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Countercultural Worship

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

A priest described to me an issue in their community brought up by people in their 20s and 30s (Gen Y/Millennials) and also people moving from other denominations into Anglicanism: they complain about saying the same words together; and they deplore the same words, the same prayer being used for each individual.

It is not totally, but mostly, a new reflection for me. I have often lamented the understanding of liturgy as reciting long tracts of poetic-sounding words at each other – so, I can make sense of that part of the issue. I regularly encourage the responding “by heart” – that is what we do in our non-church culture: “Good morning” “Good morning” “How are you?” etc. We don’t go, “the response to Good morning is found on page 404″… Nor do we have “Good morning” and its response on a screen (or on our phone!)

But, yes, saying the same words together is countercultural. And it challenges individualism (the important last word in the first paragraph, above).

The priest explained that singing the same words together proved no problem. To be clear – singing together is countercultural in New Zealand, although with the renewal of Te Ao Māori (for non-Kiwi readers, that is the worldview and approach of the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand) the singing of waiata (songs) is becoming normalised. Read about singing at worship here. Clearly, and the priest who started this conversation affirmed this, we need simple, memorable, attractive (attracting) tunes for liturgical texts and responses.

Even in the Anglican Church of Or, the number of different marriage vows that one may use is limited to six (in English, obviously counting other languages, there are more – I think I have this number correct). Our culture (and these people reflect this) would have individuals writing their own vows (as just one example). But examination of these individualised vows often points to issues (a denial of death; a trivialising of marriage and/or of vows; one partner vowing quite differently to the other partner; and so on). Marriage is something that a couple enters into. For Christians, marriage is sacramental. Marriage is, hence, not something that two individuals create ex nihilo.

Similarly with other sacramental actions – the words at baptism are not different for every individual; these are the words of the church, Christ’s body, that you are being immersed into – a community, not simply a collection of individuals.

Even in our non-church culture, at a birthday (as one example) we know what to sing. We may sing and say other things around this central singing, but the central singing is fixed. Birthdays are not the creation of an individual, they are the continuation of a community tradition. So in our liturgy, the central things we say and sing together are fixed – we may say and sing other things around what is centrally fixed.

I do not know the fuller answers to the priest’s concerns – but, here, I have pointed to some of my thinking in response. Education and formation about Christian worship is, clearly, important. Abandoning the Judeo-Christian tradition of saying things together in Christian worship is not a solution. What thoughts can you add to my primary point that Christianity is often counter-cultural? This post will be continued – and I will explain why I chose the tree(s) as my image here.

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4 thoughts on “Countercultural Worship”

  1. If this is referring to prayer in the liturgy I wonder if these new Anglican members do not understand what liturgy is – it’s structure, tradition and meaning. Perhaps they have not been made aware what it actually is about or they have objections to liturgy perhaps. My understanding is the members come together in unity as a community (as one), with Christ, to partake in the in the liturgy of the word and Communion. Outside of the liturgy it is all about individual prayer in whatever form desired. Just a thought!

    1. Exactly, Keith! And thank you. Education and formation seem to me to be key – as you indicate. But also there are ways of doing liturgy that give less of an impression of communal poetry recitals. Thanks for contributing. Blessings.

  2. Unless one is really sold on the concept of Apostolic Succession, I’m not seeing why someone would become a new Anglican as other mainstream churches have very similar Christian beliefs.

    What was it about Anglicanism that brought them to this denomination if not the worship style, the liturgy?

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