A wise, catholic-minded priest strongly castigated those who did not seriously try using what the church provides and just, in individualistic (and congregational) pique, create their own material.
We could talk about the abuse particularly of the rights of the laity by clergy who abandon what they agree and sign up to use. But this priest would put the emphasis on trying to make what we receive work – and, certainly, if after serious attempts, and careful study of why the material is what it is, you find the church’s material is just unusable, then (and only then) adapt or change it.
That approach (at least for this post) is my starting point for looking at people’s abandonment of the three year, Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). My position is, pinching someone else’s wise saying and morphing it: “The Revised Common Lectionary is the worst form of proclaiming the Bible in worship as a Christian community, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Recently a friend sent me a (yet another) article about problems with RCL, this time with links to a wide variety of alternatives: The Narrative Lectionary, The African American Lectionary, The Open-Source Lectionary, Year D, and so on.
Here’s a table for some of the options for Advent 2013. What immediately becomes obvious is that some of the traditional focuses for Advent (eschatology, end times, Christ’s second coming, preparation for Christ’s coming in the incarnation and into our lives) are just abandoned. Immediately – we are disconnected from our roots. I have already expressed sadness how some of our recent lectionary renewals and revisions have lost some of our connections with our Jewish background (unnecessarily and possibly unthinkingly in some cases). The creation of a new lectionary ex nihilo is fraught when it is based on newly-created principles that have often misunderstood the role of proclaiming God’s Word in the context of worship. First use the RCL for several cycles (ie. 6-9 years) intelligently, seeing how it can be managed to overcome some of the shortfalls that you and others perceive it has.
What fascinates me are communities that declare themselves to have a particularly strong focus on the Bible which then do not use all the RCL provides (often using only one reading as well as the Gospel reading – ie. halving what RCL provides) then abandoning RCL (or lambasting it) because, they say, it does not cover enough scripture!!! I continue to challenge those Anglican parishes, for example, who abandon our agreed use of RCL (and there are a lot of those parishes) to show me how what they do is concretely an improvement on what RCL provides. So far not a single parish has responded with anything at all – let alone anything that improves RCL.
Even worse, possibly, are communities that have no reading from the scriptures whatsoever. Pastors of such communities while loudly declaring their Reformation allegiance appear to fear individual access to the scriptures (foundational, surely, to Reformation understanding). Instead, verses are drip-fed to their congregants but only very carefully framed by the pastor’s interpretation.
Mind you, sad also are communities where RCL readings are proclaimed, but the preaching and the rest of the service make no real connection to the Word of God heard.
The devil, Screwtape, C.S. Lewis says, rejoices that the vicar
has undermined many a soul’s Christianity. His conduct of the services is also admirable. In order to spare the laity all “difficulties” he has deserted both the lectionary and the appointed psalms and now, without noticing it, revolves endlessly round the little treadmill of his fifteen favourite psalms and twenty favourite lessons. We are thus safe from the danger that any truth not already familiar to him and to his flock should ever reach them through Scripture. The Screwtape Letters Chapter XVI C.S. Lewis