We celebrate the Feast of St. Alban every year on the Sunday closest to June 22.
Many church congregations take the name of saint, either from Biblical times or from a later period of Church history, to identify themselves. As you may be aware, the Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches admit saints to their calendars from as recently as the end of the twentieth century, so it may not be unusual to find a local saint commemorated through her or his name being used by resident congregations.
It’s probably fairly obvious why St. Alban was chosen as the patron for our congregation. With the city named after that in New York State, and that one being named after the city of St. Albans nineteen miles from central London in Britain, it makes sense to reinforce this connection.
Alban lived in third century Britain and sheltered a Christian priest who was fleeing from persecution by the Romans. A detachment of soldiers from the Roman army went from home to home, looking for the priest. Alban, who’d spent a few days talking to the priest and had been converted to Christianity by him, dressed in the priest’s clothing and surrendered himself, allowing the priest to escape. Alban was taken before the court and the trick discovered. As penalty for this, and for allowing the priest to evade capture, Alban was sentenced to death.
Legend has it that the executioner was so impressed by what Alban had done that he refused to carry out his task, thus incurring a death sentence on himself. Another was found to kill the two. Reputedly the executioner’s eyes fell out when he killed Alban.
How much of this is factual is uncertain. What we do know, however, is the basic story of shelter, of the native Alban’s conversion and of his substitution of himself to enable the priest to continue his ministry. A cult arose around the Roman town – Verulamium – and an abbey built over Alban’s grave on top of the hill. Within a few decades of Alban’s death, pilgrims made their way there to pray. They found comfort and strength from the story and the aura of holiness enshrined there. The Abbey and Cathedral Church of St Alban continues as a vital Christian community to this day, with a wonderful building, a magnificent organ and great choirs and a solid pastoral witness and ministry to the city and surrounding county.
Whoever came up with the idea of naming cities in New York, Oregon and other States and of naming our congregation after Alban, had great vision. Both city and congregation have a mission to stand up for what is right, regardless of the discomfort or cost; they both have the mission to care for those who are defenseless; and they both have the mission to be hospitable.
When we celebrate our Patronal Festival in June, at the Eucharist we use a liturgy developed for use in the Abbey and Cathedral of St. Alban in Britain as a sign of the link that we share with the people there.