Sunday, August 27, 2017

Robed Anglican Mission? (2)

Do robes help or hinder Anglican mission? Previously I argued that robes are not required by Christ's mission in which we share. They are beneficial rather than necessary for the mission of God.

A basic point about robing is that it is a form of uniform, with the uniform being influenced by robing through the previous centuries rather than, say, by negotiating with a uniform making factory and offering a cheap, hardwearing form of overalls with appropriate logos on the back.

What I think we are seeing, at least in Western cultures, is that Anglicans are finding two ways to be in mission in respect of people encounters where the question to robe or not arise.

One way is through providing familiar forms of worship which fit with expectations within our cultures about how the church should be and about where God might be encountered. Hence robed clergy, choirs, etc, leading traditional forms of liturgy (by which I mean, using words agreed by common synodical decision). Even in a post-Christian world, there are plenty of images of the church provided by TV and movies, most of which involve some pastiche of traditional Christianity in which the Vicar (English scenes) or the priest (American scenes) are robed up in order to lead a wedding (of hero and heroine) or a funeral (of some Mobster crook!). I say "pastiche" because the words used seem to be a mix of Catholic, Anglican and scriptwriters made up wording!

Another way is through providing forms of worship less familiar from TV screens and more familiar for those brought up in churches geared to informal worship. There may be some use of agreed liturgical wording, but the general approach is for the leader to lead spontaneously, using, for instances, rapport rather than responses to make connection between front of house and audience in pews or, more likely, individual seats. In this form of worship, which is quite widespread across the Western Anglican world, wearing robes is out of sorts with this informal genre.

I like to wear a suit and will happily wear one to certain kinds of meals (a formal dinner etc). But I am a fish out of water if I wear a suit to a friend's barbecue. Such an informal meal is best suited (bad pun, I know) to jeans and t-shirt.

But, if you agree with me, that both styles of worship have their place in an Anglican church which has a missional outlook - which seeks to be accessible for people searching for God via attendance at a worship service - we have a small rubrical problem, at least here in NZ.

For nowhere in our prayer books do we find any words which effectively say "Dress for the occasion." We just talk about what robes to wear.


Father Ron Smith said...

I find it interesting, Peter, that people who just love the dressing up that goes on in sport (with advertising involved, usually), seem to discredit other organisations - like the Church - for wearing traditional vesture for the celebration of their rituals. Footie and cricket do participate in rituals that also require their own vestments, surely. One can only point to the fact that Sport itself is a 'religion in New Zealand.

Peter Carrell said...

That is an interesting point Ron, though doesn't it rely on an understanding of worship as ritual? Some Christians do not think ritual is particularly important to worship.

Anonymous said...

Peter, dress indexes the cosmology or metaphysic behind the worship.

The metaphysic behind vestments is reasonably clear: "Therefore angels and archangels and all the company of heaven..." Hooker had it right.

But the metaphysic behind no vestments may be--

"I am a materialist who barely believes in a god, and does not believe in a heaven."

"I am lost. I thought that this was a concert."

"I am a particularist who believes that God has saved me apart from all others. I will not do things as a group because I do not believe in the group, but I will consent to being entertained in an audience of fellow sovereign individuals."


Personally, I do not think that vestments have magical powers or divinely fixed forms, but neither have I seen the Lord's Body in groups that have been evasive about the backstory of faith. What has been explained as "meeting people where they are today" has looked on the ground like disbelief in the third article of the creeds. Not Christianity, but *Therapeutic Moralistic Deism* with either an evangelical or a liberal prejudice that it is always better to be less like the Church. Viscerally, I cannot trust that so much disdain for the Church can possibly be from God.

Late modernity has set (at least) two processes in motion, and indeed in conflict.

One sees the declining numbers of those attending churches as a problem that must be solved at all costs. Humanly speaking, this appeals most to persons who are afraid of losing majority status and indeed belonging to a marginal minority. For some, getting out of vestments is just one more thing to try; a faction in TEC is dead set on getting out of baptism which is harder to sell than eucharist. But at the very best this is a bait and switch-- lure people in by standing for nothing much at the door; then when they sit down, start raising the cognitive cost of staying. At least where I have seen it, bait and switch has not actually worked because the extreme disinclination to admit that you have to care about unseen things-- and maybe look odd to your neighbours-- is never really overcome. The gospel is folly to the Greeks and a scandal to the Jews.

The other defends the identity of the triune God, his presence in the Body, and life in Christ against the apostasy of deism, the disembodiment of existentialism, and the aimlessness of nihilism. Humanly speaking, this appeals most to persons who are apt to incorporate clear beliefs into their conscious intentions for living in the material world. For them, what people put on their bodies, how they act as a group, what they hope for together etc is a clear though incomplete indication of the content that they intend to believe.

Sooner or later, I seem to resolve most conflicts in favour of the latter. I do not have the sheer fear that motivates the former project, and I think that it will fail on its own terms unless apostasy, disembodiment, and nihilism have more staying power than I can imagine. Meanwhile, churches that are crystal clear about who they worship, where he is present, and how to live in him will be more attractive to converts, will enjoy at least modest growth, will be hardier in the minority, and will produce more saints. In general, the ideas that have interested me have been retrieved from the 1M Church and adapted for contemporary use. Perhaps it is time to usher the catechumens out before communion?

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

My only response to your last comment, Peter, is that the word priest naturally implies the use of ritual. Perhaps this is why the Evangelicals prefer to use the word 'minister' for the celebrant at thier 'Last Supper'.

Andrei said...

"Some Christians do not think ritual is particularly important to worship">

Really Peter?

Even those who abandon the time honoured liturgies have their own rituals. They just don't recognize them for what they are

The goings on in Mega Churches will follow their own rhythm of course and it will be so whatever you do - the ritual will always be there just unrecognized as such

The thing about the ancient liturgies is they do not rely upon performers for their celebration whereas where there is flexibility then you get performers and superstar preachers - and as we know superstar preachers often come unstuck and as we might also observe their ministries do not often long outlast them

As for vestments in the Byzantine rite, at least, each vestment has its symbolic meaning and the donning of them is a liturgical service in its own right as the Cleric prepares for the service he is about to celebrate

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron and Andrei
In a time of great change for the church I am arguing both for the ritual approach to worship to continue and for the non-ritual (or, if you press the point, minimalist ritual) approach to be honoured.

The latter approach has the singular advantage that it was the way of the apostles themselves, who wore no liturgical robes or clerical collars, and who developed forms of worship open to the spontaneous direction of the Spirit while distancing themselves from the elaborate rituals of Judaism.

Anonymous said...

"... the apostles themselves..."


"...who wore no liturgical robes or clerical collars..."

Robes are not mentioned. No collars; the shirt had not been invented.

"...and who developed forms of worship open to the spontaneous direction of the Spirit..."

True. What else could they do to worship Jesus as YHWH?

"...while distancing themselves from the elaborate rituals of Judaism."

No. Acts 2:46-47. They were still Jews living by choice in Jerusalem to attend the elaborate rituals of Judaism daily. In fact, they were so well accepted as exemplary Jews that Josephus relates that the Pharisees of all people were the ones who protested a high priest's execution of James to the Roman authorities.

And on the other hand, we find a nascent Christian hymnography embedded in the letters of St Paul, so that the writing down of liturgical forms happened in the first decades after the Resurrection.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
Once we get to 1 Corinthians 11 we are some distance from the rituals of the Temple and we are developing a new ritual, but a simple one, and street clothes were fine.

Yes, hymnody was developing; creedal statements too.

The germs of our liturgies today were coming into being and spreading.

Yet, somehow, must have been a miracle, in those early days, the gospel spread without the aid of robed clergy and without those germs developed into full liturgical life forms.

Andrei said...

"The latter approach has the singular advantage that it was the way of the apostles themselves, who wore no liturgical robes or clerical collars, and who developed forms of worship open to the spontaneous direction of the Spirit while distancing themselves from the elaborate rituals of Judaism."

The Apostles and Jesus himself worshiped in the Temple and it is quite clear much of the liturgical practice of the Temple found its way into early Christian Worship - for example the use of incense

The earliest known Christian Liturgy is the Liturgy of St James which is still in use and ascribed to the Apostle James the Just

And if you were to study this you would find that the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the Latin Mass and the 1928 book of Common prayer are all derived from it as well as your more minimalist evangelical forms of worship

The big difference it seems to me is one of emphasis - the central part and highlight of the more "catholic" liturgies is the reliving of the Christ's sacrifice, if you will, in the Anaphora - itself supplanting the animal sacrifices of the Temple

On the other hand the more "evangelically" minded place great emphasis of the Homily or sermon and might dispense with the Anaphora entirely (likewise it is not unknown for there to be no homily in a more traditional Liturgical celebration of the Liturgy.

Here is another anecdote from my life - when my first child was born my late mother, who was another city rang the local Orthodox Priest and asked him to go to the hospital and give his blessing to my newborn daughter (who he later baptised), my wife and our family which he did. He turned up dressed as an Orthodox priest as was his custom

And the woman in the next bed asked him if he was an Orthodox Priest and asked for his blessing for her child also, which he did. It turned out she was a Copt and there was no Coptic Priest immediately available to meet her spiritual needs and he was able to do this for her and her child and to give her his counsel which she sought

And this is why clerical dress is important it seems to me

By throwing this all away in an attempt to be "modern" or to relate to "contemporary" mores you are just hastening the development of post Christian society I suggest.

Of course you might dismiss all this as superstition because it seems to me that Evangelicals are very cerebral in their approach to religious practice preferring words to physical actions in their approach to worship

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
I am advocating a twin track approach!
I quite accept the wearing of "clericals" (in whatever form is appropriate to one's church/culture) and, indeed, wear a clergy shirt approximately five days a week.
I also note that my wearing clericals seems to generate very few conversations (but with other clergy, the opposite is the case) and, indeed, I often have the feeling that people roundabouts have no idea why I am wearing a funny shirt.
Thus my point is that, being all things to all people, we should support both the wearing of robes/clericals and the non-wearing of robes/clericals, appropriate to situations, circumstances and even, dare I say it, personal preferences.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

Perhaps I misunderstand what you mean by simple--->complex.

As a matter of history, I cannot think of evidence for it, although I am certainly open to considering whatever you have in mind.

One result of the work of the Early High Christology Club (eg Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, Richard Hays) and of several scholars of the NT from Judaica (eg Alan Segal, Daniel Boyarin, Peter Schaeffer) is that we no longer think of the apostles as a blank slate on which a notionally simple gospel came to be written, which only later inspired a body of sophisticated belief and practise. It is far easier to believe that Jesus was first and best understood by apocalyptic Jews who could easily grasp eg the midrash of St Mark 14:62, as well as eg the travel to the third heaven in 2 Cor 12:2-4. What we Gentiles understandably view as pure origin, was to the Jews around Jesus a rich harvest of seeds planted centuries before.

So the Berkeley talmudist Daniel Boyarin (The Jewish Gospels, Kindle 2176-2182): "A people had been for centuries talking about, thinking about, and reading about a new king, a son of David, who would come to redeem them from Seleucid and then Roman oppression, and they had come to think of that king as a second, younger, divine figure on the basis of the Book of Daniel’s reflection of that very ancient tradition. So they were persuaded to see in Jesus of Nazareth the one whom they had expected to come: the Messiah, the Christ. A fairly ordinary story of a prophet, a magician, a charismatic teacher is thoroughly transformed when that teacher understands himself—or is understood by others—as this coming one. Details of his life, his prerogatives, his powers, and even his suffering and death before triumph are all developed out of close midrashic reading of the biblical materials and fulfilled in his life and death."

The more basic question is: if the beginning really was simple, so what? Every butterfly was once a chrysalis, but who would try to stuff it back into its cocoon? If the third article of the creeds is true, then it is the butterfly that we care about. If the chrysalis was somehow purer, nobler, truer, better than the butterfly, then the third article is false and so is Christianity itself.

We cannot run from the Body where Christ is present to bring people to him. If we do not believe that Christ is present in the Body, then we do not believe the apostolic faith, and have nothing to bring people to.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
Christianity through the ages has been very successful at introducing Christ to people without the accoutrement of robes and clericals; and when those have been present, there has been no one set or form which is indisputably consistent with a close reading of Scripture (cf. differences between Orthodox, Catholic and Salvation Army gear).

Christianity has also been quite successful at making the minor thing the main thing and at getting over excited about the Old Testament. In respect of emphases on robing and rituals, much of what churches associated with such things do has more to do with the Old Testament than with the gospels and the epistles (none of which, let's remember, spell out an instruction on wearing robes or a direction about how the liturgy should develop).

From time to time reformation in the church has sought to remove the accoutrements which have grown like barnacles on the hull of the boat. I see no reason why robes etc should not be as much subject to the searching enquiry of reformers as prayers to the saints, indulgences and what have you. All of which things the reformers among us might have been deterred from examining by those who advance arguments such as : "The more basic question is: if the beginning really was simple, so what? Every butterfly was once a chrysalis, but who would try to stuff it back into its cocoon?"!!!

Anonymous said...

" Anglican church which has a missional outlook..."

Wonderful, of course.

"...which seeks to be accessible for people searching for God via attendance at a worship service."

Ah, this is where we disagree.

For modern churches, drop-in conversion was a reasonable objective, and fiddling with worship to make it easier did not betray a lack of authenticity. Late modern churches need both to retrieve a sense of liminality in worship, and also to offer more apologetic in evangelism than belongs in an authentic divine service.

Robes? For teaching, the Silicon Valley venture capital uniform (dark blazer, white dress shirt, designer jeans, etc) or the TED talk uniform (black shirt with designer jeans). For liturgy, traditional vestments, the more elaborate the better. There is nothing wrong with going from one to the other, if the assembly itself shifts from talking to praying.


Andrei said...

Why not where a clown costume then Peter?

Or dress up in Halloween costumes to celebrate All Souls day - you know the Priest could dress up as a demon...

These horrors and worse have already happened Peter

And far too many of the innovators think they are the star of the show Wrong! - it is Our Lord Jesus Christ who is to be at the front and center of our worship, our devotions

Trying to be relevant to the modern age and conforming with its norms just makes the Church irrelevant

You received a great treasure handed down through two millennia, why trash it with the ephemeral junk of our modern age?

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, where the current trend among Evangelicals seems to emphasise the charismata of the individual, I submit that clerical garments, worn in their context of worship, would tend more towards the anonymity of the celebrant - to point to the presence of Christ rather then the great preacher or trendy song-leader.

Also, I find that when I wear my clericals in the supermarket people are more likely to stop and speak with me - recognising the One I work for - rather than just myself.

I do think thst uniforms are an important indicator of one's preoccupation. They enabler others to identify one with the institution to which one belongs

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Andrei, Ron, Bowman

(1) No advocacy for wearing clown suits here.
(2) No question that robes provide a certain anonymity.
(3) But robes yet raise questions about appropriateness of context: a eucharist in a cafe or on a riverbank during a retreat, does Christ require me to dress up?
(4) No advocacy of modernity here.
(5) I am advocating that in some circumstances, in certain contexts, for informal rather than formal services, dressing in everyday wear is appropriate WHICH IS WHAT JESUS AND THE APOSTLES DID though one would not know this, frankly, from your comments above.
(6) In respect of our witness and mission in the world, might I point out that comments above are highly clericalised! What are non-clergy to wear when witnessing and being in mission in the world? Answer: everyday clothes. JUST LIKE JESUS AND THE APOSTLES DID!

Andrei said...

Peter - I have looked into this and while you would not mistake a Latin (Western) priest for a Greek (Eastern) priest the vestments are virtually the same though differing in outward appearance with the same symbolic meanings testifying to their antiquity (in addition in the East there are the cuffs and additional items that are clergy awards but that is fine detail)

And regardless of context an Eastern Priest would wear full vestments when celebrating the liturgy if humanly possible (celebrating the Liturgy in a gulag might make this unfeasible though in such cases improvisation could and did take care of it)

"What are non-clergy to wear when witnessing and being in mission in the world? Answer: everyday clothes. JUST LIKE JESUS AND THE APOSTLES DID!"

You can be sure that when Jesus and the apostles preached in the synagogues they were dressed for the synagogue, from which much of church practice originates of course

And naturally when visiting a synagogue today you would follow their customs, a woman in a tank top and Bermuda shorts would not be well received in an Orthodox Jewish congregation and you know this

But when witnessing to the everyday world in everyday life, well yes, everyday clothes, though if acting in the capacity of a priest at a minimum the stole should be worn.

When worshiping according to the rubrics of the Church you wear your finest as recalled in the English language idiom "He/She was dressed in his/her Sunday best"

You would not wear everyday clothes when meeting the Queen would you?

Indeed in living memory even in Anglican Churches most women would have covered their heads in church- if you look at old photographs from the 1940s and 50s of Anglican worship you will see this is so

Of course as I have mentioned before as a child we had clothes reserved for wearing in church - there were famous battles between one of my daughters and my mother about dressing for church, ironically it was my daughter who was closest to her Grandmother :)

Two videos for you to ponder - the first a American Greek Orthodox Priest explaining his vestments, the vesting prayers and their meaning

The second an American Catholic Priest doing something similar

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, we are not living in the time of the First Apostles. Liturgies have been designed over the centuries to emphasise the glory of God in our worship. The clothes of the priest are only part of the beauty that can be utilsed to evoke the worship of the congregation. The priest is supposed to represent Christ in the Liturgy, no her/himself. This is the main benefit of the vesture - to illustrate the supreme glory. Seasonal changes are introduced in the vestments to draw our attention to the different seasons of the Chruch's year. This can be a great help to understanding the significance of the pilgrim way in which the Church proceeds.

Regarding 'informal Eucharists'; I agree with you that, in certain circumstances, one does not need to 'dress up'. However, we Anglo-Catholics still have regard for the formality of the occasion by wearing a stole - the sign of priestly authority and service - the one vestment that sets this occasion apart from the purely secular. For instance, I do not wear the chasuble when visiting the sick - in hospital or at home - this would be pedantic in most circumstances of emergency pastoring.

I have been at a eucharistic celebration in a church building where the presiding priest has worn secular dress with no sign of his priestly authority or calling. My question of this might be: What does this priest imagine he is doing? It is a bit like the wedding guest turning up without the appropriate Wedding Garment! No outward or visible sign that to Faithful that the priest is acting 'in Persona Christi'.