Saturday, March 28, 2009

California -- less godless than New England

The Los Angeles Times (our state’s largest paper) has reported that California (20%) is less godless than New England (22%). Based on the American Religious Identification Survey, California is increasingly Catholic (37%). One factor is that nearly half the country’s Latinos live in either California or Texas.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Anglicans need doctrine AND outreach

I’ve been catching up on my Issues Etc. podcasts. I don’t listen to all of them, but try to pick the meatier ones plus those from guests that I generally enjoy (such as GetReligionistas Mollie Hemingway and Terry Mattingly).

One podcast I listened to over the weekend was called, “The Future of American Evangelicalism,” an interview with Michael Spencer of InternetMonk.Com. The main focus was to play off his Christian Science Monitor column called “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” and also his (more detailed) blog postings on the same theme.

Whether or not one agrees with his predictions, I would commend the interview (if not the written words) to any thinking Christian.

I was particularly struck by his dissection of the pros and cons of the megachurch movement:
  • Some churches are going to be better than others at leveraging new media opportunities, and many of the megachurches have done an admirable job of adapting to the new media.
  • Many evangelical churches have grown by being good at welcoming and outreach (i.e. evangelism), at the expense of doctrine.
  • Often, standing firm for a specific doctrine inherently requires making choices at odds with church growth.
All of these points seem applicable to 21st century Christians beyond the evangelical movement. My sense is that the Schism II Anglican evangelicals (such as the new St. James San Jose) are trying to engage contemporary technology, welcoming and reaching out to new members — but, by leaving TEC, have made it clear that doctrine still matters.

Spencer noted that Pope Benedict XVI has said that he expects the 21st century to bring a smaller but more faithful Catholic church. (I have not found the exact quote, but it is alluded to by a 2005 New York Times story and an Australian blog.) The early Christian church was a small minority of society, but was quite clear about its beliefs, and Benedict is not the only theologian who sees parallels between today’s post-Christian Western society and the early pre-Christian Roman times.

Still, I think there is a clear lesson here for Anglo-Catholics. All of the Schism I and Schism II Anglo-Catholic parishes that I’ve visited are solid on doctrine. However, they generally seem quite set in their ways, not reaching out or integrating new members into the fold. While the Bob Duncan-style Schism II Rite II Anglicans see such outreach and welcoming as an integral responsibility of laity, the Anglo-Catholics seem to delegate (elevate) the task to the priest and don’t even follow through systematically when a new parishioner walks through the door.

So we need to be less smug in our doctrine and more evangelical (small e) in our view of the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.”

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bay Area Anglicans: Unite!

David Virtue of Virtue Online has written up his interview with Fr. Ed McNeill, rector of the Bay Area’s new St. James Anglican. Regular Anglican Music readers already read about it here first. From what I heard, the parishioners thought that my March 8th posting captured the essence of their transition from ECUSA to the planned ACNA.

The new article also mentions, a website that St. James has created in hopes of rallying Continuing Anglicans in the Bay Area. Today it lists four parishes in the region, but Fr. McNeill is seeking other congregants and congregations to join the effort to reconnect the community lost as Episcopalians fled the church since the heresies begun by San Francisco’s own Bishop Pike.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Something worse than praise music

I have been mercilessly lampooning praise music in this blog, to the point that regular readers might think that the sole purpose of starting the blog was to eradicate it from Anglican worship.

The excesses of CCM are certainly a major focus of this blog. I also argue (as has Episcopalian-gone-East Terry Mattingly) that most “contemporary” music has a transitory quality that will not be passed down through the generations — let alone through the centuries — the way that (say) a hymn by Thomas Aquinas has.

However, by studying praise music in its anthropological context, I realize that there is a variation in the quality of music, lyrics and performance. Most of it is sappy drek, and some of it event perpetuates millennially ancient heresies, but it is possible to see that some small subset might survive 20, 50, even 200 years hence.

Driving around today, I happened to tune to one of the Immaculate Heart Radio stations that dot the Western US. I caught a Catholic morning mass which gave me new respect (if only by comparison) for the Anglican praise bands.

From what I recall of occasional visits to Catholic services, this liturgical form seemed fairly representative for a California post-Vatican II parish. Services in English, modernized words that seem more Rite II than 1549 (or 1928) BCP, and late 20th century songs rather than hymns by the 19th century (or 16th century) masters.

First, the singing was dreadful. This seems so shallow, but clearly someone near the mike couldn’t sing in tune and this really dragged down the effectiveness of this nominally uplifting music. By comparison, the music selection for my first visit to St. Edwards (now St. James) was like fingernails on chalkboards, but it was clear that the band leader and his musicians know their stuff.

Trying to get beyond the musical performance, I realized what was also awful was the choice of songs. No, there wasn’t anything sappy like “On Eagles’ Wings,” that notorious contemporary Catholic composition.

But, overall, the hymn choices seemed to alternate between lounge singer and bad campfire music. So not timeless (as in the centuries of Catholic heritage), not chosen from the best of the past 50 years of modern Christian music, and not even the sort of professionally composed CCM that might be heard on a praise music radio station.

This gave me some new insights as to what makes effective liturgical music.

First, I realized that the problem of a weak choir is not specific to contemporary music parishes. However, when I go to a hymn church with a off-key choir I just belt out the hymns so I can’t hear them. If I had to sit and listen to them, it would certainly detract from even the most inspired choices.

Conversely, the choice of hymns — even from within a genre — are certainly important. When we were last church shopping, there was a very friendly 1928 BCP parish with a great rector, but the organists’ choice of hymns was so haphazard that I never knew what to expect and some obvious choices (e.g. on Easter Sunday) were completely overlooked.

I don’t know the CCM genre well enough yet (perhaps ever) to know which are the classics. However, within Hymnal 1982 are a few new hymns that I am convinced will survive to the 22nd century, including my all-time favorite, the 1966 “I Am the Bread of Life” by Sister Suzanne Toolan. So I have a newly-found respect for the importance of a music director (or musically literate pastor) who not only selects hymns appropriate for the season, but also chooses the best hymns, bypassing the weak offerings that will deservedly be forgotten.

Music has the potential to stir the soul, and to reinforce the message being conveyed by the readings, liturgy and sermon. However, it takes knowledge, skill and (frankly) good taste to do it right, and many parishes fall short in one or more areas.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New hymn blog

Via the Catholic website Hymnography Unbound, I found out about a new hymn blog, Catholic Musicians.

The post I found most amusing was the one lamenting a particularly awful piece of schmalz that (as it turns out) was foisted on parishes everywhere by a contemporary Catholic composer:
Sometimes composers set music to sacred texts that become so well-known that one can hardly read the words without hearing the tune. Who can ponder Isaiah 9 without hearing Haendel's "For Unto Us a Child is Born," or who can help but to think of Brahms' Requiem when St. Paul taunts, "Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?" These "ear worms" stay with us and heighten our appreciation of these Scriptural passages.

Alas, not all such situations are to be celebrated. Take Psalm 90, for instance. It is quite possible that many cringe at the mere reading of that text, for it immediately conjures up the sounds of one of the most popular--and one of the most poorly-written--pieces of music in the history of the Catholic Church. I speak, of course, of "On Eagles' Wings," or, as a friend of mine--no ideologue, she--calls it, "that yoohoo song." ("Excuse me!!!" she once said, approaching Michael Joncas, "aren't you the guy who wrote that yoohoo song?" Joncas, once he figured out what she was talking about, just laughed and admitted that he really should have revised the piece.)
The author is a big fan of Gregorian Chant. In many ways it seems to be my counterpart in the Roman Catholic Church — except that in his church, the doctrinally devout do not also have to worry about an unfolding schism and property fight.

In another post, Lawrence praises the Anglo-Catholic worship at a Philadelphia parish:
S. Clement's uses a Mass that is essentially the Traditional Mass said in a sacral vernacular, translated by someone who was clearly literate and aesthetically sensible. It offers perhaps the solution that Rome should have pursued in the mid 20th century. Alas, I need hardly comment on how far afield we've gone from that.
Alas, the St. Clement parish is in the diocese of Philadelphia, the same diocese until recently headed by the corrupt Charles Bennison, and the diocese determined to snatch the Good Shepherd Rosemont property from the most devout Anglo-Catholic parish in Eastern Pennsylvania.

The St. Clement website does not indicate where the clergy stand on the great theological and cultural issues dividing the Anglican Communion. So it’s hard to tell whether they’re Anglo-Catholic (as defined 150 years ago) or merely High Church Progressives.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Honoring the Wesleys

A little late, I want to highlight a blog posting two weeks ago honoring John and Charles Wesley, at the hymn blog Conjubilant with Song. (The Ohio Anglican has a separate posting that focuses more on their theology.)

While John Wesley is the founder of Methodism, it is his brother Charles, the prolific composer of hymn texts, that I have previously highlighted in this blog.

The Conjubilant posting particularly resonated with me because it highlighted one of my favorite Wesley hymns, and the one that has the most emotional significance for me: “Love divine, all loves excelling,” which is Hymn 479 in my favorite hymnal.

Yes, Roland Prichard’s Hyfrydol is a stirring example of a 19th century hymn tune, and it’s also one where I’ve memorized the harmony so I don’t have to sight-read it (which would be not a pretty sight). But it’s more than that.

This was the hymn that I chose as the communion hymn for our wedding. (The division of labor for our brief engagement was that I planned the service and she planned the reception — each with the other’s approval.)

When the hymn began, and we were standing at the altar waiting for communion, I pulled a photocopy of Hymn 479 out of my coat pocket so I could sing every verse of Wesley’s words. I had not told her of my plans, but my bride of a few minutes also felt the same way. Every time I hear the hymn it takes me back to that day and that moment.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let's not copy the Lutherans

This passage — from a lecture last week by Charles Murray — seems like it captures the urgency of the Great Commission to spread the faith in the increasingly “post-Christian” Western society:
Drive through rural Sweden, as I did a few years ago. In every town was a beautiful Lutheran church, freshly painted, on meticulously tended grounds, all subsidized by the Swedish government. And the churches are empty. Including on Sundays. Scandinavia and Western Europe pride themselves on their “child-friendly” policies, providing generous child allowances, free day-care centers, and long maternity leaves. Those same countries have fertility rates far below replacement and plunging marriage rates. Those same countries are ones in which jobs are most carefully protected by government regulation and mandated benefits are most lavish. And they, with only a few exceptions, are countries where work is most often seen as a necessary evil, least often seen as a vocation, and where the proportions of people who say they love their jobs are the lowest.

What’s happening? Call it the Europe syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase “a life well-lived” did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.

It was fascinating to hear it said to my face, but not surprising. It conformed to both journalistic and scholarly accounts of a spreading European mentality. Let me emphasize “spreading.” I’m not talking about all Europeans, by any means. That mentality goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.
Alas, it seems as though our mother England — despite its longstanding suspicion of the Continent — is only a generation or two behind socialist secular Sweden. Today America is a more Christian country than those of Old Europe, but recent trends are not encouraging.

Update March 19: Vicar Josh would like me to call this Let's not copy the Swedish Lutherans. He points out that there is considerable variation between US and European Lutherans, as well as among US Lutherans. If the Swedish Lutherans are at an extreme, what’s left of the Lutheran church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland) isn’t far behind. Among US Lutherans, the LCMS and WELS are every bit as devout and orthodox in their beliefs as the Continuing Anglicans.

However, I think Murray’s point is more about society than the church: people are placing their trust in Big Government to provide in this life, rather than focusing on God’s promise of Eternal Life.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A ray of hope in California

The January 5 victory by the TEC over Continuing Anglican parishes hoping to keep their property was widely perceived as resolving the issue once and for all. “California Supreme Court says breakaway parish can't take national church's property” blared the Los Angeles Times headline.

Based on my knowledge of the law, I was a little more cautious than most:
Since the decision sends the case back to Superior Court, St. James Anglican hopes to win in trial court, but with the Appeals and Supreme courts against them, it’s definitely an uphill fight.

If the California decision holds — and it will take years to say for sure — this is likely to strip real property from at least four Los Angeles and three San Diego parishes that have left since Schori was elected Presiding Bishop.
The decision, after all, was just a procedural one, not one on its merits: the California court said that the TEC has a plausible case, not that it was legally correct. Still I (and others) were struck by the sweeping rhetoric of the decision, demolishing each of the Anglican parish arguments in turn.

In fact, there was a disconnect between the stage of the legal case — a procedural decision on the Anglican parishes’ attempts to throw the case out — and the broad sweep of the rhetoric.

The Anglican Curmudgeon had the same reading of the ruling and the law, but has gone one step further. He found a Supreme Court clarification which reined in some of the sweeping rhetoric. As he summarizes:
First, note that the Court has definitively backed off from its pretense to have decided the merits of the case; instead, it has only "addressed" them---or, in the other instance, it has "analyzed" the merits instead of "resolving" them. This is a huge relief to all concerned.

"On this record", however, has a further technical meaning in this case, which attorneys will appreciate. For in the case of the complaint brought by ECUSA, the trial court granted the defendant parish's demurrer to it without leave to amend. (A "demurrer" to a complaint is just the same as saying: "So what if everything you say in your complaint were true? You still haven't stated a case on which the court can grant the relief for which you are asking [in this case, the transfer of the parish's property to the Diocese and to ECUSA]. And when a court "sustains", i.e., upholds, the defendant's demurrer "without leave to amend", it means that nothing the plaintiff could plead in his complaint would change the result---it would still not state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The case is then over, without the defendant ever having had to answer, because the plaintiff's case is so weak that it could not succeed even if everything the complaint says---or could conceivably say under the circumstances---were true.)

Thus in reversing the dismissal of ECUSA's complaint, the judgment of the Supreme Court has the effect of reinstating the complaint, and requiring defendants to answer it (they cannot demur to it any more). The Court has held, in effect, that if everything the Church alleges were true, then it would be entitled to the property of St. James's, Newport Beach.
I encourage all concerned Anglicans to read his complete analysis.

I would not have seen this legal update without the link from San Diego Anglicans, one of the few blogs I know that’s written about the spiritual and temporal issues facing Continuing Anglicans in California. It does a particularly good job of covering the Western Anglican Congregations, the proto-diocese for Schism II churches in Los Angeles, San Diego and Arizona.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Day of Judgement

From today’s gospel in the ECUSA (RCL) lectionary:
[Jesus] rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? Mark 8:33b-37 (ESV)
This reading was the sermon theme for Rev. Edward McNeill, in his last day after nearly 10 years as rector of St. Edward’s Episcopal Church in the Diocese of El Camino Real (i.e. San Jose). Tomorrow, Fr. Ed becomes rector of St. James Anglican, the first Bay Area parish to leave ECUSA this decade.

As Fr. Ed noted in his sermon: “I didn’t pick the gospel: it’s in the lectionary. I did not pick this day: other people did.” As with any other resignation of a rector, at the end of the service the bishop’s representative (here Rev. Canon Brian Nordwick) took the keys to the parish. However, after the service Rev. Nordwick presented Rev. McNeill with the bishop’s letter of inhibition — which has been the TEC’s way of firing clergy who are quitting the TEC.

Following the gospel text, Fr. Ed’s theme was how we must focus our minds on the things of God, and preparing for our final judgement day. Jesus rebuked Peter because he cared more about his salvation than his feelings — or, as Fr. Ed said, “Love has teeth, and we all needed nipping once in a while.”

The surreal thing for me was that this traditional reading of scripture — and the willingness to take a stand against the errors of TEC — was delivered in the context of a very contemporary liturgy. The 12 person praise band included a drummer, keyboardist, 3 guitars, a bass and assorted singers and other instruments. Even the one traditional hymn (“It is well with my soul”) was almost unrecognizable. As the parish website proclaimed back in 2006
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.
Although most of the praise songs were composed in this decade, they made an exception at the end. The postlude was a medley of the R&B hit “People Get Ready” with the reggae “One Love” (which has become an official hymn of the Anglican church of Jamaica).

There were about 125 people at the combined service this morning. From what I saw, about 70% of the parish is leaving with Fr. Ed to form St. James, including the majority of the vestry and 8 of the 11 regular band members (one is remaining, while the other two are paid musicians that neither parish probably can afford now). The St. Edwards majority might have hoped to keep their building, but January’s California Supreme Court ruling made that seem like a longshot. After the ruling, my sense is that they concluded that if they had to start from scratch, they might as well start sooner rather than later.

St. James will be under the supervision of Bishop Robert Duncan, head of the Anglican Communion Network and primate-apparent of the planned Anglican Church of North America. However, it is the only Schism II church in the Bay Area, and none are waiting in the wings. The only other ACN parish in the diocese (St. John’s Chapel) is in Monterey, and there are none in the Diocese of California which has had radical bishops for almost 50 years.

In Santa Clara County, there are four other (Schism I) Anglican churches in four separate Anglican jurisdictions: Christ the King South Bay, St. Luke’s Chapel (Los Altos Hills), St. Paul‘s Anglican Church (Los Altos) and St. Ann Chapel (Palo Alto). As an AMiA contemporary worship parish, CKC may join with St. James under the same bishop, but the other three parishes are 1928 BCP and solidly Anglo-Catholic. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, parishes are similarly fragmented between jurisdictions.

In the rest of California, the picture is somewhat clearer. In central California, the Diocese of San Joaquin (headed by Bp. Schofield) represents those Episcopalians who left TEC largely intact in 2007. In Southern California, the Association of Western Anglican Congregations is the proto-diocese for Schism II parishes in the Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan regions. (Schism I parishes such as the APCK and TAC remain outside the group).

The faith and courage of the St. Edwards (now St. James) parishioners is undeniable. And with their belief in women’s ordination and contemporary liturgy, they will be at home with Bp. Duncan, the AMiA, and many of those in the new province.

However, I am uncertain about common cause between the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic parishes in the Bay Area. Once they are done fighting TEC, their differences may be more obvious than their similarities.