Saturday, October 31, 2009

Something scary: Reform!

As a parent and a suburbanite — as well as someone who occasionally watches TV — today is defined as Halloween. A few of us (maybe more Anglicans than other Prods) will remember the Celtic link. As the TEC rationalization for a Halloween-specific liturgy helpfully explains:
The term “Halloween”, is shortened from “All-hallow-even”, as it is the eveningbefore All Hallows' Day. Halloween originated with the Celtic tribes who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. For the Celts this Festival marked the endof summer - the coming of winter. For Celts it is a time when the bridge that separates the world of the living and the world of the dead becomes firmer,allowing spirits and ghosts and ghouls to cross over. These spirits or departedsouls are honored and asked to grant luck and prosperity
However, as someone who briefly walked on the German side, today is also the 492nd anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg. The Lutheran church (or at least the LCMS churches I’ve attended) make a big deal about this every year — it is their day, and that makes sense since it marks the beginning of their branch of Christianity and (John Calvin notwithstanding) the Reformation. I’m still hoping to make it to Wittenburg in 2017 for the festivities but perhaps that’s a forlorn hope.

The more I learned about Luther — the theses, his small and large catechism — the more I liked. On the big issues (sin, salvation, communion) I didn’t see anything in Lutheran doctrine that would prevent me from being an Anglican. And often I find it comforting to read Lutheran doctrine, precisely because the Lutherans actually have doctrine rather than those squishy 39 Articles that encompass a wide range of (sometimes conflicting) Anglican beliefs.

With the Vatican’s recent invitation to disaffected Anglicans, 2009 seems like a particularly interesting time for Anglicans (and Protestants) more generally to think about Luther and the Reformation. Martin Luther didn’t set out to create a new church but to reform the existing one. Similarly, many Anglo-Catholics long more for a Catholic church without its faults rather than dream of a perfected CoE.

Another interesting recent development is that the Catholic intellectual journal First Things has started a blog called evangel for evangelicals to help promote dialog among American Christians. (LCMS pastor/blogger Rev. Paul McCain has been spotted making comments there). The news peg of Reformation Day has extended the ongoing conversation of what divides and unites Christians across the Tiber. For example, Hunter Baker (whose parents were Catholic and Church of Christ) on Friday summarized his dilemma as follows:
The division of the church scandalizes me, especially in the world we live in. Part of the reason we lost as much as we did in American culture is because the Protestants worried more about “Romanism” than they did about secularism.

I wish I could see the Reformation’s end in sight, in a way that would somehow satisfy us all.
This was not the only evangel posting about Reformation Day. Blogger Jared Wilson notes that if the Catholics are excessively ceremonial, when it comes to (Calvinist) Protestants:
we are Keystone Kops over here. We are the Million Stooges, the overflowing clown car.

I think one reason the Reformation was so brilliant, so powerful, so swift in its spread, and still such an anchor—honestly: Luther and Calvin and Zwingli,, but especially Luther, make me feel sane—for many of us today is because as it was taking shape and rescuing hearts, there was no Protestant Church yet to discredit it.
I’d like to think that’s the one thing that liturgical Protestants (esp. Anglo-Catholics) do well. We are a serious bunch, focusing on preserving the faith through the generations, without either infallible pontiffs or all-too-fallible televangelists. (Of course, the bells and smells and other rituals often take the place of actual belief — but hey, nobody’s perfect.)

On a happier note, “Byzantine Calvinist” blogger David Koyzis posted a YouTube video of Luther’s famous doctrinal hymn: Ein' Feste Burg ist Unser Gott, noting its derivation from Psalm 46, a psalm that provided comfort to Luther during his long fight to reform the Church. (Like the LCMS types, Koyzis favors the original syncopated rhythm rather than the even rhythm most of us know.)

Even if the latest efforts at church reunification bear fruit, there will be many more Reformation Days in which Protestants and Catholics worship separately the same God who gave us the same Scriptures.

If nothing else, I think we should rejoice that the splintering of the church brought us all those great stanzas from the Protestants hymnodists: Luther, Watts, Wesley — with translations by Winkworth — as well as tunes from Bach, Haydn, Vaughan Williams, S.S. Wesley and so many others. I still love my medieval Catholic plainsong (as translated by J.M. Neale), but our Sunday worship would be impoverished if we lost all the music that has been written in the past 450+ years by Protestant apologists.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

River Tiber no longer deep nor wide

Today’s announcement that the Roman Catholic church is welcoming Anglicans into the fold is far more sweeping than had been rumored over the past few years. (Yes, as a reader pointed out in response to Sunday’s posting, many of the Schism I types have long longed for reunification with Rome.)

The best coverage so far is in the Telegraph (sorry Ruth) which points out that the plan creates a church within a church that is broader and deeper than previous accommodations to Eastern- and Anglican-rite Catholics. The Guardian notes that (as long expected) the 500,000-member Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) is first in line, and the TAC primate makes it clear they will immediately start working on building institutions of cooperation and unity. (Time to print more Tiber River Swim Club t-shirts).

The British press (including the Telegraph and Times) make it clear that Archbishop Williams was gobsmacked by the announcement. (It’s such a great term — and perfect here — so I’m surprised they didn’t use it). Meanwhile, the US press is doing its typical terrible ahistoric job of covering the ongoing fissures in Anglicanism, as pointed out by former Episcopalian (now Orthodox) religion writer Terry Mattingly in GetReligion.

I don’t pretend to understand all the theological and ecclesiastical implications of the announcement, nor to be able to predict how popular the option will be with Anglican clergy or laity. The British press makes it clear that this will have a major impact in the UK and its 25 million nominal Anglicans; if only 10% jump to Rome, that’s more than the 2 million remaining in the TEC.

In the US, there is the lingering problem here of a corrupt RCC hierarchy tolerating and then covering up all those priests who were buggering little boys. (It was also a problem in Canada and Ireland). The worst news is out, but the scandal is not quite over.

Here in the US, I’m guessing that Schism I Anglo-Catholics will leap at the opportunity, but the Schism II evangelicals will prefer to keep their own ACNA hierarchy and their ordained women; today Abp. Duncan made it clear he’s not ready to sign up. I believe the fragile confederation that is ACNA will be put to the test, as individuals, parishes and even dioceses (Ft. Worth? San Joaquin?) are tempted to follow the Anglican Church in America (the US branch of TAC) and swim the Tiber.

Update 4pm: Abp. Duncan and Williams share a common interest in keeping the Continuing Anglicans with the CoE/AC rather than have even more join the Tiber River Swim Team. My initial reaction was that if Abp. Williams (and the other instruments of communion) are going to recognize ACNA and bring them into the Anglican Communion fold, he should do it sooner rather than later. Bp. Martyn Minns of CANA essentially said the same thing this afternoon.

So without knowing who and when and how many parishes, priests and parishioners, it’s impossible to predict what this will do to Anglican worship. The Telegraph notes that in the UK, some Anglicans may prefer the new translation of the Roman rite while Catholics could choose Anglo-Catholicism over the mod liturgy that passes for the RCC nowadays.

The one prediction I feel comfortable making: the English-speaking Anglican Catholics (Catholic Anglicans?) will need to develop a liturgy shared around the world, whether based on 1662 BCP or some other instrument. Once the dust settles — and a significant number of ex-Anglicans are aboard — I’d expect the first order of business would be a new prayer book, of course under the doctrinal supervision of the Vatican and presumably in cooperation with the ICEL.

It is a leap of faith to say that this international cooperation would also extend to finding a replacement for The English Hymnal and Hymnal 1940. However, I think this suggests that the chances for a New Anglican Hymnal in North America are becoming close to nil. Perhaps the Schism I, II Anglo-Catholics will adopt the Catholic-Anglican hymnal when/if it becomes available, but that is clearly more than a decade off.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The journey away

My radio presets include a Protestant station (Family Radio) and Catholic station (EWTN). Flipping to EWTN on consecutive Mondays, I heard the weekly show “The Journey Home” (5pm PT, 8pm ET). The website lists the future schedule, while the EWTN RSS feed (podcasts) has links to MP3 files of past programs.

The theme of the show is that those (mostly Protestants) who convert to Catholicism are “coming home.” Like all inter-Christian evangelism, this is a theologically touchy topic, but I thought the (obviously Catholic) host handled the subject with dignity and respect.

That said, it was depressing that the two programs I heard were Anglicans (both with an Anglo-Catholic bent) who gave up on ECUSA/TEC and chose Rome over one of the Continuing Anglican groups. They (perhaps in keeping with the overall show theme) are highly intelligent, educated and articulate converts to Rome.

The September 28 show was an interview with Mary Moorman, who did her PhD dissertation at Southern Methodist U on the sale of indulgences — an improbable choice for a proto-Catholic if there ever was one. Apparently now she’s a prominent speaker in the Anglican Use movement of the US Catholic church.

Last week’s (Oct. 5) show was an interview with Dr. Scott Carson, a philosophy professor at Ohio University. Depressingly, when Carson was doing his PhD at UNC Chapel Hill, his parish priest was Bob Duncan — the same Bob Duncan who’s now the primate of ACNA. Carson thought Rev. Duncan was a great preacher, but that wasn’t enough to keep him in the Anglican faith.

Tomorrow’s (Oct. 12) show is said to be “Fr. Trevor Nicholls, Former Anglican Minister [sic].” (Side note: by denying the priesthood of Anglican clergy, the webmaster seems to minimize the decades of Anglo-Catholic dialog over recognition of Anglican orders.) Ordained a Catholic priest in 1990 by Cardinal O’Connor, Rev. Nicholls is one of the few Catholic priests with grandchildren.

This reminds me of how torn my wife and I have been facing the lousy choices presented by TEC’s recent theological decay. Of all the couple friends we have had since we were married, nearly all came from the ECUSA parish where we spent nearly 10 years of our earliest married days. Of the friends we made,
  • One family is Roman
  • Another is Greek Orthodox
  • Another is at a nondenominational Bible church
  • Another (the most “liberal”) moved away and is at a TEC parish
  • A few remain at our former ECUSA parish, which is becoming less orthodox and more “moderate”
The first rector has retired and his replacement is still there. Of the assistants who moved on, one is Antiochian Orthodox, one is a Catholic layman, one is a TAC priest who (with the rest of TAC) may become Anglican Use Catholic, one went to Ft. Worth (and I hope on to ACNA), and one is no longer in the ministry.

I think we’re the only ones among this group trying to stay Anglican by hanging on to the thin thread of Continuing Anglicanism — the rest would rather switch than fight. Will we give up Anglicanism too?

More generally, after 400+ years is this the beginning of the end of the historic Anglican faith in North America? And what does it say for the Anglo-Catholic faith elsewhere in the world — Australia, New Zealand and even England? The Anglican expression of the Christian faith may continue in the Global South, but much/most of this has an Evangelical rather than Anglo-Catholic orientation.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hymnal free, harmony free

For today’s recessional, our small congregation gave a hearty rendition of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s greatest hit. No, not HMS Pinafore — but Onward Christian Soldiers. The tune (St. Gertrude) has a great oompa bass line, of the sort you’d expect from someone who’s composed for a tuba in a brass band. Yes, Sir Arthur’s harmonization is very 19th century, but it’s a lot of fun and quite singable — Hymn 557 in my favorite hymnal.

This reminded me of my experience last month, singing one of my favorite tunes: Hyfrydol, the Rowland Prichard tune that appears twice in Hymnal 1940. The first time was with my favorite words: Charles Wesley’s “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling” — the pre-communion hymn from our wedding, when I had a photocopy of the hymn (#479) in my coat to sing the harmony and all the words. The next Sunday was with W.C. Dix’s “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus” (#347), a very good hymn but without the personal significance for me of Wesley’s wedding words.

But there’s a rub. The first time we sang Hyfrydol, it was at a hymnal-free church where the words are projected on the screen rather than bound in a book in the pews. (This parish is normally a rock-band CCM church, but does Rite I hymns at the early service to humor the small pocket of traditionalists). The second time (with the second-choice lyric) was with good ol’ Hymnal 1940, harmony edition.

As I remarked two months ago, there is a sense among many of the contemporary worship crowd in Schism II that hymnals are passé. These folks would argue “let TEC keep Church Publishing Inc.” because we won’t be needing a printed hymnal anyway. (The Schism I crowd seems committed to Hymnal 1940 for at least another generation).

The problem is, hymnal-free is also harmony-free. Without printed music, learning the tune is a bit of a challenge for newcomers (e.g. from another Christian denomination or for kids), while singing harmony is impossible for all but the most accomplished musicians (most of whom are sitting in the choir loft). Although I’d sung the Hyfrydol harmony many times, it was too complex without having the music or having a chance to practice beforehand.

From my hymnal shopping, it’s clear that printed hymnals with music (let alone harmony) are a comparatively recent phenomenon. Many of the CoE parishioners who died and left behind The English Hymnal or Hymns Ancient & Modern often as not left behind a book with just the words. Still today, a lot of TEC (or Continuing Anglican) churches have melody-only hymnals for some or all of those in the pews.

My guess — and it’s only a guess — is that the four-part hymnals in the home date back to when the middle class could afford a piano in the home. In 1909, the most expensive item in the Sears Roebuck mail-order catalog was a $138 piano, making home music available to most farm families across Midwest and Plains states. Today, a 61- or 88-key electronic keyboard is available for $100 from Costco or big box electronics stores — equivalent to $4 in 1909 dollars.

Thanks to Bach and his successors, four-party harmony has been part of Christian worship for 300 years, and part of pew-singing for at least one third of that period. Let’s hope that technology is used to preserve this important musical and liturgical element, rather than to remove it.