MASSEY — A fall festival at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church Oct. 1, brought a significant modern icon to the church.
Lay pastor Mark Hansen wrote in an email before the event, “Now there is an added arts-related element to be among the attractions: a recently commissioned icon of Father Paul of Graymoor, the candidate for Roman Catholic sainthood who was born and baptized as an Episcopalian in our parish back in 1863. This noteworthy piece is housed in Washington, D.C., but we are fortunate to be able to borrow it for the day.”
Icons, typically paintings of Jesus, Mary or other saints or religious figures, are a very old form of Chrisian art, documented as early as the 5th century A.D. However, Hansen wrote, “As a contemporary art-form, icons have been attracting wide interest beyond the eastern Orthodox churches where the technique originated.”
In a phone conversation Monday, Hansen said the art form is being used to elevate and honor figures from recent times. He said he had seen several of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom many people would describe as a modern saint. “It’s not just people who died many years ago,” he said.
The subject of the icon on display at St. Clement’s was born Jan. 16, 1863 in Millington. His parents, the Rev. Joseph Wattson and Mary Electa Wattson, baptized their son Lewis Thomas Wattson. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1886, following his father’s calling. And like his father, he belonged to the 19th-century Anglo-Catholic Movement, also known as the Oxford Movement, which sought closer ties between the Catholic and Anglican churches.
In 1898, in collaboration with an Episcopal sister, Lurana White, he helped to found the Society of the Atonement, taking vows of Franciscan poverty, obedience and chastity, with the mission of promoting Christian unity. With the formal establishment of the Society of the Atonement, Wattson, White and their companions embraced religious life in the Episcopal Church. White became known as Mother Lurana, while Wattson took the name of Father Paul James Francis.
In 1909, the Vatican accepted the members of the Society as a corporate body, allowing the friars and sisters to remain in their established way of life. Friar Jim Gardiner of the Franciscan Order in Washington, who brought the icon to St. Clement’s, wrote in an email Tuesday that the event was the first of its kind since the Reformation.
In addition to the Society of the Atonement, Wattson founded St. Christopher’s Inn at Graymoor in upstate New York, an early shelter and treatment center for addicted men, Gardiner wrote. Wattson’s “spiritual sons” also serve at the Centro Pro Unione in Rome and in pastoral ministries in New York, North Carolina, northern Virginia, Massachusetts, Toronto, Vancouver and Japan.
Hansen said he learned of the icon around the time it was commissioned by Archimandrite Joseph Lee of Holy Cross Monastery in Washington, who is involved in supporting Wattson for sainthood as an “apostle of unity and charity.” An interesting aspect of the icon, Hansen said, is that it portrays both founders of the order, though only Wattson has been accepted as a candidate for canonization. However, Lee chose to include both founders.
Gardiner wrote, “There are two copies (of the icon) — one in the motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement and the other at the Washington Retreat House, which the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement staff.” Gardiner said the one displayed at St. Clement’s is the original.
Hansen wrote in an email Tuesday, “(Wattson) was responsible for initiating and promoting what is now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, observed throughout the world by Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox. It was that spirit that animated our event last Saturday.”
At the Saturday event, Hansen said, in recognition of Wattson’s Franciscan ties, the church held a blessing of the animals and an event where retriever dogs from Doubletree Kennel could display their skills. The Latino community was also well represented, he said, with Latino food and barbecue being served. And to complete the ecumenical flavor of the event, a Methodist ukulele club took part in the services.