Thursday, June 28, 2007

Enforcing consistency in worship

Once upon a time, picking an Episcopal church was easy. The sermons and people varied, but the theology and the liturgy were pretty similar. In the 20th century, everyone used the same hymnal for the 40 years and the same prayer book for 50 years.

Of course, during the 1960s, consistency of theology and liturgy in ECUSA began to fracture. On the former, we now have what CANN calls the ongoing “Carnival of the Anglican Crisis.”

On the liturgy, we now have two official rites within the 1979 BCP, to the degree that people follow the BCP. Although there’s nominally only one official hymnal, we also have Lift Every Voice & Sing II (1993), Wonder, Love & Praise (1997), and Voices Found (2003). The reality is that some Episcopal parishes do guitar masses, and some do bells & smells.

Of course, such variation is a broader issue within the contemporary Christian church. In the LCMS (the moderately conservative US denomination), pastor-blogger Paul McCain exhorts his colleagues for a little consistency:
To suggest that the better way for the church to order herself is for there to be the greatest amount of liturgical uniformity as possible strikes some ears as a call for a slavish formalism, some even go so far as to use the word “legalistic” whenver this comes up. … It seems that some in the Lutheran Church have dismissed discussion of the dangers of liturgical diversity and the blessings of the great possible liturgical uniformity. Why? Sadly, in an era that has witnessed a trend toward doing whatever is right in the eyes of an individual pastor, or congregation, the blessings of liturgical uniformity are being woefully neglected. We have lost our understanding of the blessing and advantage of striving to have as common a liturgical practice as possible.Preaching

The thought that a pastor would, from Sunday to Sunday, reinvent the church’s worship service was an alien thought to the Lutheran Confessors, and hence the Lutheran Confessions. …

Some might assume that my remarks are directed only toward those who have chosen to embrace “contemporary worship” or “blended worship” with its Sunday-to-Sunday “newness.” But that would be a mistake. I would also direct these remarks to those who choose to “do their own thing” in a more traditionally liturgical direction: that is, those who choose to embellish and otherwise change the church’s received liturgies in a direction that they regard as “better” or “more faithful” or “more liturgical.”
I saw Pastor McCain’s comments when they were posted 10 days ago. Then last night, I was reading a few chapters from a book I bought almost 10 years ago at the Georgetown U. bookstore, Documents of the Christian Church (2nd ed.). In the section on “The Reformation in England,” the book included excerpts from Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity (1559), mandating the use of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer (which was soon replaced by the 1559 BCP). Legalese being what it is, the text is hard to follow, but here’s a flavor:
And that if any manner of parson, vicar, or other whatsoever minister, that ought or should sing or say common prayer mentioned in the said book, or minister the sacraments, from and after the feast of the nativity of St. John Baptist next coming, refuse to use the said common prayers, or to minister the sacraments in such cathedral or parish church, or other places as he should use to minister the same, in such order and form as they be mentioned and set forth in the said book, or shall wilfully or obstinately standing in the same, use any other rite, ceremony, order, form, or manner of celebrating of the Lord's Supper, openly or privily, or Matins, Evensong, administration of the sacraments, or other open prayers, than is mentioned and set forth in the said book … or shall preach, declare, or speak anything in the derogation or depraving of the said book, or anything therein contained, or of any part thereof, and shall be thereof lawfully convicted, … shall lose and forfeit to the queen's highness, her heirs and successors, for his first offence, the profit of all his spiritual benefices or promotions coming or arising in one whole year next after his conviction; and also that the person so convicted shall for the same offence suffer imprisonment by the space of six months …
Of course, Elizabeth I was dealing with the aftermath of the English Reformation (begun by Henry VIII and reversed by Mary I), and had yet to deal with the pluralism of Protestant worship that produced Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists and Quakers.

The Episcopal church (or even the global Anglican Communion) is too weak to enforce even a fraction of what Elizabeth achieved. But it seems difficult to raise children in “Episcopal” (or “Anglican”) worship if the next time you move (or switch parishes within the same community), you get a completely different style of worship.

1 comment:

Paul T. McCain said...

Thanks for your post! God bless.

Rev. Paul T. McCain