Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Get rid of the virgin" and other ways to save your church

BB NOTE: "Last Protestant Dinasour" has written "Twenty Ways To Destroy Your Church" - no, that's not what it's called. The essay is actually called "Twenty Basics of Welcoming Liturgy." I was going to offer commentary, but I think the steps speak for themselves. In fact, I think we all should work at memorizing some of the passages for later reflection. And this is written by a progressive - progressing to what I'm not sure. My one suggestion, following these steps, is that the Recessional should be "It's A Small World After All."

MONDAY 10/15 UPDATE: Christopher Johnson provides his own unique (and frankly hilarious) commentary here. Note: Put your chai down before reading.

Here's a sampling:

4. Open communion! When our central spiritual act of communion with God and each other becomes a symbol of exclusion and conditionality we substitute the spirit of bureaucracy and institutional control for the spirit of Christ who welcomes all to the table. I strongly recommend Kathy Tanner's article in the Anglican Theological Review on this topic. In my experience people often do not respond to the invitation but it means the world to them as they transition from a church experience that felt judging or worse. Communion is not primarily an act of discipleship, it is primarily an offer of unbreakable relationship from God to which people are free to respond.

6. Avoid Anglican Chant unless the choir is singing it without congregational participation. There are tons of wonderful antiphonal settings! Stop using hymns for Gospel processions - use repeating Alleluia's or simple songs. You are making the service way too long. Try to use up beat music at communion as if we are CELEBRATING our redemption. Pick singable hymns. As I heard someone say (Charles Fulton?), 99.9% of people are not listening to organ music in their cars every day.

7. Worship must be held to one hour in length MAX. If you add something, cut something.

8. You cannot give a too warm welcome. I heard Gene Robinson do it last night when he led worship and boy was he great. He made it crystal clear worship was for everyone in the room regardless of faith tradition. He was warm, personable, funny, loose and sincere ... really put me at ease and brought the whole group together. Meet him and you will understand why he is a Bishop.

9. Cut extraneous crap! Here are some suggestions - THE GLORIA (ack, ick,) this is praise? no, this is impenetrable dogma set to [expletive deleted] music - The COLLECT FOR PURITY - Doxology and Prayers at the presentation - the concluding collect at the end of the prayers of the people. Cut down the number of PSALM verses used. Psalms are incredibly deep, a little bit goes along way. Use 6 verse max at a time. Let me sit and contemplate.

10. Speaking of cutting - either shorten or get rid of readings. We expect way to much of our people in terms of scriptural consumption. My last highly educated congregation told me that they were still thinking about the Hebrew Bible reading through all the other readings and that there is just no way to comprehend that much material. I strongly suggest alternating Hebrew Bible and Epistle from Sunday to Sunday so there is one reading with the Gospel. Overly long readings can be easily cut down by smart editors to highlight the best bits. Listening to Paul's long salutations is about as useless as it gets.

BB NOTE: Perhaps this will do the trick?

11. Stop using the Prayers of the People from the Book of Common Prayer. YAWN! First, they put me to sleep. Second, the fact that we pray for clergy and hierarchy and government first is a horrible remnant of establishment and clericalism. Third, they break up any thematic development in the service - they don't relate to sermon or scripture. I strongly suggest using the publication Prayers for the Christian People (lectionary based prayers), or having talented church member write them. Also, while I am at it, can we please stop praying for the 'virgin' Mary? The Greek means 'young woman,' and she wasn't a virgin. Virgins don't have babies. How about we pray for 'adolescent Mary mother of Jesus.' Why is that not enough? Finally, when you invite prayers give lots of time - don't be afraid of silence.

12. A great thing about using full bulletins is we can mix and match from other resources. Other confessions and absolutions are particularly effective at waking people up! And BTW, where do we invite people to confess what they did well this past week?

14. I personally like to rewrite the current Eucharist prayers which are really way to wordy, dogmatic etc. Most telling, they universally focus on atonement theory and as such they excise most retelling of Jesus' jubilee ministry. Why did Jesus die, because of who he was and what he did! Our current prayers make it seem like an abstract 'plan of salvation' which I think is sick.

16. Communion hymns generally fail. In the midst of this mystical moment the last thing I want to do is open a hymnal or have a loud anthem blaring at me. Taize or other repetitive simple stuff, or gentle instrumental music, or chant works great. There is a Jewish tradition of melodic singing without words that I love too - called Ningun (sp?). I had a bunch of kids strumming "My Sweat Lord" (George Harrison/Charelles) one Sunday during communion and tons of folks joined in because they already new it by heart. krishna, krishna!

BB NOTE: Could not resist.

17. A good sermon is no longer than 12 minutes, has one theme and main point and is delivered with energy, humor, sincerity, real emotion and in simple common language. Folks want to learn, they want to be moved, they want to be inspired and they want something to take home that will help them function. Folks I have served have also liked to be challenged to think in new ways. Spare me a display of your VAST learning, banish your Solemn tonalities and your use of 'you,' and your veiled implications that clergy are more enlightened than the congregation. Please share personal stories, real struggles, confusion, doubt. Please share the Good News.

19. I have totally banished the use of "celebrant" or "presider" or "deacon" to describe worship leaders. We simply say "one" and "all." "One" is the leader of the moment and "all" respond. Elegant! Descriptive, Accurate, Leveling.

20. If you have a talented musician have him or her set the words to other fun tunes like Ode to Joy during Easter season for example. Suddenly, the creed is an energetic moment in the liturgy and the WLP versions are inclusive. If you have to say it - Jesus became 'human' which is the point of the phrase so lets be accurate! Get rid of 'virgin'! And if I had my druthers, I would change all the male pronouns to 'you.' Let's address our affirmation of faith directly to God and avoid assuming that the second person of the trinity was male before the incarnation, after the ascension and will be when she or he comes again. I am fine with he for the historical bits, Jesus was a historical figure who was male. The New Zealand affirmation of faith is also excellent, if like me, Greek philosophy isn't at the center of your faith.

Read it all here.

LATER: Here's an excellent Processional that we thought would fit right in:

A Tip of the Tinfoil to AB.


Anonymous said...

I am dying to find out what the moronic moderates are going to do about this kind of thing, now that there are no conservatives left to scream bloody murder.

--Nasty, Brutish and Short

BabyBlue said...

Elegant! Descriptive, Accurate, Leveling. Krishna Krishna!


Karen said...

I still get chills every time we sing the Gloria at Truro, it is such a majestic arrangement and the congregation just belts it out. It is what I FIRST think of when I think of worship at Truro.

This is just utterly sad. Make God and church into your own image.

I'm not a "liturgical purist" but there's a reason I'm still an Anglican. I've lost count of all the services I've attended at Baptist and Vineyard and Assemblies of God and non-denom. Mega churches, etc. (sometimes for years at a time when there was no possible Episcopal/Anglican option). And I've been blessed by all. But in the liturgy I'm reminded of God's transcendence and majesty and otherness in a more powerful way than any other church I've attended. The sense of mystery and holiness is tangible in good liturgical worship, it connects us to the "cloud of witnesses" -- there's a timelessness and a reminder that it's not about us, but about God.

BabyBlue said...

And get caught up in all that "atonement theory" [expletive deleted] or that "abstract plan of salvation"?? - I mean, totally yucky poo poo.

The Catbird said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Catbird said...

"I cringe whenever I see someone mucking about with the Liturgy," Said the Catbird through his gritted beak...

Would it not be easier to just toss up a Unitarian sign on the door, or would they sue TEC over defamation of character?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like McChurch.

Can I have fries with that?


Matthew said...

Oh my. There's just so much wrong packed in that one post.

Karen said...

There's an EXCELLENT discussion of this piece at Derek Olsen's blog Haligeworc.

And even the discussion at Episcopal Cafe is surprisingly good. It's encouraging to see that some progressives are standing up for the importance of liturgy to help us worship God, not to be pleasing visitors.

Of course we should be welcoming. It's just that destroying the Liturgy isn't the way to do it!

Anonymous said...

If I didn't know better, I'd swear you're channeling Chris Johnson.

WannabeAnglican said...

Amazing. Either that is incredible satire that has fooled us all . . . or the writer is incredibly clueless.

Most people who would bother to visit an Anglican church would FLEE from such a service.

Kevin said...

Not sure if we'll modify our two hour service ... but my pastor took some of these suggestions to heart proposing:

"I'm also thinking that there ought to be some moment during communion hymns when all of us smokers can raise flaming lighters and sway to the music..."

peggy said...


I agree with you about the Gloria. Our congregation really belts it out. I love it.

I especially love it when it comes back, after Lent, at the Easter Vigil service. We go from darkness and silence, to light, bells, and The Gloria! Its always much louder than usual, totally off key, and everyone has the biggest smiles on their faces as we laugh at ourselves and for joy that "Truly He is Risen" That is the moment when it starts to feel real. I think its the most beautiful bad singing of the year.

Hiram said...

This person would be ready to take jewelry and melt it down to make an idol, if that seemed to be a good idea to get people in and out.

What a maroon! I am pretty "low church," but I do not want elements of worship to be so simple and so optional as to remove all the joy and mystery.

Václav Patrik Šulik said...


I know you don't title the music, but that's not Neil Young singing the last song -- that's Scott MacKenzie.

Here's Neil Young:

the tie-dye sails
Are the screamin' sheets
And the dusty trail
Leads to blood
in the streets
And the wooden ships
Are a hippie dream
Capsized in excess
If you know what I mean.

* * *

Another flower child
goes to seed
In an ether-filled
room of meat-hooks
It's so ugly

Padre Wayne said...

BB: "And this is written by a progressive - progressing to what I'm not sure"

I so agree, and with many of the above comments. Being welcoming doesn't mean dumbing down -- when it comes to liturgy it means being accessible (i.e., clearly written bulletins and parishioners who offer to assist) and offering to God (and humankind) something that you're not going to get at your local nondenomegawhatsitsnamechurchkinda church.

Blessings, and thanks for the post -- as a good reminder of what I do not want in my church!

Bryan said...

You know, I like that George Harrison song, but I would have thought that since it was about a Hindu deity that would keep it out of a Christian service. I mean Fr Jake said he couldnt think of anything like this...but he was talking about Buddahists