Thursday, September 8, 2011

What would our liturgy look like if youth led it?

An article by me in our church's Anglican Taonga on common worship has been taken up by Bosco Peter's at Liturgy, with some good discussion emerging in comments there.

A key passage in the article is this:

"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’!"

Last night in a conversation about the bones of the discussion at Liturgy - why is my rule about liturgical life here true, what could be different so that my rule turned out not to be true in the future - I mused aloud about the following possibility:

What would our prayer book liturgies look like if we asked young people to prepare and to perform them with just one stipulation: the words of the service chosen must be followed as printed in the prayer book. That is, everything else about the service would be worked out by a generation that knew not the BCP, Hymns Ancient and Modern, and some (in my view) unhelpful settings of the sung Lord's Prayer. Setting out of the church, use of paper or not, projectors or not, music to be used, stylistic features (including whether any one wears robes or not): all that kind of thing would be handed down a generation. What would our liturgies be experienced as? I sense that we would have liturgies which were attracting to a different generation from the generation which is mostly gathering in most of our parishes for prayer book services.

Of course, heading in this way might have the effect of driving older folk away - I am sure drums would be involved in this new worship paradigm and they are not to the taste of all older folk. So a balanced approach to transforming our parishes to places of inter-generational congregations would be the way to go!

A further point that comes to my mind as I reflect on these matters concerns whether the issue in our church is a lack of training and formation in liturgy, or a poor training in liturgical formation. Perhaps it is - there is a danger that to defend the point over vigorously would be a defence of myself (now in the eleventh year of being a contributor to education and training in our church). But I wonder if instead or as well, the issue is also one of vision.

I can imagine a way of doing liturgy in our church which is better suited to inter-generational worship because I have seen it done ... it is just that mostly I have seen it done in Roman Catholic parishes here. Are many Anglican priests in these islands locked into a way of doing things in part because we have not seen another way? I say 'in part' because I think we are also locked into certain ways of doing things because of our English Anglican heritage which has bequeathed to us the glories of the choral tradition with their integrated formality in style so that, even in parishes which have long since lost the resources to maintain the choral tradition, the formality remains. Conversely, in parishes which (perhaps rebelling against the formality?) have moved away from prayer book liturgies, a different form of 'locking in' to a (more recent) tradition may have occurred. Heading back towards the liturgy is not envisioned because another way has not been experienced ...

Or, I could be quite wrong ... what do you think is going on here in ACANZP ... if you are overseas, what is happening in your patch re liturgy being embraced by all generations?


Father Ron Smith said...

In your discussion of how youth might alter the composition of the Church's Liturgy, Peter, you are completely discounting the fact that the Church Catholic (which includes the Orthodox Church) has continued it's liturgical revision - but with little alteration to the founding Early Church format, for nearly 2 millennia.

Even the changes of Vatican II did not greatly alter the basic format of The liturgical rites that were available - except for the fact that they allowed the use of local language. The basic form & content of the Mass remained.

What has happened in more recent years, is that possibly well-meaning protestant reformers have offered para-liturgies that have opened up the possibility of worship in formats very different from the Eucharist - involving, quite often, the opportunity for young people to create their own worship formats - outside of the Eucharistic Celebration - very often with the use of musical instruments that have taken over from the organ, as accompaniment to enthusiastic forms of worship that allow an unrestrained emotionalism to predominate over decorum.

While this might encourage youth in their musical skills, it can often be off-putting to those of us who might prefer a more solemn worship atmosphere, with musical forms that offer an appropriate devotional atmosphere in which to approach the Author and Giver of Life.

Having survived the emotionalism of the Charismatic Movement in the 1960s, when young people were attracted to Church by the prospect of being part of a music group (I, Myself, was part of the St.Paul's Singers), I benefitted personally from the exposure to Eucharistic Worship that proceeded from it.

In today's environment, where the Eucharist is often neglected, in the interests of loud enthusiastic music-making by mostly young people, to the accompaniment of ejaculatory prayer; the older. more reflective congregants tend to avoid such gatherings, in favour of the more solemn, reflective ethos of the 8am Holy Communion.

In my opinion, the popularisation of Church worship - at the expense of the Eucharist - can only lead to a down-grading of the understanding of what worship is really all about. It is not a form of popular entertainment, but rather the ordered discipline of attention to Christ in the Eucharist.

liturgy said...

Thanks, Peter, for pointing to my blog post – it is an interesting phenomenon, dialoguing between blogs.

I think you are hitting an important nail on the head. In NZ liturgical “renewal” has amounted to little more than altered texts. We are famous for poetic texts, inclusive texts, multi-lingual texts. Getting the words right. These texts were given to the church (read “dumped on”?) without any significant training or formation for renewed celebration. Hence, presiders simply continued in the BCP style they inherited but simply using different words. Some non-controversial examples to illustrate your bigger concern: they might have changed the side they were on on the side-board-like altars, but I continue to see gestures and actions that made sense in an East-facing BCP tradition continued, without reflection, facing the congregation; complete with chalice & paten covered with a burse and veil on the altar at the start, burse placed vertically at the preparation of the gifts, etc. etc. etc. We are doing the same currently with Ashes to Fire – wonderful words I’m sure, but confusingly dumped on the church without even a whisper of formation as to how they might be actually used. Roman Catholicism wouldn’t dream of such a lack of formation. Hence your point isn’t about young presiders as you find what you are seeking amongst old RC presiders. RCs are changing their words – note the process of training, study, and formation that is leading up to the changes.



ps. to keep with the ongoing fixation here with robes - the words of the Eucharistic service require robbing ;-)

Anonymous said...

I haven't followed the whole conversation but I wonder if part of the issue here is that while the preceding two generations are primarily text-based, Gen Y and beyond are primarily visually based. So as well as ongoing revision of liturgical text, we also need to find a way to translate the expression of the liturgy into a medium which connects with a visual generation. (And this doesnt just mean putting it on powerpoint!). As an aside symbolism can be very powerful for these generations but only explained and reclaimed symbolism - otherwise it's just a bunch of mumbo jumbo that doesnt connect.

Zane Elliott said...

Fr. Ron your post is very disheartening. You paint a poor caricature of people being excited about Jesus and the difference he has made in their lives. I'm not a charismatic, so I'm not trying to defend my own viewpoint, but you really need to get a grip on the fact that we live in the year 2011, not 1011. Many young people want to experience and live out a radical vibrant faith which is connected to their emotions. Is it wrong to exhibit great joy as we gather on Sunday (or Wednesday or Friday) to celebrate the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead?

Why should we sit quietly and look boring and musty? Because you prefer it? Is that why it is 'an appropriate devotional atmosphere in which to approach the Author and Giver of Life.'? Because it is what you like? Can you seriously see God creating and being quietly stoic about it? Our world is a world of vibrant activity which reflects the creator. Silence, solitude, reverence, they are all important at times and there should be space for them in any well crafted service, but one size does not fit all.

Celebrating the Lord's supper is important, but in my opinion, the popularisation of the Eucharist - at the expense of traditional, Apostolic understanding of Scripture as the True and authoritative Word of God - can only lead to a down-grading of the understanding of what worship is really all about.

Father Ron Smith said...

Zane, I'm sorry you're disheartened by my emphasis on the Eucharistic celebration as the high-point of Christian Worship. After all, it would appear to be the only new form of worship that was authorised by the Redeemer.

Having enjoyed young people's enthusiasm in a well-ordered act of Eucharistic Liturgy (without the drums), I appreciate that which is in keeping with the reverence due to God. However, some Youth Services - sans liturgy - do appear to be more of a 'rave' than a service of the worship of God - especially when the words of a chorus are repeated endlessly, as though God didn't hear the first time.

Anonymous said...

Father Ron - I feel a need to respond to some comments you have made.

First of all, was the original Pentecost not an occasion of enthusiastic unrestrained emotionalism? So much so in fact that people mistook the new Christians for drunken louts? This is not to say that order is not a good thing too but enthusiasm and passion have equally been a part of the worship and gathering of our church from the beginning.

Secondly, you seem to imply that some instruments (i.e. organ) are better or more appropriate than others (i.e. drums). Forgive me if I have misunderstood this. However it cannot be stated too strongly that there is not a greater or lesser degree of holiness attached to different instruments. This is a personal preference and should not be confused with a spiritual issue. Worship that pleases God is worship that comes from a God-centred heart - it is about our attitudes not about the style in which this is expressed.

Finally, repetition has long been recognised as a useful tool for becoming more aware of the presence of God. Witness the practice of Lectio Divina, or the sung approach of Taize. Repetition of music choruses is not done to make sure that God heard it, but rather to help those worshipping become more aware of the amazing God in whose presence we stand.

I think it is of critical importance in discussing these kind of issues that we separate our our own prejudices and style preferences from the heart of the matter.

Father Ron Smith said...

Zane, I do appreciate your point here I have participated in enthusiastic (en Thusia - In God) worship with people of all ages. At times this can be awe-inspiring. But sheer noise as an objective in itself is not necessarily worship-provoking, and can be harmful to the ears.

Taize, too, I appreciate. It usually has valid theological content - without the distractions of macho drumming. Some of the most interesting Taize worship takes place when the young people gather around the altar at Mass.

Generations of Christians - young and old - have been raised on the sheer beauty of unaccompanied singing - for instance, religious communities using plainchant do provide a worshipful atmosphere in which to contemplate the Almighty.

There is an infinite number of ways to express oneself musically in worship. They don't all need noisy band music.