Just straight up homegrown Episcopal liturgy
Lachlan Hassman, SAS’16, is in the midst of something extraordinary. He is busy making sure there are enough seats in the sanctuary and meals to serve a growing campus ministry. Canterbury Episcopal Student Ministry at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville has grown from a smattering of undergraduates to an impressive group of millennials. Who knew a liturgical and institutional denomination would be so engaging to this demographic? As it turns out, ancient words, Taize chants, and a commitment to rigorous theology are luring in the students. No praise band needed; just straight up homegrown Episcopal liturgy, tradition, and a commitment to the Gospel. “Last year we were only a group of six or seven and now our membership is in the 40s and growing,” Hassman says.
At the corner of University and Chancellor Street, Canterbury welcomes “Episcopalians and anyone else interested in relaxed, inclusive, non-judgmental fellowship for Christians, seekers, and skeptics. We pray, discuss, eat, play, hike, garden, and participate in community service together,” Hassman explains, noting that he finds particular joy in the “humbling work” of the ministry. Cooking, cleaning, and arranging the logistics of frequent meetings and services. “I view myself as a very practical person but I grow spiritually through action and work.”
That work currently includes an effort to procure funding for improvements to the Canterbury House, located across the street from St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church near the area of Grounds called The Corner. “We need to improve our facilities, so that we can accommodate larger numbers for our meetings.” He laughs and explains, “We currently take our dirty dishes over to the church to wash, because there is not enough space to do them in the house. So there are very practical improvements to be made, as well as some aesthetic improvements.”
Hassman is double majoring at UVA. His first major is religious studies, with a concentration in Christianity and Judaism. His second is in Middle Eastern studies, with a concentration in Arabic language. Despite the demands of this academic load, Hassman manages to find time to not only lead the Canterbury Ministry, but to also participate in the broader religious life of the university. He represents Episcopalians on the Virginia Interfaith Coalition, a student group promoting “education, tolerance, and advocacy” of the various religious groups on campus, and also helps run an outreach to LGBTQ Christian students.
After being on the front lines during the chaos in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017, Hassman is even more committed to leaving a legacy of peace and tolerance at UVA. He was serving as an usher during the interfaith prayer service hosted by St. Paul’s Memorial Church the night before the “unite the right” rally of Aug. 12, and saw firsthand the danger of intolerant aggression. “I was stationed outside the church, which was entirely packed. I had never seen so many people in any Episcopal church. They even filled the aisles. It was beautiful.” He was anxious that evening, as he had been informed that the neo-Nazis had targeted St. Paul’s, and planned to march up to the church. “By the grace of God, the white nationalists never got that far,” Hassman says, recalling that as the ushers walked community members to their cars, they were warned to watch out for the Nazis. “Avoid the Nazis—what a crazy statement in 2017! But unfortunately, completely appropriate.”
The next morning, clergy from many religious traditions, along with community members, met at Emancipation Park to be a peaceful physical presence. Hassman recalls that “it was shocking to see local businesses and the nearby synagogue reinforcing their windows, installing security, and hiring guards. Very surreal, especially in such a beautiful place, devoted to education.”
While the events of last summer are still being studied and the community is “still healing,” Hassman stresses that in the midst of all the confusion, anger, and hate, the interfaith prayer service was full of joy. “Inside St. Paul’s was transcendent beauty—singing, hugging, and praying. Out of hate came such incredible joy and holiness, like I’ve never experienced before.”
The experiences of last summer, Hassman says, only reinforced the importance of an open and accepting faith community on campus, especially for those who feel marginalized. Referring to the sermon delivered by Michael Curry at his installation, Hassman says, “The Presiding Bishop’s message was that God is not yet done with The Episcopal Church, and I think the Episcopal campus ministry is certainly part of that rebirth and renewal.” He, his co-president Sarah Paquette, and an enthusiastic bunch of young leaders are forming a new vision for the Church. Wearing everything from blazers and ties to comfy pajamas, the millennial members of the Canterbury group are revisiting the wealth of liturgy inherited in the Book of Common Prayer, and finding strength within its pages. “The Episcopal Church gives us hope,” Hassman says.
Hassman’s connections to Sewanee run deep. While a student at St. Andrews-Sewanee, he served as an acolyte in the Schools’ historic Chapel. He recalls that in the beginning he may not have even described himself as religious, but over the course of his four years working with the Rev. Dr. Robert “Bude” VanDyke, T’99, T’03; the Rev. Drew Bunting; and the Rev. Molly Short, T’15; the Chapel “became more important to me in ways I could never have predicted.” Hassman’s mother, Corey Stewart Hassman, T’15, graduated from the School of Theology with a master’s degree. Hassman credits Sewanee’s own Rev. Leyla King with planting the seed of his love for the Arabic language during a duel-enrollment course he took during his senior year at St. Andrews. Hassman is now beginning a discernment program run by the Diocese of Virginia called the Young Priests Initiative. We wish him well!