04 April 2009

Is Liturgy Really a Bad Thing?

I found this post on Discovering and Escaping Liturgy interesting. Partly, I admit, because I have a love for (non-fussy) liturgical worship and I often feel that the British Methodist Church thinks that a minister or a congregant who likes liturgy does so simply because he or she doesn't want to let go of the past. In other words, that there isn't really any positive or compelling reason for the existence or use of liturgical worship beyond palliative spiritual care for the elderly.

Here's some interesting material from the post that rings true to me:
I spoke at a conference about our rediscovery of liturgy and tradition. The room was packed—by that time liturgy had become a very hot topic. During my presentation, a leader raised his hand and commented in a very disappointed tone.

"I don't understand," he said. "You're telling us that young adults are drawn to liturgy and ancient worship forms, but I serve at a liturgical church and our young people want to get away from liturgy and traditions. They think it's boring. I came to this conference to learn new ideas from contemporary churches. I want to move forward, not back."
The author concludes with a thought that seems fairly obvious to me:
We have found that the goal shouldn't be to maintain the past or to always be on the cutting edge. Our goal is to worship in a way that represents our community to God and God to our community. That means contextualizing worship for today, but not forgetting the family of God throughout history to which we belong.
I think that there is an element of 'different strokes for different folks' here and that these 'different strokes' may not necessarily be connected in every instance to one's age. I know that, in the church that I came from, the younger folk (school leavers) wanted the traditional services and the traditional hymns and it was us 'Baby Boomers' who were lobbying for The Latest From Spring Harvest. Or maybe I should have been born a generation earlier or a generation later?

If a congregation is truly worshiping God and truly has Christ at its centre, then I'm not sure that 'worship style' is the Big Deal we seem to make it out to be.

Now, having knowingly and publically uttered heresy, I put on my tin hat and wait for the flack!


Teri said...

Hi Pam,

I'm 34 and I have thought about this very thing, too. On one hand, I really like old and traditional. I like old hyms. I like ceremony. My husband came from a Catholic background. I like the Catholic Mass (minus closed communion). On the other hand, I'm reaching to make religeious practice fresh in my own life. I had an idea a couple of years ago to have an early AM (like 5am) pre or post workout worship because I had so many 'religious' and communal moments on early morning bike rides in the summer months. Never did organize anything, but still think it would be a cool idea. Worship can take many forms. I think it's good to hang on to traditions of old but remain open to new ideas and combinations of things. It's what we become in worship that counts, not what we do. Many things can take us there.

PamBG said...

Thanks, Teri. What you say makes sense. Except that personally, I'm sooooooooooo not a morning person! ;-)

(That actually works quite well for ministers because, aside from morning services, much of the work is in the evening. I'd hate to be feeling totally exhausted at 9:30 pm trying to Chair a meeting.)

Judy said...

I'm intrigued. I study and appreciate the Roman Catholic liturgy, and find reform flowing from the tradition lifegiving. I am so fearful now that there seems to be a backflow, so to speak, elevating tradition above lived experience. Care must be taken.

I have been encouraged to find my heart in a Protestant church, to be ordained, but I cannot and it is mainly because of the liturgy. Done well, I love our use of symbol and senses. I love the connection from past to present. I still have hope for the future, an open table, full participation of the baptized. But if the current backflow escalates into a flood, liturgy ceases to be the prayer of the people and becomes a relic of the past.

PamBG said...

Interesting comments, Judy. Thank you.

The great shibboleth of the Primitive tradition of the British Methodist church is that liturgy is dead worship. (That's that stuff that gets said behind your (plural) back when we think you're not listening!)

I think that would compare to your 'backflow' comment. People talk about structured liturgy[1] as being a simple 'going through the motions' with no heart in it. You know from our shared background that I think that structured liturgy can indeed be from the heart and that it can indeed be a work of the people.

What's ironic about me going back to the States, I think, is that I probably would have rather been ELCA in a US context - precisely because of the liturgy. But now I've fallen in love with Methodist theology.

The 'backflow' people are interesting to me. They must get SOMETHING from what they advocate or they wouldn't be advocating it. On the one hand, it seems like some of the 'back to basics' movement that we're seeing in many denominations in the US. On the other hand, I don't have enough lived experience of Catholicism to really have an intuition about what it might be that people find meaningful.

[1] I'm hedging my bets here because someone is going to step in and tell me that 'liturgy' means work of the people and that all worship is liturgy. ;-) To which I make the 'you know what I mean' response!

Micky said...

You beat me to it by commenting that liturgy is the people's work and all worship is liturgy! I resist the assumption that liturgy is 'old fashioned' or traditional - but then, as a liturgist, I would! The challenge for all who lead worship is to find words (and silences, music, symbolic actions) that draw or point people to God, that express our understanding of God, that inspire the people of God to be active in showing God's love in the world. This is not an easy job... well der! Style should never be the over-riding measure of what is good in worship - content, content, content. Sincere words - written, extemporary, sung, spoken, whispered - offered with sensitivity, humility (and just a little poetry - please) ancient or modern - that is a worthy sacrifice of worship.