The Bells were heard
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The Bells were heard
A deep history continues to define McCreary County’s Anglican Church this Christmas
By Shane Gilreath
Though we often hear that Christmas has become secular, it hasn’t always been so, and each year, McCreary County is filled with churches who seek to renew the commitment of Christmas tidings. This holds true for churches around the globe, even those in McCreary County with unique and seemingly international origins, one of which celebrates a milestone this year, and will be one of the few churches in the area to celebrate a traditional Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
A decade ago, McCreary County was re-introduced to the English Reformation, by way of Christ the King Anglican Church. While there is historic evidence that Christianity was brought to the British isles during the 6th Century by St. Augustine, the current incarnation is a 16th Century embodiment of orthodoxy that transpired as a result of King Henry VIII’s inability to father a son. Since those Tudor days, when the king tossed aside Catholicism and Katherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, school children around the world have learned of the king’s fervor by the means in which he disposed of his many wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, as the ditty goes. Historians will also note that Henry VIII did eventually get his son, but his progeny died, aged 15, as Edward VI, only to be succeeded by a succession of women, based, initially, on their religious inclinations: his Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey, and then his sisters, the Catholic Mary I and Protestant Elizabeth, the latter and more famous of whom arguably oversaw the Church of England – the mother church of worldwide Anglicanism – as it stands today.
There is, understandably, a long history and an ocean between the Tudor dynasty and the church being planted in McCreary County. For historic context, it was in the reign of King James I, particularly noteworthy for having had the bible translated to English for the Anglican Church – the aptly titled and oft-used King James Version – that Anglicanism took root in America, and under the presidency of Barack Obama, 405 years later, that it was officially planted in McCreary County.
“Several years ago, myself and several other families in the county felt that God was calling us to plant a new Anglican Church in this area,” said Father Mike Neal, who continues to oversee the operations of Christ the King, founded in 2012, a parish that falls under the Diocese of the Living World, itself located just outside the nation’s capital in Manassas, Virginia.
As noted by Neal, many county residents were already longtime Anglicans, attending services at Christ Church in Rugby, Tennessee, St. Patrick’s in Somerset, and, at times, in private homes. Despite initial reservations from some county residents, Neal notes there has long been a deep-rooted Anglican presence throughout American history, which notably extends even into modern times. Most recently, President George HW Bush was Anglican, as a member of the Episcopal Church, as is sitting Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr. In fact, the Protestant Episcopal Church, who remains the most prominent American body of Anglicanism, has been home to more US Presidents than any other denomination.
“Most of the Founding Fathers were Anglican,” Neal says. “George Washington, John Jay, James Madison, and many others involved in the founding and expansion of our country. Christ Church Episcopal, in Lexington, was the first Anglican Church west of the Allegheny Mountains,” Neal reminded. “Henry Clay, John Morgan, John Hunt are just several prominent Anglicans from Kentucky.”
That may well have much to do with the church’s accepted beliefs and practices, likely more familiar than the community immediately realized.
“It’s a simple authentic Christian worship,” Neal notes. “I really think that if folks look at the history of the Anglican Church and where it comes from – and our own family histories – I think people would see the connection a lot clearer.”
When the History Channel recently took at look at the church, it found that Anglicanism upholds many of the teachings found in early Christian doctrines, among them the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, the latter of which was established by early Christians at the Council of Nicaea to help unite churches throughout all of Christendom. The church also continues to adhere to ideas outlined during the Protestant Reformation, in texts, such as the Thirty-Nine Articles and the continual use of the Book of Common Prayer.
“The Anglican Church,” reminds Father Mike, whose own 16th Century grandfather was the first Protestant to be burned at the stake for heresy by the Catholic Mary I, “is the largest Protestant Church in the world, with over 80 million members.”
Outside its long and historic presence, the church, likely most famous for events like the recent funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and various royal weddings, remains a simple form of worship, which is growing by leaps and bounds in Asia and South America.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” Neal says, referencing the long history of the church. “We’re still here and we’re still growing and that the Lord is not through with us yet. People still need Jesus,” he says, “and we welcome everyone who comes through that church door.”
It’s a sincere sentiment, as Christmas, a day with its own many rich histories and traditions, fast approaches. Christ the King will hold its annual Christmas Eve service at 10:30pm and Christmas Day services at 11am.