Tuesday, February 1, 2011


I had a wonderful Saturday night, which may likely be a blog entry later today, but we'll see.  I do want to write about my weekend, but Saturday night was good.  I went to a friend's birthday party and met lots of new people and even some new friends.  One of whom grew up Southern Baptist, as did I.  As we talked about worship he talked about how Episcopal services are more ritualistic than Baptist services.

I wanted to shout, "YES!  Yes yes yes!  You get it, why don't we?!"  By that I mean  he used the right term to describe some of the ways we embody the liturgies that we celebrate together.  Regardless of if there's smoke and bells or cassocks and surplices three Sundays a month for Morning Prayer, we are more ritualistic than Southern Baptists.  And those places with smoke?  More ritualistic than those places that don't have those things.  Either way, we have a ritual that we embody in a variety of different ways.

What so many of our people (lay and ordained) seem to not realize(?  know?  have been taught in seminary or forgot?) is that the degrees of ritualism are about smoke and bells or absence thereof.  Hearing those things described as "high" or "low" church irk me.  One's positions on the church aren't inherently communicated in how one worships.  Places that still insist on using the 1928 Prayer Book or 1662 or something on their own are low church because the church has a whole has adopted something else.  They might have billowing smoke, but they're not worshipping in common with the rest of the Church.

Churchmanship (I wish that weren't a gendered term) has to do with the episcopacy and the hierarch of the church.  While I was in Mexico I saw a delightful demonstration of high churchmanship with very, very little ritualism attached.  The priest with whom we worked was committed to the Church.  She has disagreements on social/theological issues with the Presiding Bishop and the bishop who ordained her, but she's committed to being a part of the church.  Our eucharists were QUITE different than anything we have in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, but I think she was relatively high church.

I personally identify as quite high church, which I attribute to my having been raised in such a low church tradition where each congregation does what it will.  I place a strong emphasis not just on local communities of faith, but on communities of faith being in community with one another.  I think that the Church is Christ's bride, not that individuals are Christ's brides.  That's why I like the Derek Webb song "The Church" (the last line of the refrain is "If you love Me you will love the Church").  And while identifying as a high churchman, I think I am far from being a big ritualist.

But at the same time there are places whose ritualism I can enjoy and worship and then other places where I want to scream about what's going on.  I might not like all of the theological implications of the customary at Trinity Church, but there's definitely "full, conscious, and active participation by the people there."  We do things in the Chapel that drive me crazy because I think we're clinging to something (all the time and not occasionally) that isn't where life is anymore (e.g. Evensong with unrehearsed Anglican chant for the Psalter four nights a week).

I think what I most look at in Eucharistic celebration is how the presider embodies the prayer.  I don't care if they have magic hands crossing things all the time - unless they seem more focused on the magic hands and getting their movements "right" than on the prayer.  I think there's certainly a way to do both well (and it might involve some memorization and muscle memory), but when not done well I certainly understand why less ritualistic traditions are critical of our "dry, moribund liturgy."  That doesn't mean the sacrament is invalid or that the prayer isn't said.  But I understand wanting to hear a prayer being prayed and not read as though it's a story.  And I surely don't want a presider to get to "gave thanks to you" and have body language that says, "Oh, yeah, I have to point up right now" and then quickly throw a hand up.

There are lots of degrees of ritualism and churchmanship in The Episcopal Church.  Sometimes the two go hand-in-hand, and sometimes they aren't related to one another at all.  I think that it would be helpful if we consciously work on altering our language (which students at General are doing) so that we don't use the two interchangeably.

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