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Liturgy lessens

In the latest Anglican Taonga magazine (the wonderful quarterly magazine of NZ Anglicanism) my friend and colleague, Peter Carrell, writes an article in which he argues for simplification and clarification of our NZ liturgical resources. I am arguing for the same in the motion passed by our synod. I didn’t know he was writing the article. He didn’t know I was moving this motion.

The whole article (it is not long) is worth (necessary?) reading here.

There is one part that I keep coming back to (the bold part of the quote is my emphasis):

Here is a law of worship participation which, with a very few exceptions, I propose holds true throughout our church today: the closer a service adheres to our liturgical history, the older and the smaller will be the congregation; the converse being the younger and larger the congregation in an Anglican parish, the further will be the service from that liturgical history. Our risk is that pressing for greater adherence to liturgical history as central to our identity could lead to the demise of our church. But there is a risk which runs in an opposite direction: if less and less holds new generations of Anglicans together liturgically in the 21st century, what will form the real content of the word Anglican? I do not deem it sufficient in the long run that by Anglican we mean that the bishop turns up once a year to wave the Anglican flag and once a year a few clerical and lay reps leave the parish to attend a mysterious gathering known as ‘synod’!

Sadly, I think “Peter Carrell’s law of lessening liturgy and liturgy lessens” may hold true. In this country. But Peter and I are both mathematicians, and we both know that the non-mathematician’s tendency is to see the correlation as causative. Many/most look at the reality and go: it is liturgy that causes the shrinking and ageing of a community – so let’s lessen liturgy in order to grow our community.

But it is not liturgy that is causing the shrinking. It was only yesterday that Peter noted that in our country the only historic denomination that is not in decline is the Roman Catholic one. And if any denomination does liturgy – it’s Roman Catholicism.

If it is not liturgy per se that causes ageing and shrinking congregations, perhaps it is the way that liturgy is done? Two differences to RCs spring to mind:

  • NZ Anglicanism is used to an enormous variety in liturgical responses – the same cue may even have different people’s responses! Hence, liturgy can feel quite “artificial” and contrived – not “by heart” but with everything read from sheets or books or even addressing screens off to the side.
  • Roman Catholicism pays great attention to training and formation of its clergy. Including systematic, intentional training and formation in liturgical leadership. There is also a deep formation in liturgy and spirituality of the laity – in Roman Catholic schools (and there is still a strong anticipation that many/most Roman Catholic children will attend; and the bishops have just increased the class time required for Religious Education study to all years of education); and for those who join the Roman Catholic Church (preparation for reception, RCIA, is very clear and intentional).

What do you think? Can you tell us exceptions to Peter Carrell’s rule (I can certainly think of some)? What do you think some of the dynamics are at work? Do you agree or disagree with my points? How might we move forward positively? Anything else?…

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29 thoughts on “Liturgy lessens”

  1. Hi Bosco,
    Thank you for linking to my article.
    There are exceptions to my rule: a further question could be, are there few or many exceptions? (In our diocese I will somewhat teasingly offer this, “Apart from our school chapel services, I can only think of one and half exceptions out of 71 parishes.”

    Re Roman Catholics: your point about training and formation is well made; I also suggest they do music better than we Anglicans. Let me explain: RC parishes of my experience weave pleasant singable settings for bits and pieces of the mass into the flow of the service – nothing off-putting to all generations, nothing too demanding. By contrast many of our eucharists rely on three or four hymns (and old, familiar ones at that), may have some tricky settings for (say) Gloria and Lord’s Prayer, and in a few parishes attempt a ‘Sung Eucharist’ with choir which, generationally and sub-culturally, is geared perfectly for older people who like the Concert Programme.

    Final note: changing the music will not bring in younger people per se; but younger generations will not come into a church which has not changed its music (a few exceptions, but only a few can be made to this rule).

    1. Thank you Peter for your affirmation of what happens in our schools (for non-regular visitors, I am a school chaplain). I have just this moment come from our weekly liturgical rehearsal – the whole school gathers each week to rehearse singing, responding, etc. There are only two days each week when we do not meet together as a school with prayer – this also means responses are “by heart” and the liturgy does not feel contrived. Your point about the music is important. Communities need IMO to constantly reflect whether they are encouraging full community participation or an attitude of concert/audience. A choir can lead the community’s singing, harmonise to the rest of the congregation’s well-known pieces, and might have a particular moment (eg during distribution of communion) when they offer a particular piece. Blessings.

  2. Bosco,

    One question that immediately came to mind: is it indeed (locally) true that “if anyone does liturgy it’s Roman Catholicism”? The reason I’m asking is that I often think, “Bosco really ought to talk to Uncle Eddie. ” My uncle is the parish priest at St. Mary’s RC Church in Carterton, and he’s had some quite … interesting … ideas on liturgy and the Sacraments – some, but not all, of which I understand or agree with. I don’t know whether his views are typical, but I have begun to wonder.

    1. Matt, I cannot comment on your Carterton point unless you expand on it. My phrase was merely to point out that with the two directions that Peter Carrell focused on in his article Roman Catholicism shows that it is not having liturgy per se that determines loss of numbers and ages. Blessings.

      1. You’ve heard of him? 🙂 He’s a great guy, and when he’s visiting and we have Mass in the home it’s a wonderful experience. But sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be one of his parishioners.

  3. One option for defining Anglicanism, other than bishops waving flags, is to use certain doctrinal positions – a wonderfully exclusive way to go about it, complete with Covenants asking “who can we bash out of our party next, for what reasons?”. No, the only definition that matters is a group of Provinces, each (critically) “in communion with Canterbury”, trying to be friendly with, or at least respectful of, each other.

    The risk with liturgy is the temptation to regard it as a set of words, which naturally gravitates around the date on the front cover and leads to the “rote recital” problem.

    I recently bought a holiday cottage less than 50yd away from the nearest anglican church. They were mired in the 1970 liturgy, naught but sin and gloom, grovelling and supplicating through many words as a mediaeval peasant before his [they didn’t come in “her” in those days] lord. Their means of transition to the more recent 1982 was fraught with dissent and division, requiring recourse to the bishop for a decision and much grumbling in the congregation requiring two meetings on separate nights (for yay-sayers and nay-sayers).

    I have since given up attending that church, because of the rampant traditionalist idiocies rife in the congregation; once I detect a narrow-minded / short-sighted attitude destined to fail a generation of evolution, I’m out of there.

    But their priest-in-charge was excellent – thoughtful, one might say – and tried to educate them that liturgy means `the work of the Church’. This I have remembered and ingested; of course, *work* of the church is not the same as wallowing in history, pining for time to reverse to 1662 when Jesus had the foresight to speak in the words of the King James Version – far rather, it takes a little while to repent and rejoice of its history as appropriate, dwells in the present and looks to the future.

    If a church’s liturgy is seen as evolving – becoming no *less* a liturgy, but ever-more insightful, poetic, uptodate and thought-inspiring – then you solve the problems of “staying relevant to bring in the current generation whilst remaining liturgical” at a stroke. Let it be a change from glory into glory.

  4. I guess, Bosco, that what I was (perhaps very indirectly – a consequence maybe of posting from my phone?) wondering was whether the Roman Catholic church *is*, indeed, “doing liturgy”? I’ve never been (not since I was tiny at any rate) to a Mass led by my uncle in a “purpose built” church building, except for two of my sisters’ weddings (neither of which was technically a Mass, now that I think of it). But based on some conversations we’ve had, and on the Masses he’s celebrated at home with us, I imagine that his typical Mass is not all that “liturgical” – that is, concentrating more on content than on form. That leads me to wonder whether the same is generally true of New Zealand Catholic Masses – i.e. whether Catholic Masses are indeed typically “liturgical”, or whether the Catholic church in fact “does liturgy”; and *that* in turn makes me wonder whether it is appropriate to deduce your conclusion about liturgy as a causative factor from your statement about Roman Catholicism. In other words (after this long summary!): In your experience of the Roman Catholic Church in New Zealand, am I wrong in believing that the sort of “less liturgical” Mass I might expect from my uncle is indeed typical of Roman Catholic Masses?

    1. Matt, I’m wondering now whether the issue is that we may be using the words “liturgy” and “liturgical” differently? How are you understanding “liturgical”? I cannot quite make sense of what a less liturgical Roman Catholic Mass would be like – it reads to me like “less wet” water? Blessings.

  5. Hermano David | Brother Dah•veed

    I think that Carrell’s Corollary is perhaps unique to NZ. The internet is ripe with news that the young folks in the US are attracted to TEC specifically because of its Anglican liturgy. They are not looking for parishes with praise bands and screen projected liturgies.

    I am inclined to think that it has to do with what you mention often Padre, the sorry state of theological education of the clergy in NZ. You cannot lead a parish in “good” liturgy, if you do not have any idea how. The type of services Peter describes among the parishes with younger, larger congregations I think is because poorly trained clergy can “do” that type of service with their eyes closed.

    1. Thank you, Brother David, I suspect you are correct. I have no information that sees Peter Carrell’s Liturgical Law applying widely around the world, rather the opposite. Emergent and missional communities tend to mine the rich heritage of the church’s liturgical treasure chest, Taizé community draws young people by the thousands to a rich monastic-inspired liturgical life, one and a half to two million young people just gathered in Spain WYD – I haven’t picked up a mass movement to abandon liturgy there. Blessings.

  6. Hi Bosco,
    I like Peter’s article – very thought provoking.
    Just a brief note; while I too can think of exceptions to Peter’s rule my experience of TEC (a Church I greatly respect BTW) I have not seen much evidence that their parishes are proving attractive to youth in significant numbers. Indeed, I suspect attendance at Episcopal services has trended in much the same way ours has in recent years as the US begins to experience the kind of ‘un-churching’ we went through a generation ago.
    Rather than point the finger I find myself intrigued by the “what ifs” Peter poses …

    1. Thanks, Brian. Certainly the analysis you are intimating that is needed looks like several doctorates’ worth, not a simple blog post discussion 🙂 I think we are all agreeing that it is not liturgy, as such, that is the issue. In the near desperation manifested sometimes for increasing the presence of youth, motivation springs to my mind as a significant issue: are young people to be there to keep the institution alive, to keep the pretty buildings maintained, and to help the old people have clergy – are the young people to be there for the institution, or is the institution there for the young people? Young people are not stupid. They smell the usual church bait-and-switch a mile off. When there is genuine concern for them, (eg. Taizé, schools) there appears a much more regular cross-section of young people than when those young people are drawn to church through a programme intended to bring more young people to support the institution. IMO. Blessings.

  7. A couple of things occur to me, though they’re mostly anecdotal.

    The first is that “young people” are not a monolithic block; like everyone else, they vary in taste. Most of the Anglo-Catholics, or even high Anglicans I know who are my age (i.e. twenty-somethings) are converts, either from a lower-church background, or from nothing. Finding a very liturgical church meant for the first time finding somewhere where they could participate in worship in a way that didn’t feel contrived. It’s not just about ‘spikiness’, either; to take another example, the Presbyterian parish where I grew up has been taking its youth group to Iona, and the kids have repeatedly commented on how much they like the responsorial, liturgical form of worship on Iona – better than what they get on a Sunday at home.

    However, there’s no doubt that big evangelical churches are more successful with students, say, than Anglo-Catholics, and it’s worth asking why. I think there are two points, one of which isn’t a problem, and the other is. Taking the problem first: a lot of Anglo-Catholic, and high Anglican, churches are terrible at doing things that aren’t Mass or the offices, and part of that means that there’s not much effort put into things for young people (other than training altar children!). Where there is genuine engagement, people follow. In general, very liturgical churches need to reconsider the idea that small groups are just for evangelicals (this won’t make a difference to children and younger teens, but it will to the student and twenty-something brackets).

    The second point is the one that _does_ have some statistical evidence to back it up, and that’s that the maximum size for an Anglo-Catholic congregation appears to be between 150 and 200 (normal Sunday congregation, discounting Christmas and Easter) – there’s some discussion of this in Stephen Cottrell’s “Out of the Abundance of the Heart”, which is a very good take on mission in the catholic tradition, if you don’t know it. That’s not actually a problem – it’s about as many as you can pack into many parish churches anyway – but for some reason, very liturgical worship doesn’t seem to work on the mega-church (or, I suppose, midi-church) model.

    Unless, of course, you’re a cathedral – in terms of raw numbers (I don’t know how the ages break down), cathedral attendance has actually been going up in England, against the national trend of decline.

    1. Thanks, “Anchorhold”. [It is the custom and comment policy of this site that, unless there is strong reason, one just uses our ordinary name here, not a pseudonym – it makes for an open discussion and community]. You make some very interesting points, and I have not read Cottrell’s book. We may need some unpacking of terms like “liturgical” as in “very liturgical church”. I am also very cautious with the use of group-terms like “evangelical”. You appear to be distinguishing “evangelical” from “liturgical” – I do not see why they need be held in contrast. Peter Carrell would identify himself as “evangelical”, and he is arguing for the liturgical. I cannot see why liturgy would not work on the midi or mega church – this is contradicted by your cathedral point, the recent WYD, and Taizé, to name just three. If there is such a correlation within some parts of Anglicanism I suspect, again, that it is not causative. Blessings.

  8. Bosco,

    Earlier this year I spent a few months visiting different churches (primarily Anglican). Apart from the fact that most churches are not welcoming to strangers, the churches that had a better feel to them (and were more likely to have younger people and larger congregations) were those that had young (or young at heart) priests. Each church had different liturgy (some followed the prayerbook strictly, others mostly followed it, one didn’t at all). Each church had different styles of music. This suggests to me that music and liturgy have little bearing (however I personally believe it is our liturgy that does make us Anglican).

    Of those churches with older (primarily male) priests, the services tended to be more dry and “going through the motions”. Oddly enough, on average they had older, smaller congregations.

    I will stress that those observations are “on average” – there were the occasional exception.


    1. Thanks, Dave. I think your point about churches just not knowing (or caring!) how to be welcoming is very important. I have experienced this too often myself. And that is following the old-style model where it was expected that people turn up for worship. We live in a new context where people will need to be invited and brought to worship, let alone be welcomed when they come through the door. Blessings.

      1. Bosco,

        I have also discovered that my local Church of Christ & Baptist churches suffer from the same welcoming problems – so it isn’t just us Anglicans. However as it is rare that someone appears at a church uninvited that we don’t know what to do next.

        Also as you note, maybe the issue is that us in the Western world seem to have forgotton how to invite people to church. Here it is “Back To Church Sunday”. It is sad that we even need this as every Sunday should be “Invite To Church Sunday”.


        1. Dave, I remember vividly arriving quite lonely as a young person at a Christmas service in an Anglican church overseas – and no one even greeted me. If I was not a Christian, I suspect that might have been my last attempt at attending a church. People do arrive to check out a church – (the stats are that the vast majority check the church’s website first) – but you are correct, we live in an environment where people need to be invited and brought to church. This leads to another issue I think we have become very confused about: lay ministry is more thought of now as allowing laity to do “priest-like” stuff in church services. I think of lay ministry as living Christ-like lives in everyday contexts to the point of others wanting what we have and so coming with us to the place where we are supported and enabled to live this Christ-life in the world… Blessings.

          1. Hermano David | Brother Dah•veed

            In Dallas, TX, USA, at the Cathedral of Hope (United Church of Christ,) the world’s largest congregation with a ministry specifically directed to the GLBTQ communities, the welcome every service includes something along the lines that new comers/visitors should look at the members of the congregation around them, because they are the ministers of the church and they are there to extend the hand of welcome and to assist with any other needs folks have.

  9. Gillian Trewinnard

    I agree with an earlier post that we Anglicans don’t do liturgy as well as Roman Catholics, and I think one reason for this is the awkwardness around ritual that is prevalent amongst Anglicans. Perhaps the ritual has undertones of ‘Roman’ and is therefore avoided by some? I have at times enjoyed participating in the liturgy in my parish when the presiding priest or worship leader was demonstrative and used posture and gesture, as well as tone of voice, as part of ‘doing’ liturgy. The alternative is what I mostly experience, a priest or minister reading the liturgy in a monotone from a book while we all stand and read the words off a screen off to the side. This is partly about training, but I believe it could also be about Anglican discomfort with ritual, with ‘showing’ as well as saying.

    1. Thanks, Gillian, your comment reinforces my point about liturgy that is contrived and not by heart. I do not think there needs be any undertones of Roman (although I see no reason why such undertones should, in this day and age, mean that Anglican liturgy be done badly) I do not think Eastern Orthodox would do their liturgy badly because of “Roman undertones”. Worshipping liturgically has undertones of Jewishness, and humanness also. Blessings.

    1. Thanks, Richard. Formation, good and bad, is happening to us all the time, to worship leaders, and to communities. I think we can be intentional about this training and formation – reflecting on it, being aware of best practice, etc. Or we can just let the formation happen – without any intentionality. Does this make any sense?

    1. You make an thought-provoking point.

      I’m just not sure I agree with it, though!

      “me and God… not… community”. But God is in the community, and hopefully the community is in God. In, and through, and with – immanent.

      At very worst, your statement could become an excuse for antisocial not-knowing other members of the congregation. (And that has *also* been a reason why I’ve left a church, quite some years ago, fortunately.)

      It makes me see liturgy as all the more a facilitator of the collective worship – the idea of a Collect as *collecting* the congregation together, not that we all face eyes-fixed-forwards in parallel, but that we all bounce happily off one another; the interactivity of the Peace, permeating the whole occasion.
      I don’t think you have to lose the “mega” size to achieve that, just the risk of negative “mega”-mentality.

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