Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Liturgy and architecture

Titus 19 referenced an article from Lawrence, Kansas about Trinity Episcopal Church, a TEC parish that is going back to the future to attract Kansas U students:
When the church decided to add a new service in fall 2006, instead of looking forward, it looked back.

Way back. As in the fourth century.

The result is a unique celebration of Christianity referred to as the Solemn High Mass. A mystical meeting of old traditions in a setting where blue jeans and T-shirts are appropriate, the Sunday night service features incense, music and what the church, 1011 Vt., refers to as all of the “major propers” including the Kyrie Eleison, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Credo, the Sanctus and Benedictus and the Agnus Dei, which are chanted.

Performed only during the Kansas University school year, the service, which began its 2009-2010 season last Sunday evening, has snagged a crowd young and old, Episcopalian and not, says the Rev. Paul McLain, the church’s curate.
The “4th century” argument seems hyperbolic. It’s hard to tell, but this sounds like no Opus Dei or Tridentine Mass. I’m pretty sure there was no 4th century Christian worship in North America, so the 21st century English will be a bit of an anachronism.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, as preserving the traditional liturgy for the new generation is an important goal. However, this would have been considered normal liturgy at a high church (“bells and smells”) PECUSA parish, so the oddity isn’t all that odd — other than my comparison to the liturgical drift of the past few decades.

No word on whether the parish also plans to preserve traditional theology; the Bishop of Western Kansas is considered a TEC moderate, e.g. on the Windsor Report. However, Trinity is in the Diocese of Kansas, whose bishop is listed as a Gene Robinson supporter. Stand Firm in Faith counts him as a KJS apologist.

Still, perhaps the most interesting paragraph was only indirectly related to liturgy:
Solemn High Mass was introduced to Trinity in 2006 by its former rector, the Rev. Jonathon Jensen. Before leaving in June for his current post at the Trinity Cathedral in Little Rock, Ark., Jensen described his thoughts behind the addition of the old-style service this way: “… Lots of churches in Lawrence do contemporary worship, and that’s wonderful, but this is a 150-year-old downtown church that looks like an old English church and we have a fantastic organ and a wonderful chorale tradition, and we know what we can do best. And it’s not contemporary. It’s that (old style). And, so, we wanted to have this distinct offering.”
I’ve always wondered about the link of liturgy and architecture, but this raises more questions than it answers.

For example, do you need an old sanctuary (or old-looking sanctuary) to do traditional worship? (Or to attract parishioners looking for traditional worship?) Similarly, is it inappropriate to have a rock band in the such a building? Trinity seems to have a standard Rite II service on Sunday mornings, but the website doesn’t say what kind of music it has.

Update: Rev. Elizabeth E. Evans of the TEC and GetReligion seems to be similarly skeptical of the claimed “ancient” nature of the Trinity Episcopal worship service.


LouieCrew said...
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Eric W. Cook said...

I think one interesting development that has come out of the Barna group and other Christian pollsters was the relationship between church architecture and the interests of unbelievers. If I recall the Christianity Today article correctly a large majority of non-believers when shown four examples of ecclesiastical architecture and asked which building might interest them in attending worship the overwhelming majority choose the stone gothic structure over a colonial/Wren style church, a modernist church, and a CCW metal box. Does that translate into anything of substance for the church – I’m not sure. But many of my younger friends (25-41 yrs.) seem to indicate (and they are among those that do go to church, from occasionally to faithfully every chance), that they find it upsetting or at least somewhat incongruous if they attend a beautiful church built for liturgical purposes when a rock band or praise team is trotted out for the service.

I just found your blog to day and I’m very impressed by it and I’m very pleased to have found it. Praise be to God.

Your interest in a new Anglican hymnal has excited my interest and I hope there will be other posts on it, and/or I will find and read old ones.

Fr. Ernie Davis said...

St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church in Kansas City has introduced a High Mass in the Anglican Style. Our parish music tradition is "gospel" so this is quite a new experience for many. We are now singing the Missa Marialis and Missa cum Jubilo and gradually adding the ability to sing and chant other parts of the Mass. Our church building is not self-consciously medieval, but the acoustics are superb. An additional nine ranks for the organ are ready for installation. Bruce Prince-Joseph is directing the music program. Volunteers and visitors are welcome.