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Liturgy lite?

Louise George recently wrote an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about a worship experience which is certainly not confined to Sydney:

…recently I attended the christening of the newest member of the extended family. The christening, one of two, was at the beginning of the Sunday morning service. There was a tiny contingent of regular worshippers in a congregation inflated by the families and friends of the children being baptised.

To be fair, it’s a while since I attended a christening or indeed a church service, but I did expect that I would recognise both. I didn’t. Not the words, not the hymns, not the prayers (other than the Lord’s Prayer).

The service began with ”OK. We’ll get started now.” Well, we sort of did. I presume it was an attempt to be contemporary, but really the service sounded like it was being made up on the spot; there was no flow, no structure, and no sense of occasion.

Feeling a bit out of touch, I was encouraged to see that one of the hymns was Rock of Ages. You beauty! I thought. I know all the words to this. Well, I did, but there were way too many guitar riffs and keyboard variations and, despite the words being shown on a dropdown screen, the phrasing was known only to the singer-guitarist who, when not ”on”, spent his time playing with his smartphone in the front pew.

With the baptisms out of the way, the children were whisked out to ”activities rooms” while the adults remained for the regular service. This consisted of a long disjointed sermon followed by a lengthy harangue about the financial circumstances of this particular church and a marketing pitch, accompanied by graphics (again on the drop-down screen) encouraging us to tithe a percentage of our salaries to the greater good…

Clearly, churches no longer attract the congregations they once did. No doubt there are myriad reasons for this, and perhaps the adoption of an informal approach is thought to be more appealing to a younger generation. But it is hard to see how the complete dumbing down of the hymns, the content and the structure of any form of worship does not do a disservice to everyone, particularly the young…

I am convinced that using powerful symbols well, with understanding of the efficacy of sign and symbol, is central to transforming worship. Baptism is such a rite.

I am not as quick to think that younger generations lack appreciation for the “formal”, for signs, symbols, and rituals. One of the primary experiences for young people is education. In our culture that is mostly done formally, they wear a uniform, behave formally in classroom, assembly, and graduation. If there has been much call from young people for the removal of academic gowns, for example, and the casualisation of university graduations – I’ve missed this.

Sport, another important locus for young people, is full of rituals, formality, traditions, uniforms. Let’s just see how informal the Olympic Games are. Work, birthdays, Television, etc. are full of rituals, traditions, and repeated verbal statements.

Some churches have been captured by an ideology addicted to bringing casualness where the Christian heritage of worship has never previously had this. And let’s not forget – the majority of Christians still worship in a non-casual context.

H/T Dumbing Down Our Worship?

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6 thoughts on “Liturgy lite?”

  1. I am SO tired of worshitainment. Just attended several services in Ghana, where the services were also highly produced. They even said they have to do that to get the young to come. I think they meant the immature. We are driving away the people closest to meeting their maker and presenting – from my aged perspective – so little that sticks.

  2. Bosco, I think the formal-casual or traditional-contemporary conversation is often based on the idea that formal/traditional is boring, dry, and uncomfortable while casual/contemporary is fun, exciting, and comfortable. I do not, however, hear you using “formal” in that sense. I wonder, though, if these might be false dichotomies. I think the real issue and challenge are to recover worship that is authentic and deep, earthy and transcendent, formative and transformative, ancient and ever new, mystical but not magical, simple but not simplistic, relevant but not entertaining, and always prayerful. That is hard work that requires intention and attention from the clergy and congregation. To simply be either formal or casual (as I have identified them above) avoids that work.

    You have raised another important question and challenge for the Church. Thank you.

    God’s peace be with you,
    Mike+

    1. If I have raised the question, Mike, you have expressed points around it well. You are right about intention and attention from all. And yes, may we be saved from the dry and uncomfortable! Blessings.

  3. Steve Benjamin

    I recently attended two services at the same suburban parish in support of a clergy friend of mine who was officiating at both. The first service at 9:30am was set out on a laminated card and kit-set liturgy at its worst, resembling no Eucharistic rite I have ever seen permitted in any Anglican Church – dumbed down and simplified beyond description.

    The recorded music, supplied via a sound system, was so loud I resorted to earplugs to preserve my hearing. The music was banal, contemporary ‘Hillsong’ worship music with lyrics heavy with substitutionary theology. The music lacked poetry, meaning and resonance.

    The Proclamation of the Word consisted of a Psalm and the Gospel Reading with no creed or credal statement before or after the Homily.

    When we came to the Ministry of the Sacrament, the projection screen was electronically raised to reveal the Holy Table which was comforting and strangely revelatory. Thanks to the skill of the celebrant, the Eucharist proceeded with reverence in stark contrast with the rest of the service.

    The children’s return to their parents at communion was noisy and disruptive. Not one parent encouraged their child to be still in the presence of God or to respect the time of reflection and other worshippers.

    The next service at 11:00am was a Liturgy of the Karen Anglican community and celebrated according to the rite of the Church of Myanmar in both Karen and English. Ceremonial was middle of the road and the hymns in Karen were strongly sung by the congregation using music immediately recognisable to users of the English Hymnal or Ancient and Modern.

    While the Eucharistic Prayer was prayed, most knelt and I observed one worshipper prostrated himself in devotion. During holy communion which was marshalled by senior female members of the congregation in a dignified and orderly manner, a communion hymn was sung (presumably “And now, O Father, mindful of the love” in Karen). It was sung with such beauty and fervour that it brought tears to my eyes.

    I ask myself how the two liturgies could be performed in the same building on the same day, let alone in the same national church. The first drew 50 (average age 45+); the second drew over 120 (average age 30 – with over 100 children in the Sunday School).

    But I suppose that ‘in my Father’s house, there are many mansions’. I sincerely pray that over time the Anglican Karen community will renew Anglican worship here and help ‘Anglo’ Anglicans rediscover reverence and how to worship in the beauty of holiness. These two qualities used to be prominent in our denominational DNA. We lose them at our peril.

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