Thursday, July 28, 2005

Liturgy revisited...

In reading Stuart's comment on my earlier post, I'm concerned that I might appear to have become a member of the liturgy police almost overnight, without either noticing or intending this :-( .
I do recognise that much of what I penned yesterday is not really a response to his balanced critique at all. I guess I've heard once too often, from other less thoughtful souls, that any church that uses liturgy must automatically be dead, with burial long overdue. I know Stuart said nothing of the sort...but I suspect that my frantic justification was actually a response to those assorted others I've met along the way. Sorry everyone.
If truth be told (and it generally should be ;-) ) I'm horribly aware that Anglican liturgy isn't often, as Dan puts it "very missional". This, of course, is why I'm praying so hard for the success of our Open House service...though every now and then I am completely confounded by non church couples who arrive at the 10.00 Eucharist to hear their bans (this is a bumper year for weddings, so there have been a fair few of them) and who say over coffee how much they've liked the worship. I've tried to press them, as my experience at St M's tends towards the "were I not the curate, I wouldn't worship here myself" school, but they seem adamant that they've found the proceedings enjoyable - and not just in an "I can't believe anyone would carry on like that" sort of way! I guess that having a critical mass of people who do believe in doing things in the way that they are being done, and are not unwelcoming to newcomers can make many things tolerable, though I do have to say that were I starting from scratch, what emerged here would look rather different.
So I suspect that the reminder that it would be a sad and boring world were we all the same is something I need to hear and remember. You might justifiably hope that after 3 years of training and 1 year in full time ministry (not to mention 40 assorted other years spent living life) I would have got that, - but apparently I'm a slow learner. Meanwhile, at least I've sorted out why liturgy works for some of us, some of the time...special thanks, Anna, for expressing part of what I felt but seemed unable to frame coherently!


Sophia said...


I can imagine that it might be easy to go a little overboard in defense of liturgy. I've had people tell me straight out that any church with liturgy is not merely dead or outdated but that it is misguided, anti-biblical, and not really Christian.

As for what you said about newcomers LIKING liturgy, I've heard that some churches here in the US are finding that as well. As someone right in the middle of Gen X, I can tell you that folks in my age group are often looking for meaning, not just something trendy or something slick that looks like everything else that's marketed to us. That's not true for everyone, but for many people a visit to an episcopal church is a breath of fresh air - something real that's not made for TV.

Anna said...

When people say things like that to me, I always think (and sometimes say) "Don't all churches have liturgy?"

A "non-liturgical" church might start off every Sunday with three hymns shown on a PowerPoint screen, then go to an opening prayer, a reading or two from the Bible, the pastor's sermon, and a closing hymn. They'd probably have favorite hymns to sing on certain occasions, or favorite things to pray about. Isn't that liturgy? Unless you really don't know what to expect when you walk into your church each week, I'd say your church does liturgy. It's just that some of us write it all down and put it in a book!

revmom/cheesehead said...

I agree with Anna. While we have had a mini-surge of people coming to our little semi-liturgical church from the "big-box arena" church up the road, isn't the liturgy the "work of the people"?

Therefor, as I see it, unless worship means sitting like a lump in your seat until someone tells you to leave the room, your worship is liturgical. I think for my congregation, its the "$3 foreign sounding word" that scares them, not the actual rituals.

But we have had plenty of discussion about the rituals too. The previous pastor was not at all comfortable with the Book of Common Worship. He preferred to "write" his liturgy in his head on the short walk from the car to the church building on Sunday morning.

Needless to say, my little congregation is having some adjustment trauma, which I am trying to gently pastor them through.

Purechristianithink said...

I think folks are finally getting that "spontaneous" does not necessarily equal "spirit-filled". Too often it just means the pastor's or worship team's not very well thought through, this-seems-cool-let's try it, this-has-been-on-my-mind-so-it-must-be-from God brain fuzz. I appreciate the Reformed "freedom within form" approach to liturgy, but I also appreciate a high church liturgy that is done with intention and passion.

Fatima Madrigal-Crooner said...

Since everyone wants to sing the praises of liturgy, let me just give a glimpse from the other side:

For years I worked in a low-church setting, with little or no use of the prescribed books. Then I moved to a parish where I was required to used BCP almost exclusively.

I lost touch with God, primarily because I was no longer meeting him in the world I knew, but in some 17th century world that made no sense to me.

I am no longer an Anglican priest. Nor do I worship in the Church of England. Most days I'm an agnostic now.

And I mainly blame the liturgy for driving a wedge between me and the God I once knew.

Kathryn said...

Fatima, that's a really sad story...I'd hate to be in a context where people were either forced to use or prevented from using a particular style of liturgy, and it's positively tragic that the withering of your public relationship with God was matched by the decline of your private one.
Stuart's remark that we are all different, and have different needs, is more important than ever in the light of your comment.

Mary said...

In The Provocative Church, which I've just finished, Graham Tomlin offers as a test of a church's relationship with the kingdom the question:
"Do regular members find that Sunday worship feeds their own spiritual life,enabling them to draw close to God and taste both intimacy and awe?"
His point is that if this is what regular members find (and if they are living out the values of the kingdom as individuals and as a community) anyone coming into the church will be provoked into interest in what makes it different and special. This means that the important thing is not the particular liturgy/not liturgy any church uses but whether it is a channel that connects us to God. When I first walked into my present church 12 years ago, as a very lapsed liberal, I HATED the whole thing (NIV, worship songs with guitars, said psalms and informal prayers - we are more liturgical now, to my relief but others' pain...) but I stayed because it was clear that there was something real here that drew me despite the happy clappiness. Ours is a very different church from Kathryn's, but my reaction wasn't unlike that of her banns couples.

Tom Allen said...

Non anglicans might not know that the Initiation Liturgy in the relatively new Anglican "Common Worship" format was the only part of Common Worship which was not roadtested in real parishes before it was formally approved - and it shows. Had it undergone the kind of rigourous assessment that other a elements of Common Worship it would have been simpler and less wordy


revmom/cheesehead said...

I guess Tom's post helped me to see that there may be a real difference in the perception of Anglicans vs. non-Anglicans as far as discussion of "liturgy" goes. I suppose I should identify myself as Presbyterian Church (USA) clergy as a post-script.