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Different is Better?

Czech Republic
Not New Zealand

This is a blog post about worship. I promise. Read on.

I have watched recordings of the TV programme The New Zealand Home. There is an unquestioned, articulated doctrine that having an area of houses where all share a similar style, a similar look, is undesirable.

We see this doctrine at work in the Christchurch central-city rebuild. Architects haven’t sat down together and come to an idea of the city’s “look”. [eg. green and 21st-century gothic – lots of trees, and buildings with pointy bits…].

The passion for incessant novelty wasn’t a thing yet in the time of the Napier rebuild. Napier was rebuilt with a consistent Art Deco look: “Napier’s major tourist attraction is its architecture, which draws Art Deco and architecture enthusiasts from around the world.”

The New Zealand passion for incessant novelty is one of the reasons for our unaffordable housing. Time (and hence money) is expended in deciding where every individual switch and light fitting might go. Bathrooms, and kitchens, and toilets, etc., are all individually designed. Imagine, just as one example, the increased speed and reduced costs if prefabricated, standard walls for a house arrived at a building site with the wiring already in place! Not to mention that, currently, people only discover issues with the particular unique house design once it has been built.

Architecture is just one example. You could demonstrate the passion for incessant novelty (and its consequences) in any number of other areas. Including worship.

I have mentioned previously the emails I receive similar to: “We used ashes last Ash Wednesday, do you have suggestions for something different for next Ash Wednesday?”

The flexibility within services in our Prayer Book (the may do this, or may do that) was not enough; the different liturgies for the same service was not enough. So A Form For Ordering the Eucharist (a framework) was extended from being for “particular occasions” to any time. But that still was not enough. An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist was added [now any Eucharistic Prayer authorised anywhere in the Anglican world is allowed]. But even that was not enough. A Worship Template (come in – do something – leave) was passed. But that was still not enough. Our Constitution was changed at this year’s meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui to allow bishops to authorise services in places under their jurisdiction.

Calculate the time, costs, and energy that go into the incessant novelty to differentiate one service from another on the same day, and from week to week.

The model is of intentional differentiation. Rather than all ages and all stages and all personality types worshipping together around God’s table in anticipation and expressing God’s Reign, Anglicans have an often-articulated model of providing a variety of options. This parish is different to its neighbouring parish – if you don’t like their style, come to us. And within the parish we offer 8am quiet 17th Century communion for retired people – with minimal, if any, singing; 9:30am 20th-century style for young families; 11am for those who partied late into Saturday night; and in the evening with a 21st-century band for those who partied even later into Sunday morning. And might you just detect an undergirding presupposition that there is a limited amount of religious people to go around – so one parish is in competition with another parish for that limited quota? And if you are doing much the same as your neighbouring parish, why would you attract them from there?

Creativity is fine. Great. Novelty has its place. But I challenge you to reflect on our culture’s idolising of incessant, unrelenting creativity and novelty.

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8 thoughts on “Different is Better?”

  1. It seems a shallow thing, to me at least, that worship comes in so many different forms at the very same time that the life of a church community is so often stultified by committees and implacable barriers. Worship as ‘entertainment’ seems to be the problem. One’s attention and understanding flits from one surface to another, when it’s depth and intimacy that we really want.

    And however can a pastor be himself when a Sunday turns into just so many ‘costume’ changes?

  2. Br. Jeffrey Shy, CoS

    Some liturgical reforms have been helpful, but I wonder if the ever-persistent search for new/novel particularly in liturgy and music has been really always such a good thing. In the Latin west, the chant heritage is largely forgotten/disused. Everyone is a “music critic” and wants this or that song or style of music or liturgy. This does not seem to be very prevalent in Orthodoxy. I have a hard time thinking of someone coming into a Buddhist or Hindu liturgy and demanding that we have some newer, upbeat music to “attract young people.” Slowly, at my parish, we are “re-learning” the chant heritage of the Western Rite. People are now beginning to “ask” for some of the great traditional chant introits and other liturgical chant. (e.g. the Dominus dixit ad me for Christmas Eve). Maybe forward is not so forward.

  3. There’s an adage among software developers: “if architects built houses the way programmers build software, one woodpecker could destroy civilisation.” I’ve often thought it misses the point: software developers (ideally) never build the same software twice, because you could just make a copy. Software will always be unstable, because we will always be dealing with the instability caused by novelty. That’s one of the major nuisances of my profession, and I can’t see why architects (and liturgists) should want to share our trouble!

    1. Interestingly, some of our younger clergy have suggested that the project of revising the 1979 PECUSA prayerbook should take the form of an open-source project on github rather than the traditional process where the Standing Comittee on Liturgy and Music produces trial liturgies for the church.

  4. I offer you a quote from an Anglican high school principal when discussing the programme of prayer, worship and liturgy for the coming year,

    “Maundy Thursday? But we’ve done that one for a few years now, can’t we do something else this year?”

    I was gratified to note that the others in the meeting fell into embarrassed silence!

  5. There is actually such a lot of depth in each of the Eucharistic liturgies in ANZPB. The more I experience them the more I realise how carefully they have been crafted to express the universal Christian faith in our particular south Pacific multi-cultural society. While there may be valid reasons to use a simplified form in a service focused on children, I wonder what impression the adults (especially visiting ones) take away with them. When I was confirmed we were given a copy of the liturgy with explanatory notes for young people, the idea being that we would grow into the liturgy over time. Sometimes I wonder if there is a deeper malaise here: perhaps there is no longer agreement on what it means to be a Christian in 21st century NZ, and the proliferation of worship forms reflects that.

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