Liturgy at the Cafe

There’s a post up on The Lead at the Cafe on liturgy. It follows the general thesis that anything traditional must therefore be inhospitable. I disagree…

Hospitality is essential but there any many ways of embodying hospitality. I believe that it is far more hospitable to invite someone to get to know your true self than than to dissemble or disguise. Speaking liturgically, this means that traditional liturgy need not be dispensed with simply because it is unfamiliar. It sends a strong theological message if we dispense with various elements of the liturgy for the sake of convenience—and the message sent is not a positive one…

64 thoughts on “Liturgy at the Cafe

  1. bls

    I guess some people like this sort of thing. Others, though, are looking for some connection to the past, and/or a different sort of experience of God.

    I don’t mind when people suggest “improvements” like this. It really, really gets on my nerves, though, when they become fundamentalists about it, and tell other people that they’re “worshipping” the Book of Common Prayer, etc. It’s arrogant and assumes the worst about other people; haven’t we had more than enough of that stuff by now?

  2. Scott

    I’m angry that an Episcopal priest posted that rant on the Café. And too angry about it to comment on it sensibly! I think he missed a few points about liturgy (although he makes some good ones).

  3. Helen

    Well, I dunno. I’m working on a lead I found about a church that does four different liturgies each sunday to appeal to a wide range of people. the one that attracts the most seekers is the one that puts me off the most. Therefore, I’m willing to say, you know what? it’s not that traditional = inhospitable. it’s that traditional can seem intimidating. and if liturgy is a barrier to god for seekers, shouldn’t we take it down a notch before expecting them to appreciate it? Isn’t there room for all of it?

    ~Helen, seeker advocate

  4. Helen

    To BLS’ post on fundies to the left of me: I think if we were to engage the debate on that level, it would go a lot further. It certainly helped reign me in.

    but I guess what I react to is people who read the absolutes into things. I used to be a big fan of JSSpong, for instance, and my enthusiasm toward him would have put off many of my current readers. But over time and through dialogue, I don’t see eye to eye with him on much. But it took Spong to get me in the door. It really did. And if someone had come after me for appreciating Spong when I was practically his spare PR agent, what direction might have I then gone? There’s a fine line between enthusiasm and evangelism, and everything we blogging folks write is either IMHO or food for thought, and we should treat it in the spirit that it’s offered rather than assuming our point of view has been judged inferior.

    But then, that’s just MHO. :D

  5. Fr Chris

    I’m not sure whether my comment will show up at the Cafe, but I was…pretty taken aback.

    But more importantly, the whole strategy of bringing people in through worship services just plain doesn’t make sense. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but it’s not what worship is meant for.

    When I first started working as a campus minister in So. Illinois, all of us on the leadership team really thought worship would be our central program — but it didn’t even bring in committed Protestants from the traditions we represented on campus initially. It was Bible study and other programs that drew people in…and *then* they started attending worship with us.

    The other thing that occurs to me is that the focus on worship seems quite backwards — the last fifty years have seen some of the most dramatic changes to the liturgy in centuries, along with a downward spiral in membership. Is more random change really what the Church needs to draw people back?

  6. lutherpunk

    That article makes my blood boil. Should have waited until I finished my second cup of coffee before reading it. It was so egocentric as to miss the point that worship is NOT AN EVANGELISM TOOL, but is a divine service.

  7. The Postulant


    If we want to have “seeker-friendly” worship, fine. But then it shouldn’t be Eucharist. And we should be clear about what the terminus of seeking ought to be — namely, finding. And that means, among other things, finding Christian worship in its fullness. This guy’s idea of catering to seekers implies that their search is over the minute they walk into the church building. Yes, let’s bring people in: all the way in.

  8. Matt Gunter

    I agree with the critiques above (though we also do #5 and #3 – we do not pass the plate at all). But, particularly, I take issue with the assertion in #4 that communion is not about discipleship

    1 Cor 11 is pretty clearly about the link between communion and discipleship. How we treat each other as the body of Christ matters. That is what discerning the body means. Unless we take seriously our belonging to one another and caring for one another, we have not discerned the body and our communion is false and our claim to be in communion with Christ is suspect. Thus the Eucharist/Communion is as much an act of commitment and accountability as is baptism. The two sacraments support and inform each other. Understanding either as simply an issue of hospitality misses something essential. And it indicates a pretty anemic understanding of hospitality.

    Christianity emphasizes community and belonging. In an American, post-Enlightenment context which emphasizes the individual and choice, the difference between community and an association of individuals can be hard to appreciate. Communion without baptism (CWOB) puts the emphasis on the individual and her or his personal spiritual journey rather than on our belonging and our responsibility for, and accountability to, one another.

    Ironically, CWOB is a Christendom move in a post-Christendom situation. When when the distinctions between society and the Church are minimized, the distinctive practices and disciplines that mark off membership in one or the other become negligible if not incomprehensible. Where our true citizenship lies is a question both the religious right and the religious left in America tend to get wrong.

    CWOB moves us from being an intentional community of self-giving, mutual support, encouragement, challenge, conversion and transformation gathered by and around the self-giving of Jesus Christ to being a generic religious restaurant with god on the menu for individual consumption.

    That said, there is no doubt that God can work bad theology and practice to good. But, then, the fact that many of us first learned to love and follow Jesus in Fundamentalist contexts is hardly an argument for introducing more Fundamentalism in our preaching and worship.

  9. Christopher

    I don’t know where to begin; this is as arrogant as the Western Seminarian.

    Maybe I’ll reread this piece of, ummm, later.

    I swear this is where we’re being taken however. And it’s not because I think we have to do it all the same all the time, which isn’t true anyway…much Changes sunday to Sunday, but reinventing the wheel? I’ve seen lots of rewritten Eucharistic prayers, too few are worthy of use; better to just us WoI than most of these on the fly compositions.

    I think we need to tease out that worship can evangelize wherever the pure Word of God is proclaimed and administered in, with, under the Sacraments, BUT that worship is primarily God’s service of those who have already responded to God’s Word, and is not a replacement for cathechesis of the interested. C is in the process of working with others to develope an RCIA-like program adapted for Lutherans. I think this is an approach worth considering.

  10. Alissabeth

    I really appreciated what you had to say in your comment on The Lead.

    I’d also suggest that at least some of the problems the Episcopal Church is having with those who want to leave is related to being willing to sacrifice liturgical identity for bodies in the seats. At what point does a parish that does away with the BCP, the hymnal, the prayers, etc. also do away with being Episcopalian?

    Inclusivity is important. So is identity. If we don’t have a clear idea of who we are – and the ability to communicate that to newcomers – how can visitors and seekers make good and real choices about joining us?

  11. Derek the Ænglican

    I’ll repeat here the substance of a comment I made at the Postulant’s place. (And add more.)

    When I read things like this it makes me wonder about the formation process at the seminary he attended. I’ll note it was *not* an Episcopal one. But I’ve hear things like this from folks who have gone to Episcopal ones.

    Further it makes me wonder about the formation he received at the parish that sponsored him.

    Then it made me wonder about the formation at my parish…

    I wonder how well we’re doing at conveying the basics of the faith–the mystery and wonder of a life hid in God–and teaching people to notice how our liturgy conveys those basics.

    How well do we communicate the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the liturgy tries to nudge us down the path to authentic discipleship?

    It’s not just that I think he’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater—I wonder if he’s been shown that there is actually a baby there in the first place… And if he hasn’t, how about the people in my parish? (And what part do each of us play in helping our respective parishes with this…?)

  12. Reverend boy

    For what it’s worth, in my parish we have a very strong group of folks from the local university as well as others in their 20s/30s (about 50 altogether) that attend our Sunday evening service whom we affectionately call our “seeker/agnostic” group. They really enjoy using the liturgy “as is” from the BCP.

    Oh, and they turn their nose up at contemporary praise and worship songs.

    For what it’s worth, mind you.

  13. bls

    No, Derek – people don’t know anything about the baby any longer. I sure didn’t – and I grew up with this stuff, but I left a long time ago, and I think most people are like me these days.

    It’s a whole new world out there, and what’s needed is a whole introduction to the Christian faith and the mystery and wonder you talk about. To most people today, Christianity sounds like either fairy tales – or else a bunch of rules. The whole mystical aspect is lost, and so even is the Tradition. We have to start again.

    – bls (not at my own computer)

  14. bls

    (This is why we have to do liturgy; signs and symbols speak to this missing background.

    For a sort of strange analogy, it’s like (as D.C. and I once talked about) the military: you see, for instance, a military funeral, and there’s a lot of unspoken stuff going on. Slow, deliberate steps are taken in formation; airplanes that fly overhead in formation – but one falls away; everything is done for the purpose of conveying the deeper meaning behind it.

    We have these things, too, and they didn’t come out of nowhere.

  15. Christopher

    Ummm…has anyone seen the latest Mystery Object at MadPriest’s? What were they thinking…

    And I think bls is right, the catechetical, formational piece has fallen off for a generation and not just in TEC.

  16. Nurse Rached

    I was at a BCP liturgy, Rite II, promoted in te bulletin as ”contemporary.” I read the responses as written in the BCP. A man in the pew next to me ”corrected” me several times durng the liturgy. I ”erred” by responding ”And blessed be his kingdom” as opposed to interjecting ”God’s kingdom” and I didn’t alter the Nicene Creed to refer to the Holy Spirit as ”she.” All I was doing was praying, participating in the liturgy, using the BCP as it was written. The man seated next to me at this ”contemporary” liturgy made me feel very unwelcome and stated (after the liturgy) that I was using ”sexist” language. Again, I was simply participating in the liturgy using the responses as written in Rite II of the BCP. I have never been harrassed by a self-appointed liturgical cop as a traditional language liturgy. I am not some prude. I love liturgies using the ”Enriching Our Worship” series. At those liturgies I participate by reading the appropriate written responses. I am very liberal in my theological beliefs. I don’t like intolerance, namecalling (”sexist”), and being critiqued during liturgical worship. I’ve encountered this only at liturgies described as modern or contemporary. I love old liturgical forms, grew up on the 1928 BCP, and I don’t know why some people think olde liturgical styles are unwelcoming or inhospitable.

  17. Nurse Rached

    I re-read the post at the café. I was raised in the Episcopal Church. I am curious wat church the priest was raised in and where he went to seminary. I am not being unkind — just trying to understand him better. Many of the people who worked on the Hymnal 1982 are still alive. I feel bad to see them attacked in such an uncharitable way. And I could figure out the theology of the Gloria (sublime praise of the Trinity based on the singing of Christmas angels) at age 6. If this style of worship arrived in my parish and this foul-mouthed, poorly educated clergyman became my rector, I wouldn’t rock the boat. I’d just leave and find another parish. I am a laywoman who went to EFM and I know that ”alma” was translated as ”parthenos” (virgin) in the Septuagint. General Convention, not one priest, sets standards for worship. GC via canon law also spcifies that communion is for baptized Christians. No one priest or layperson has the right to make such sweeping changes. We are an episcopal church and we don’t have a mega-church or congregationalist polity. Again, I am a bleeding heart liberal. Why do traditional rites (which sustained me and my forbears — I have a BCP used by a family member in the civil war) have to have ”conservatism” or ”intolerance” superimposed on them? I still read the AV Bible at times and sometimes pray using my 1928 BCP. I love the 1979 BCP and I even love the experimental rites. I am open minded, but I do, charitbly, as a member of TEC, submit myself to our concensus fidelium (the agreed canons, standards, and practices agreed on by our lay and clergy leaders). This may be something of a restrictive binder for some, but these standards protect us from clergy like the priest on the café.

  18. bls

    These “anti-clericalists” are the most clericalist of all, actually. They decide what our spiritual life is going to be; they decide how we’re going to pray – and by God, we’d better.

    You see, it’s really quite unimportant what General Convention decides about the rubrics and the liturgy; laypeople are part of that, you know, everybody knows we’re stupid and retro. What really matters is the Important Guy Up Front; to hell with the rest of the world.

    It’s All About Him.

  19. Nurse Rached

    Hey bls, If I had to choose this priest’s vision of the Church versus traditionalism, I would take my liberal self to a 1928 BCP parish, the Hymnal 1940, and the priest celebrating with his back to the people (or facing east). I googled this priest and he went to Union Theological seminary in NY. Not that this is a bad place, but they have a vision that isn’t entirely Anglican. If an episcopal parish or mission (with permission of their bishop) wants to worship in accordance to Father Jarrett Kerbel’s vision, they should be welcome to do so. I just don’t want to be told I am intolerant or unwelcoming because of my ”traditionalist” leanings. I’d also like to see just how filled pews become if a paris jettisoned BCP worship and went with Jarrett’s plan. This would be a cool experiment. I have a feeling they’d lose people who might be replaced with the same amount of newcomers. Liturgy can evangelize, but I don’t understand it as a tool for evangelism.

  20. bls

    Gosh, it sounds like we’re really all kind of fed up with Groovy Guys with Kewl Ideas, doesn’t it? ;-)

  21. bls

    And see, this is why the connection to the past really IS important. People are already coming unmoored from it – nobody really knows much about the tradition anymore, or about the history of Christian thought which explains why the faith is what it is – and when priests get into stuff like this, the rift only becomes wider.

    It’s like we’re floating in a sea of nothing except our own narrow interests, completely uninterested in anything but the present moment and ourselves. Typical, of course, for Americans….

  22. mother m

    This article made my blood boil! Clearly this priest does not know or understand the liturgy and quite possibly the theology of TEC. There is no such thing as simply a liturgical change. Every time you change something in the liturgy (or leave it out) it changes the theology too. Our parishoners need to be taught the basics of the faith and the liturgy starting as young as preschool. Lil’g was able to say (and chant) the Lord’s Prayer by age 3 and now at 4 can sing the Gloria too. Did I mention she can lead sung evening prayer (abbreviated form of course from the BCP)? Anyway, I have so many complaints with this article that I really need to just write a piece in response at the Cafe. Maybe this is just what I needed to get my own blog started!!

  23. Jim Naughton

    I’d be grateful if those of you who have been commenting on this article over at the Cafe would come on back over and give me your thoughts on my own comment, which is below. I will keep up with your comments here, too.

    I haven’t read the article that we are discussing. My comment has to do with the comments. I found them articulate, and persuasive viz. liturgy. But as I am not a liturgist, but am supposed to be advancing my diocese’s efforts in evangelism, I want to ask what kind of liturgy you think is welcoming to the stranger. Please don’t tell me liturgy isn’t supposed to be welcoming to the stranger. We can’t expect people to get out of bed on Sunday mornings to attend a service they don’t understand, or that emphasizes their non-membership, so that they can enjoy 20 minutes of fellowship at the coffee hour or catch an occasional adult ed. lecture. Liturgy is the main event for a denomination that is fast losing membership as old folks die and young folks drift away. Somehow, we have to make it a more attractive force than it currenlty seems to be. Or else we won’t be around in a few decades. I have no real ideas how to do that, but I feel the need to assert that it must be done.

  24. Fr Chris

    Mother M —

    Yes! A blog! Great idea! (And I know I’m not alone in wanting to hear your voice more often — sorry for all the exclamation points. ;-)

    Jim —

    Actually, it occurs to me that I went a little overboard saying that liturgy isn’t for evangelism — and The Postulant was right to suggest otherwise, and point out that it’s the Eucharist specifically that shouldn’t be pointed in this direction. Frankly, the Office can fill this role beautifully.

    Worried that seekers don’t necessarily want to come on Sunday morning? Offer Evening Prayer on weekday evenings. The services are also short, which is a plus in this case. Add a longer Saturday “vigil” EP — that’s something I wish a local church around here would do even for committed folks. Maybe do a light meal or something first. There are plenty of places in the Office to add simple congregational music — the Magnificat, settings of the Psalms, etc. Sung Compline or EP+Compline on Sunday nights would also be beautiful.

    And the great thing is, these can all be lead by lay people.

  25. bls

    Since I’m not registered at Episcopal Cafe, I’ll answer with one idea here.

    Since people really don’t know the tradition and the history any longer, why not teach them? EFM is a great program, and I’ve learned a great deal in the past year and a half that I’ve been involved in it. Religion is very interesting for one particular reason, I’ve learned: whenever you get curious about something – what did Jesus mean when he said this?, for example – you have to start looking things up. And then you have to continue looking things up to understand the first thing you looked up. Pretty soon, you’ve opened a big door on history, culture, philosophy, literature, art, anthropology, and all sorts of other topics.

    So why don’t we use religion in this way, as an entree to other things? These topics are interesting, and most people don’t know very much about them anymore; we’re losing touch with the past – but religion is still deeply in touch with it.

    So, classes and lectures, in all sorts of topics? And art and music and etc.

    And incense, too. The point of worship is to get people in touch with God, really; that’s supposed to be the focus. And God is Other; we ought to aim at the mysterium tremendum et fascinans during Divine Service, I think. Talk (and food) afterwards.

  26. bls

    FYI, More today from Thinking Anglicans from Barna on young people and the church:

    While Christianity has typically generated an uneven reputation, the research shows that many of the most common critiques are becoming more concentrated. The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) – representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).

    Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

    Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

    There’s also a page called What Teenagers look for in a church

  27. Lou Poulain

    My perspective is one who came to TEC in 2001 at the age of 53 after very active lay participation in the RCC my entire adult life. I attended eucharist one, often twice and sometimes more all those years. (Many years ago I played guitar in one of the early “folk mass” groups in seminary in San Diego.
    When I attended eucharist at my local TEC parish the first impressions were: These people are serious and very care-ful about worship. Good preaching is a prime value. This church warmly welcomes everyone to the Table. (hint: my biggest of many issues with the RCC). I was deeply warmed and thoroughly seduced by the experience. Against all expectations I have fallen in love with the Hymnal. TEC (or at least the several parishes I have experienced) “get” the liturgical year. There is a wonderful sense of play that interjects at 12th Night, or when we tramp thru “Christ Has Risen From The Dead.”

    Worship is welcoming when we welcome. The call to the Table; the outreach at the Peace, the greeting at the door and personal invitation of Fellowship Hour are welcoming. A well thought out worship bulletin is welcoming. But we need to let the power of the ritual do it’s work. If the planners and celebrants and other ministers understand that ritual powerfully connects to the unconscious, and they feel the continuity to two thousand years of tradition (think about a hundred thousand consecutive Sundays at which the assembled community has broken bread together!) then they will honor whatever rite they are using. … and not secumb to the temptation to “trick it up” in order to be somehow more relevant. I’ve been to too many badly conceived liturgies — and I am embarrassed to admit that I helped plan many of them.

    My personal experience is that worship within a committed community is very evangelizing. The welcoming question calls for an examination of the communities attitude toward the stranger, and towards the Holy Table. If we remember that it’s NOT our table, but God’s board, I think we’re most of the way there.


  28. bls

    I know a parish where that kind of litugical grab-bag stuff is done; it’s not doing any better than most others. Some people go; others wouldn’t go for anything.

    Really, we should stick to our guns, and what we do best: reverent worship done well. (And what is the obsession – I’ve seen it several places – with getting out in under an hour, anyway? It takes as long as it takes, doesn’t it? Maybe the services for kids, with a shorter attention span, but adults maybe even need some extra time to decompress. Isn’t it better to have at least one place where we’re not watching the clock? Not to say 2-hour services or anything, but really….)

  29. revdrmom

    I commented at the cafe (to the second piece on this) but let me say here that I am always taken aback by any discussion of liturgy that STARTS with “throw out the BCP”. Um, no.

    I’m not opposed to change. Or to variety. But the BCP is foundational for me, and I think our worship.

    And don’t get me started on the “it can’t last longer than an hour” bit….

  30. Fr Chris

    What bls said about the length of services. My favorite place to go to Mass is a historically black parish here in town. Their midweek Eucharist at noon is the only one where vestments are used and the Gloria is said (seriously — one nearby parish dispenses with everything between “Blessed be God…” and the Collect of the day), and on Sundays there are so many hymns we don’t get out until fifteen till one sometimes (starting at 11). I love it. We’re told not to put God in a box, yet God must fit into just an hour?

  31. Derek the Ænglican

    Lots of good thoughts here…

    M referred to Lil’ G a bit earlier–I’ll say this on length of service: she’s 4 and can handle an hour-and-a-half high mass. Of course, she draws during the sermon and sometimes just sulks during the prayers but most of the time she pays attention as well as most adults. One of the reasons is because we never sit further back than the third pew and we’re often in the very first one–that way she can see everything that’s going on. We explain things to her and help her participate, and she does. If she can do it…

    I do understand that some folk just seem to be on a one hour timer. Butr at most of the places we go to there are multiple services of varying lengths. If you’ve got to get out in an hour, there’s a service for that…

  32. The Anglican Scotist

    Why not start with first things: supposing the work of the people of God is not an end in itself, and it does no good to God, exactly what is worship and liturgy good for?

    Once you’ve answered that, isn’t clear that almost all Christian liturgy has failed–and failed utterly?

  33. The Anglican Scotist

    Or: the Barna teenagers who say “that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%)” are on to something–a systemic failure, a community that lacks (secular) respectability from far left liberals to far right fundies and most points in between.

  34. The Anglican Scotist

    Or, to belabor the point: whether you have open or closed communion, a truncated or full Eucharist, there is absolutely nothing a rector, vestry-person, or Episcopalian can do about the fact that for the past four years we have been almost completely self-obsessed.

    And that at the very same time our nation has been fighting a brutal and bloody war with no end in sight–a war which should have a tad more attention from us, whether one supports it or not.

    The same type of point could be repeated for other denoms.

    Kids notice that–and other folks on the outside too.

    Is it OK that our liturgy is compatible with such vast narcissism?

  35. Fr Chris

    Is it OK that our liturgy is compatible with such vast narcissism?

    Is that the fault of the Western liturgy, or of the human beings who practice it? I mean, on the basis of what you’re saying, Christianity itself is a colossal failure for the last 2000 years, right? Why remain Christian?

    Anyhow, I’m certainly concerned about how Christians appear to the wider world, but I also believed a fair number of dumb, untrue things as a teenager. I’m not sure a Barna survey on what teens believe about Christianity is the best place to start.

  36. Christopher


    If liturgy were a put in x and get y, then yes, but it is not; the truth is we are saint and sinner in this life and expecting a straightforward outcome is futile. First God serves us in the liturgy giving himself in words proclaimed and sacraments administered, and we respond in thanks and praise. The Eucharist is foremost not our thanksgiving, but Jesus Christ by whom we can open our lips in praise at all.

  37. Meghan

    I think many people have missed the point. Jarrett was intentionally provocative. I don’t think tradition is in and of itself unwelcoming. My question is there imaginatoin and passion -the latter is what I think Gen X and Gen Y want. I think the question to ask is his vision of liturgy effective, are people engaged, challenged and inspired. The ultimate indicator in my book is if people are looking at their watches. Beautiful, engaging liturgy should cause people to lose a sense of all time so that they are .

    I have been Episcopalian 3 years and have only been in about 3 churches (among 30 churches in DC, Atlanta, San Francisco, New York City.) St. Gregory of Nyssa has a very engaging liturgy. An atheist friend (30, who is a confirmed Episcopalian) told me she found it theatrical and warm and friendly. She truly felt welcomed although she was a bit put off by the sermon, which focused on giving money. But it was the start of the annual pledge campaign.

    I think coffee hour is awkward for 90% of first timers, especially if you go and no one approaches you. St. Gregory of Nyssa converts their altar into the coffee bar so it is hard for newcomers to sneak out and people actually approach you. My rector’s wife was in Boston recently and she said that 50% of the job of welcoming is the responsibility of the visitor. She has never been unchurched, she doesn’t know the apprehensions and stereotypes many seers might have when they come into the door. I think most church people are clueless about how it feels to be a visitor.

    Liturgy most certainly can be evangelistic. Jarrett makes some excellent points when he said the sermon should be thought provocative and challenging. All Saints’ in Atlanta has probably some of the best preaching in the Episcopal Church (Barbara Brown Taylor used to be on staff there – so that gives you an idea of the calibre the congregation expects.)

    Lighten up people. What our church desperate needs is self-examination, creative imagination and innovation to get more people through the door. And more passoin please, passionate spirituality is what is needed to uplift our liturgy.

  38. Derek the Ænglican

    Thanks for your thoughts, Meghan.

    I agree entirely about beautiful, engaging liturgy. Yes, Jarrett was being provocative and if he was looking to spark debate I think he succeeded. What I take offense at, though, is his casual dismissal of some of the fundamentals of Christian doctrine.

    I agree we have to be welcoming.

    I even agree that there are non-traditional ways of doing liturgy that will touch some people better than traditional ways.

    However, when we begin compromising our beliefs for the sake of being welcoming, we start to lose some of the counter-cultural power of the Gospel and we begin preaching something that is less than God’s Good News.

  39. bls

    Yes, coffee hour is sometimes awkward; so is any new social situation. Grown people don’t have to be coddled and fussed over – just welcomed.

    One thing I do agree with is that we could do better with hymns; much of what’s in the 1982 – while I like most of it – is older and a lot of the hymns are, I hate to say, kind of stuffy. Particularly that 1800s Victorian-era stuff; it’s deadly. The older stuff is much better, and there must be some newer stuff that is, too.

  40. Meghan

    Rite III Liturgy was not mentioned at all in this post. This might be the way forward for TEC. I don’t get the impression most priests perceive, let alone fashion, themselves as liturgical creatives, however.

    Some cutting edge initiatives: – innovative spirituality festivals (sound healing workshops, trans dance, etc.)to bring in progressive 20/30 somethings. This is a work in progress. – alternative worship experience for 20/30s seomthings. Resident musician is the incomparable Isaac Everett. – emerging church plant in Seattle (Lutheran/Episcopal) that has succeeded in gaining 150 members in the Fremont neighborhood- 90% unchurched.

    Just food for thought.

    I apologize for my typos in the prevIOUS post.

    Derek, I am sorry if you were upset with Derek’s irreverent tone about Mary. That appeared to be the only mention of Christian doctrine, but certainly you take that as only his opinion. For me the virgin birth is not core to who Jesus is, but I also participated in Eucharist on August 15th with someone from my church for whom Mary is central to his spirituality. I do not need to believe in the hisoricity of the event to not appreciate and draw from the event what I believe is intended as metaphor.

  41. bls

    Meghan, there’s no such thing as “Rite III Liturgy.” The “Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” is explicitly “not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of
    the Holy Eucharist.” Rite I and Rite II are approved.

    As a layperson, let me say this emphatically: I have far more respect for priests who follow the rubrics than for those who don’t. I simply don’t trust the latter, because they will by definition do whatever thing strikes their fancy on the day. The entire process becomes about them and their desires and wishes, and not at all about God, or about the members of the congregation, or about the laity at all, in fact. It is the ultimate in clericalism.

    The Book of Common Prayer – and the rubrics – is an effort of the entire church; priests who don’t bother with it seem to say that the laity simply don’t matter. General Convention just reaffirmed that CWOB is not the policy of the Church – yet priests continually violate it anyway. It’s all about them and their wishes, apparently; the voice of the laity is to be disregarded.

    This is partly the reason I’m Episcopalian, in fact; it’s not supposed to be about the priest or in fact about any of us. I personally think that people who cannot accept authority are completely unreliable.

    Priests who want to be congregationalists should become Congregationalist pastors and stop jerking us around.

  42. bls

    (Why people who dislike the Book of Common Prayer become priests in a church whose organizing principal is contained in that very book is truly beyond me.

    If they want to attract people to the Christian faith via some other method, that’s fine. There are literally hundreds of other denominations to choose from. Meantime, we’re members of this church, and are getting quite tired of Pashas in dog collars dictating their own personal preferences to us.

    If people don’t have the imagination to make worship passionate, beautiful, and engaging using the BCP, that is not our fault. I’ve seen it done many times, myself.)

  43. Meghan

    BLS – I understand your passion for prayer-book liturgy – I share it except let’s face it based on my experience most churches don’t know how to do passionate, beautiful and engaging liturgy. There are relaitvely a small number of gifted clergy. I would put Jarrett in that category or Bonnie Perry of All Saints’ Chicago. I think you have to look at the results they obtain.

    There is clearly such a thing as Rite III liturgy. It is being done at Sanctuary in NY, at the cathedral in Nashville {(monthly), and at St. Stephen’s in Richmond Va at their weekly Celtic Eucharist.

    The Rite III by the rubrics cannot be the principal service on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be done on a Sunday evening. I am all for following the rubrics but there is ample room within a Rite III liturgy to creaste omething that translates the gospel to the young unchurched. The music of Sinead O’connor, or Sting and of course U2.

    I was a driving member on a team that planned a U2 Eucharist -307 people came and I did the publicity in an urban population of 200,000 people. I esimate 25% of the people were non-Episcopalians and believe some of them were unchurched.

    Rite III liturgy is all about God, just engaging God through creative spirituality and the imagination within the boundaries established by the BCP.

    If you’re ever in San Francisco, check out St. Gregory of Nyssa. You may not like it, but my friend an atheist was clearly engaged.

  44. Derek the Ænglican

    …that translates the gospel to the young unchurched. The music of Sinead O’connor, or Sting and of course U2.

    Hmmm. This is the music I grew up with. I’m not sure I can accurately consider myself “young” anymore. (See Lee’s thoughts and suggestion of a Killswitch Engage Eucharist.)

    I would agree with you that there are few liturgically gifted clergy about. For those who are not, they need a good stable framework within which to work. That’s precisely what the BCP is.

    I have been to a “U2-charist” and as I mentioned in my review I thought it was interesting but not something that can sustain a community through its life-cycles. As I harangued my class yesterday–the true test of a liturgy (especially a Eucharistic one) is a funeral. If the liturgy can fully engage both the painful realities of human existence AND speak God’s word of resurrection then it’s worth keeping around. So much of the experimental liturgy whether shallow didacticism (“consciousness-raising”) or emotionalism (“HappyGod” as Anastasia calls it) crumbles in the face of such stark realities.

  45. bls

    Actually, your post makes it far, far less likely that I’d ever go to anything you suggest. Telling people that something is true when it clearly isn’t doesn’t really inspire much trust.

    But it’s your choice.

  46. Derek the Ænglican

    I would like to make it to St Gregory of Nyssa one of these days. I find Donald Schell a thoughtful and very engaged person. There are many things that we don’t agree on, but he has spent a considerable amount of time thinking about why he and his community do what they do and I respect his engagement even if we come to different answers.

    While Jarrett may have spent similar decades considering worship practices, it didn’t come through in his post. (Particularly since some of the people he cites as influences *followed* me in seminary and I’ve been out of seminary for less than a decade…)

  47. bls

    Here’s the latest: in my parish they’re trying to get us to stop kneeling. They announce that they “have to let us,” since it’s allowed in the BCP, but it’s obvious from the tone that they think it’s absolutely retro and ridiculous.

    What, really, is it to them, anyway? If I wanted to be given directions for my worship posture, I know perfectly well where I can find that.

    It’s not bad enough we have the right-wing fundies; now we have left-wing ones, too.

  48. Derek the Ænglican


    I feel for you.

    See, the “no kneeling” thing is a tricky one–it’s a classic case of a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The little knowledge in this case is a canon from the First Ecumenical Council which says that there is to be no kneeling on Sundays or during Easter. However as I noted when I talked about this earlier, the legislators of the canon envisioned it as a mode of rejoicing not to be seen apart from the usual daily practice of multiple prostrations. What Nicea I was suggesting was that we not kneel 1/7th of the time, not 100% of the time. That is, it’s about balance. To stand always without kneeling completely misses the point.

  49. bls

    I can’t stand the clergy anymore; I think I need at least a break from the whole thing, because I’m getting so angry that it’s bad for me and everybody else.

    People are leaving the parish now – and some are people who do a lot of the grunt work. The clergy are going to be very surprised at what they’re left with, I think.

    I just looked up the stats for a few parishes around here. The kneelers are doing better than the standers, in general, as far as I can tell. The Philadelphia Cathedral – everybody raves about it around, how modern it is (no kneeling of course); I looked them up, too. They get 80 people at Sunday worship. Isn’t that wonderful?

    Don’t these guys realize that TEC has lost at least 1/3 of its membership since the liturgical changes were implemented? Around here it’s more like a 50% loss; brilliant, fellas.

  50. bls

    The problem is that they think they have to become “creative” – when all they have to do is be effective at the life of faith. They take such a shallow approach. Let’s move the altar! Let’s force ’em to stand up! (All these little old ladies who’ve been kneeling all their lives, that is.)

    I think really it comes down basically to teaching people how to pray, and to praying with them. TO just opening up the faith for people, really. But of course, nobody bothers with daily prayers anymore; it’s all about the “show” on Sunday. Entertainment.

    At another parish – a local one I may join – I went to Eucharist yesterday, for St. Igantius of Antioch. Did you know there was a “pious tradition” that Ignatius was the “little child” that Jesus took in his arms in one of the Gospels (Matthew, is it?)? Who teaches that sort of cool stuff anymore? Not many. Martyr’s red for vestments, too. Is this really so hard? (That parish is doing well, FYI.)

  51. bls

    Well, sorry for being rude on this thread, especially to Meghan.

    I just wish the clergy would start taking the faith seriously. I’m mostly preaching to the choir here, of course, and certainly present clerical company is excepted. There do need to be “experimental” parishes at which new liturgy can be fooled around with and taken out for a shakedown run; I think the seminaries do some of this, and why not have a few of these scattered around in the Dioceses, too? It’s a good idea.

    But that doesn’t mean that everybody else should just do whatever they feel like doing at every moment; consistency is an important virtue, although rigidity is not. They are being confused constantly today; the new cliche, in fact, is the ridicule of the phrase that “we’ve always done it that way.” This is now the excuse for people who think their own ideas are the most terrific thing ever, and who declare the BCP to be horseshit. Blah, blah, blah.

    Last Protestant Dinosaurs who want to do things all their own way have their place, too; it just might not be in the Episcopal Church, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

    Meantime, how about granting other people the smallest modicum of respect even if they do disagree with your fabulousness and your wonderful ideas about how to do liturgy, Rev. Kerbel? Other people might just have something important to add also, you know. The laity is part of this discussion, too, unfortunately for you, I guess. Sorry you don’t like that, but there it is.

    And really, I think priests should stop taking it upon themselves to announce that anybody’s welcome to Communion. I go back and forth on this idea, myself – both for and against have merit – but that’s not what the policy of the Church is at this time. If ordination vows mean nothing, then why should anybody trust you? Do you expect others to meekly submit to you when you’ve decided you are a law unto yourselves?

  52. bls

    (I mean, gay people are expected to submit to the recent decisions of the General Convention and House of Bishops; we are being asked to subordinate our own wishes for the greater good. I personally think GC and the HoB made the correct decision on this, because same-sex blessings are a mere superficial band-aid on a very much more serious wound. And I won’t be interested in advocating for this myself until some attention is paid to the very, very harsh lives gay people are forced to live elsewhere in the world – many whose pain could be ameliorated by the renunciation of anti-gay bigotry by Anglicans in some of these regions, and which isn’t happening at present.

    First things first, after all. Who the hell cares about gay Bishops under these conditions? So yes: this is indeed where the focus should be.

    If gay people can submit to authority for the sake of somebody else, why can’t clergy ever seem to do this for any reason?)

  53. Derek the Ænglican

    In class this morning one of my students brought up the issue of continuity. If it’s pastoral pick-and-choose, how does the formation this week connect to the weeks before and after? And this from one of my Methodists! They’re a great group…

    I like the way you phrased it, bls: “consistency rather than rigidity.” That hits just the right notes.

    M keeps reminding me that we have rules for a reason and that if we have them we need to enforce them. I’d much rather have fewer rules that are actually followed than lots of rules where some count and some don’t.

    The Spirit moves in many ways. Sometimes it acts through bolts of inspiration to individuals but there’s another motion that is more like a river over rocks that shapes in ways measured by centuries and millennia. I believe our liturgy is part of this broader, slower, more hidden work of the Spirit. However, it shapes us best when we’re aware of it and open to it. That’s why it’s incumbent on all of us, clergy and lay alike to familiarize ourselves with the BCP (or whatever liturgy your tradition follows) and the doctrine and spirituality woven into it. Yes, we need to strike out and explore new territory sometimes—but it’s irresponsible to go marching around in the uncharted wilderness when you haven’t taken the time to know your own backyard.

  54. bls

    In class this morning one of my students brought up the issue of continuity. If it’s pastoral pick-and-choose, how does the formation this week connect to the weeks before and after? And this from one of my Methodists! They’re a great group…

    It’s too true. Besides, again quoting C.S. Lewis, “I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit…”

    If clergy find the liturgy boring – which is what this seems to stem from as often as not- then let’s write some better stuff; I’m definitely for that. I adore Orthodox prayers and would love something along those lines. But people need the habit of prayer, or there’s absolutely no point in going to church at all.

    If we want politics, we can find it elsewhere. If we want social services, we can find those elsewhere, too; likewise for social company. The Church, though, has a monopoly on God and prayer, which it is squandering at present.

    And you’re right: all this is happening because people do not bother to familiarize themselves with the tradition. That’s why the arguments about these things are so shallow and boring; even I as a layperson can tell that.

  55. bls

    (The sad thing is that the heritage is already there. Anglo-Catholics long ago knew how to combine reverent liturgical worship with social activism.

    Kerbel’s complaint about the liturgical churches being terrible on the social issues only makes clear that he doesn’t know this. Or, given his blog’s moniker, doesn’t care.)

  56. Meghan

    BLS – I regret if I upset you. I was trying to say I think there is room for all kinds and that a Rite III liturgy can be very beautiful, but it can only be supplemental. It goes to the idea that we can have many different styles of liturgy to appeal to different types of people. Worship, above all, is supposed to feed you spiritually and connect you with God. If it doesn’t engage you and worship does not become a thin place for you where you experience the sacred, then it’s not quality liturgy.

    What you describe at your parish does not embrace the spirit of via media. My parish distributess communion in a beautiful way: we stand in a circle in front of the altar. There are cushions if people want to kneel, but I think we should use our old altar and actually have a place where people can receive communion kneeling at the altar rail. You won’t see me there but I think it’s important to accommodate both liturgical preferences.

    Hang in there – I hope you find a church where you are fed.

  57. Meghan

    BLS – you make an excellent point about developing a habit but what if the habit becomes so rote people aren’t thinking anymore. Worship, then, has the potential to be an idol. It is a very difficult equilibrium the need for continuity so that we do this Sunday connects to last Sunday and to the one following. But if the prayers become stale and the sermons aren’t fresh and challenging me to be more like Jesus in my daily life, then perhaps there isn’t enough change.

    I don’t agree that change should be foisted on people. 90% of the churchs still celebrate Rite I Morning Prayer once a month. That is how they keep the continuity with the past for the traditionalists. I went once and it was the worst experience I ever had. I actually felt nauseous and deprived of not having the sacramental part of the liturgy – my way of connecting with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. I didn’t understand the point of all the sitting and kneeling, no exchange of the peace. So from that vantage point I completely empathize where you are coming from.

    I love some of the new Eucharistic prayers by Janet Trisk, a priest from South Africa. Canon F is my favorite- it is a beautiful piece of liturgical prose.

    I like beautiful words in in liturgy that move my soul.

    On that note I will leave you with a beautiful poem by Derek Walcott:

    The time will come
    when, with elation
    you will greet yourself arriving
    at your own door, in your own mirror
    and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

    and say, sit here. Eat.
    You will love again the stranger who was your self.
    Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
    to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

    all your life, whom you ignored
    for another, who knows you by heart.
    Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

    the photographs, the desperate notes,
    peel your own image from the mirror.
    Sit. Feast on your life.

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