Sunday, April 7, 2013

Saving the next generation of Anglo-Catholics

Today we attended the closing service for the annual youth retreat of the San Diego Anglicans. Nearly 50 teens from the San Diego ACNA parishes were in attendance, as were their parents, other supportive parishioners and of course the retreat leaders.

Abdicating our Anglo-Catholic Leadership

Watching the contemporary, evangelical Anglican service made me realize how much we Anglo-Catholics have abdicated our responsibility to train the next generation of faithful Christians. If we don’t expose the young generation to the beauty of a thousand years of liturgy — or acquiesce to the myth that young people are only interested in contemporary worship — the traditional liturgy will be lost, at best to be rediscovered a century or two hence.

The arguments for contemporary worship seem to be associated with the evangelical wing of the Anglican tradition, whether among theological liberals or traditionalists. Their ongoing desire to be “relevant” supplants hymns (and organs and four-part chorales) with CCM.

What’s wrong with praise music? Why should we try to preserve traditional hymnody?

While I personally object to the guitars and pop melodies of contemporary worship, I realize this is a "classical" vs. "pop" music argument that is unlikely to be won any time soon. For my generation, training in music meant training in the classical Western tradition, renaissance to romantic with a little 20th century thrown in for good measure. However, since that time, the whole pop-infused culture (and the decline of musical education more generally) means that classical radio stations and record label are dying while every big city has a dozen or more pop stations.

Instead, today’s service highlighted two more fundamental problems of the contemporary, praise music-oriented liturgy that seems to be dominant in the ACNA and AMiA (as with the ECUSA that these parishes fled).


The first problem is the ahistoric hubris of praise music. While the hymnals of 1860, 1906, 1940 or 1982 include new hymns (sometimes from the hymnal editors), they also retained the best hymns from four or five centuries of Christian liturgical worship.

Today, the praise music leader makes the assumption that worship music began in 1960 (or 1970 or 2000) and nothing older than that is relevant for our pop-infused culture or Christians.

With one exception, I didn’t know any of the songs from this afternoon’s service. However, by noting key phrases from three praise songs, I was able to look them up later
There were no hymns, not even from the 60s — so if these were representative of the whole service, then the leaders assumed that teen-suitable music was composed before 2001.

This is hardly the only Anglican service to take this approach. (Intentionally) I haven’t been to a lot of praise music services, but this seems typical of the ones I’ve seen.

Who authorized these worship leaders to throw out Christian worship and start over again? Is this something that the church should do every century, generation or (in this case) every decade? What about linking believers to the message, historic role or linkage of the faithful through the ages? If you reset the canon of hymnody every decade, how will parents ever share the same musical heritage as their children?

In the end, this is the fault of the clergy who either exercise, delegate or abdicate their authority over the content of liturgy. Will we also throw away scripture, theological essays, creeds, or prayers when they’re more than a decade old? That’s the way of the TEC, not a denomination that claims to be theologically orthodox and anchored in Anglican tradition.

Shallow Roots

The second problem of today’s service was the utter vapidity of the lyrics. Rather than being anchored in scripture — direct quotations or paraphrases — the emphasis is on the emotive.

Let’s take Cannons by Phil Wickham:
It's falling from the clouds
A strange and lovely sound
I hear it in the thunder and rain
It's ringing in the skies
Like cannons in the night
The music of the universe plays

You are holy great and mighty
The moon and the stars declare who You are
I'm so unworthy, but still You love me
Forever my heart will sing of how great You are

Beautiful and free
Song of Galaxies
It's reaching far beyond the milky way
Lets join in with the sound
C'mon let's sing it loud
As the music of the universe plays
Contrast this to the great Anglican hymnodist Isaac Watts, e.g. Hymn #289 in Hymnal 1940, composed nearly 300 years ago:
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:

Under the shadow of thy throne,
thy saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting thou art God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly, forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.
As usual, the praise song is about me, me and me, while Watts and is writing about God.

Relevance and evangelicalism does not have to mean shallow. Consider Charles Wesley, the prolific hymnodist and leader of the Methodist revival in (and eventual schism from) from the Church of England and Hymn #479 in my favorite hymnal:
Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down,
fix in us thy humble dwelling,
all thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation,
enter every trembling heart.

Come, almighty to deliver,
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return, and never,
nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray, and praise thee without ceasing,
glory in thy perfect love.

Finish then thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be;
let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee:
changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.
The shallow, emotive nature of most CCM calls to mind the parable of the sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). The gospel of Luke is particularly relevant:
5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.
6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.
7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.
8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.”

9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant,
10 [Jesus] said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’

13. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.
The evangelical preacher and parishioner can bring great enthusiasm to their faith, but (as in the gospel parable), what happens when the enthusiasm fades? As my daughter could have explained in elementary school, sugar provides a short-term energy rush, but the human body needs a more balanced diet (with protein) to build muscle and long-term endurance.

After the service, I approached a young (college graduate) member of our parish who, as it turns out, felt as I did about the CCM emphasis on emotion over belief. This evening, he e-mailed me this quote from Seraphim Rose, a San Diego-born Orthodox monk:
“A person must be in the religious search not for the sake of religious experiences, which can deceive, but for the sake of truth."
The risk of inculcating our children with a shallow faith is creating shallow Christians who will wither away in the face of our relentlessly secular culture. If we are trying to preserve the faith for all generations, we should inculcate a deeper and more durable faith — one more anchored in the proven faith and tradition across the millenia.

What Can We Do?

The role of the Anglo-Catholic parishes, clergy, laity and musicians should not merely be to serve the graying 28 Prayer Book/Rite I refugees, but to raise a new generation of Anglican believers in North America. We should not abdicate this responsibility to our evangelical brethren, but continue articulate and stand for our principles in preserving the historic faith.

The uneasy alliance that is the ACNA should be willing to embrace such an option: in theory, the denomination should be willing to support a diversified approach to continuing the faith that has existed for centuries. However, the ACNA’s recent liturgical efforts (as the emphasis on contemporary worship at most ACNA parishes) suggests that this is unlikely to happen. Anglo-Catholicism still has its proponents — at Nashotah, PB USA, FiF and the Schism I parishes — but they’re not running the ACNA.

We still have the attention of the praise band children who sing Watts and Wesley on Sunday morning, if not the rest of the year. Perhaps a few grandparents (or parents) can put their foot down to make sure the next generation hear the full canon of Christian of Christian music, rather than just a shallow slice of the past decade.

1 comment:

G. Miller said...

I'm not opposed, in principle, to guitars and poppy tunes in worship, but I agree that, by their very nature, they decrease the probability of reverence. I'm also not opposed, in principle, to hymns that are new, but I agree that hymns which have stood the test of time should form the core of our repository of church music. In defense of "Cannons" (a song I for the most part dislike), it clearly is drawing on Psalm 19 and is, therefore, drawing on some biblical roots at least. "From the Inside Out," however, seems to be rooted in what sociologist Christian Smith calls "moralistic, therapeutic deism," in his Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.