Saturday, November 24, 2007

Preserving traditional faith and worship

Even if 16th century theologian Richard Hooker did not (as often claimed) give us the metaphor of the 3-legged stool (scripture, tradition and reason), tradition has played an important part in providing a continuity of scriptural interpretation over the millennia: most Anglicans could tell you something about what happened in the First Council of Nicaea, even if they couldn’t give you the year (325).

From the narrow prism of my personal tastes I once assumed that traditional worship and traditional liturgy (specifically music) go hand and hand. Casual observation of the unfolding American schism show that’s obviously not the case. The theological traditionalists leaving PECUSA (TEC) since the 2006 General Convention (and over the past 30 years) have included both those with modernized worship and those with traditional worship.

These two traditionalists groups seem to go by the labels “evangelical” and “Anglo-Catholic,” represented by Trinity and Nashotah seminaries, which finally realized last month that they have more similarities than differences. Similarly, of the dioceses heading for the TEC exit, Pittsburgh (Bp. Duncan) represents the evangelicals while San Joaquin (Bp. Schofield) and Ft. Worth (Bp. Iker) represent the Anglo-Catholics. The Anglo-Catholics (my homies) seem to like the 1928 BCP and the 1940 Hymnal, while the Evangelicals seem to be Rite II from the 1982 Hymnal and perhaps even non-hymnal music.

But again, this is an excessively narrow view of Anglican worship in North America. In fact, both forms of music are common on the progressive (modern theology) side of the aisle.

Most visible are the modern theology and music, a faction I’ll call “Blowin’ in the Wind,” in homage to the social gospel folk music epitomized by the Mary Travers version of the Bob Dylan song. These ultra-modernists have brought us a series of politically correct “hymnals” — even more modern and PC than Hymnal 1982:

  • African-American: Lift Every Voice & Sing (1981) and Lift Every Voice & Sing II (1993)
  • Feminist: Voices Found (2003)
  • Other PC theology: Wonder, Love & Praise (1997)
This is also the quadrant of the most extreme cases of the TEC, as with this example recounted by David Virtue a week ago:

The Sunday after General Convention I returned to my home parish for Gay Pride Sunday and participated in a Disco Mass for which gays and lesbians turned out in force. The opening hymn was a beautiful jazz rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow.’ Musical offerings came from gay men in sequined tank tops and from the Director of Music who was ushered into the service singing a disco number complete with go-go girls. The queen of St. Mark’s appeared in full drag to deliver the homily and the closing hymn was, Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family.’"

At the same time, there are many high church progressives, including the majority of the participants in the Anglican Music (no relation) mailing list, a refuge for high church organists and music directors. They are often found in the big urban cathedrals in liberal dioceses, where gay rights are more salient than in the suburban churches. My first encounter with this was on a business trip many years ago to San Francisco, where I attended Church of Advent near Union Square, and found that their definition of “inclusive Anglo-Catholic” did not include traditional theology. So this actually suggests four alternatives:

High Church Progressives
Hymnal 1982

Hymnal 1940

Blowin’ in the Wind
Wonder, Love and Praise


A microcosm of this 2x2 division can be found (for now) in the Diocese of El Camino Real, which installed Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves as its first female bishop two weeks ago today. The installation took place not at the small cathedral in downtown San Jose, but at St. Andrews in affluent Saratoga, which features high church worship complete with the most modern of theology. Each of these four quadrants are currently represented in the Diocese of ECR:
  • High Church Progressives: epitomized by St. Andrew’s, a sanctuary (tellingly) dedicated by Bp. Pike in 1963. At the recommendation of a former parishioner, I attended a service here five years ago. Only the second rector in fifty years, his sermon talked about updating the faith for the 21st century, which should have been an an early warning sign. After he denied the divinity of Jesus Christ, I should have walked out but I was too shocked to react. Here are my contemporaneous notes of what he said:
    He said the big issue of updating the faith was the conflict between science and religion. He said we know now that rain is caused by weather systems, and diseases is caused by bacteria and the breakdown of cells. He went on: “The writers of the scriptures didn’t know that. Jesus didn’t know that.”
  • Blowin’ in the Wind: this is most of TEC and I’m assuming this is most of the diocese, at least in liberal Northern California. These are services I try to avoid.
  • Anglo-Catholics: St. John’s Chapel of Monterey is a 1928 BCP parish established in 1894 by C.P. Crocker and C.H. Huntington, half of the “Big Four” railroad barons who created the Central Pacific Railroad and with it the western part of the transcontinental railroad. The parish once drew heavily from Fort Ord before the base closed in 1994.
  • Evangelicals: St. Edward’s in San Jose is a member of the Anglican Communion Network, with visitors from Bp. Duncan but a decidedly modern take on worship style. As the website proudly proclaimed earlier this year:
    Our 10 am Sunday service is a contemporary update of our traditional service. If you are familiar with Episcopal, Lutheran, or Roman Catholic worship, you will still recognize the pattern of the service. The structure is the same but the music is really contemporary. Now when some churches say they have contemporary music they mean music that was written in the 1960s. We like some of that music as well, but lets get real for a moment...those are golden oldies. When we say contemporary, we mean this year or even the past five years. We do occasionally sing old hymns and even golden oldies, but when we do its usually with a remix to bring it up to date. At the moment, our Music Ministry is enamored with “Jesus loves me” Punk Style! It rocks.
Without any direct evidence, I suspect that the traditionalists will not be remaining in the diocese much longer. The coverage of the installation by the San Jose Mercury and the LA Times (the latter pilloried by GetReligion) did not give much indication of the theology or administrative policies of Bp. Gray-Reeves. However, given the people who selected the bishop (and her controversial predecessor) I suspect she will be among the most liberal and aggressive in the national TEC.

If so, St. John’s and St. Edward’s will be leaving the diocese of ECR, just as most of the traditionalists left the Diocese of San Diego after it got a new liberal bishop. With California law unsettled right now, it’s not clear if they will be leaving with or without their sanctuaries, but this thin remnant of theological diversity within the diocese (and much of the TEC) is unlikely to last much longer.

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