectful way to receive communion- kneeling.
Then there is Our Lady of Walsingham. At one point, as you will hear me mention in the audio of the interview, St. Alban’s was once the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
As Reverend Lin said, it is the only such statue to be found in the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande. But, who is she, Our Lady of Walsingham? Here’s the story as I have heard it.
It is said that in 1061 the Virgin Mary began to appear to a noble lady by the name of Richeldis de Faverches, a widow who lived in Walsingham. In these visions, Mary showed Lady de Faverches the house, in Nazareth, where the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to give birth to Jesus.
The Blessed Mother asked Lady de Faverches to build a replica of that house in Walsingham, England.
Today, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and quite many Catholics venerate or acknowledge the apparitions of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Walsingham.
And I’ll close with the story of St. Alban. Lin and I do talk about it, briefly in the interview. But it is such an amazing story, and one that I have heard told many times.
Alban was a Roman soldier. That fact I learned from Lin. I used to think that Alban was simply a householder who gave his life in the noble effort to save a priest. Knowing he was a Roman soldier adds an element to the story for me.
In England, in the year 304, the Romans in England were persecuting the Christians. A priest and his name are lost to history, went into hiding, and Alban took him in.
Over time, the Governor learned that the priest was hiding in Alban’s home. When soldiers were sent to capture the priest, Alban changed clothes and places with him.
Here is where the story can be found in two different versions. Both versions say that Alban took instruction from the priest while he was in hiding. The difference is that one says he, Alban, was still a pagan when he was captured in place of the priest.
When the Governor learned that the priest had gotten away and that Alban was one of his soldiers said that he would be set free if he would but worship the gods. Alban refused.
The other version I have been told is that Alban was baptized by the priest and became a Christian. Either way, Alban became the first martyr of England.
So, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church has two very strong connections to events in England, beyond being part of the Anglican Communion.
Finally, this is not my typical column. I did want to share something personal with you, the beauty of St. Alban’s Church.
I used to spend a lot of time here. I was an Oblate of a religious order at St. Alban’s. It was also the only Church my sister, Nancy ever attended. And Fr. Luis Cockram-Ashley, who used to be the Rector of St. Alban’s, had a very big impact on my life.
As you look through the photos I have included I would like you to keep one thing in mind. Just one.
Seeing the photos in no way compares to seeing this Church in person.
I would like to invite you to take some time in the coming weeks to visit them. They are located at 1810 Elm, at the corner of Wheeling and Elm. (Wheeling crosses Piedras). You can also call Rev. Lin at 915-565- 2727.