Tag Archives: Anglican

Canadian Christianity — The Anglican Church of Canada General Synod

The Anglican Church of Canada just completed their General Synod. One of the resolutions presented at this synod was for the 2016 General Synod to consider amending canon XXI on marriage to include same-sex marriage. At the moment there are nearly a dozen dioceses that have authorized same-sex blessings, and while it has been repeatedly emphasized that the blessings are not the same as marriage, critics have pointed out that it’s only a matter of time before the blessing ceremony is replaced with a marriage rite.

Malcolm, who attended the synod, notes that the process for voting on the resolution “went sideways”:

We had earlier dealt with a motion directing the Council of General Synod to initiate a process leading to a draft canon permitting Anglican clergy to solemnize same sex marriages. Several things went or nearly went sideways during the debate. Very conservative bishop Stephen Andrews and very liberal dean Peter Elliott combined to propose an amendment that outlined the consultative and theological work required. A brilliant bit of drafting, it offered some assurance to conservatives that their concerns would be heard. Unfortunately the original mover and seconded did not immediately understand what was being proposed and offered up a subamendment that would have cut the guts out of the very eirenic amendment. The subamendment, fortunately, was defeated.
After a very rational debate, the amendment passed. Then things decided to go sideways again.  A very few people called for question after almost no debate at all on the resolution as amended, the Primate called for the vote and off we went for a break.  When we returned, the Primate acknowledged this error, and also that he’d missed a valid request for a vote by orders….

The Anglican Journal has reflections from both sides, including Gene Packwood’s concern:

…changing the marriage canon to allow the marriage of same-gender couples in church would only hasten the decline in membership and revenues of the church. “I come from Alberta, and when the ELCIC [Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada] made a decision just for the same-sex blessings, 35 congregations left in Alberta alone and their budget declined by 25 per cent.”

Also, two blogs (Anglican Essentials and Anglican Samizdat) associated with Anglicans who are affiliated with the Anglican Network in Canada, have posted comments, including Peter’s observation that:

I do remember how many folk on the other side of the argument about 10 or so years ago were at pains to point out this was about blessings, not marriage – marriage was not going to be touched. We were not fooled by that, even then.

As someone who is new to the Anglican tradition, I find all of this fascinating and perplexing. I’m left with so many questions.

Is it truly inevitable that the definition of marriage will be altered?

Is it possible to have two definitions of marriage on the books? Or does that become a logistical, theological and pastoral minefield?

If the resolution passes in 2016 and 2019, and the definition of marriage is changed, what does this mean for the conservative parishes and dioceses? Will more churches decide to align with either the ANiC or the Catholic Ordinariate?

What does this mean for the relationship of the ACoC with the broader Anglican Communion? Will this hasten the acceptance of the ANiC as a valid Anglican tradition in communion with Canterbury? Or will it further fracture the cracks in the broader Communion?

Is the definition of marriage merely a “non-essential” or does it in some way reflect larger, “essential” theological disagreements?

I’d love to hear thoughts from Anglicans from both sides of this issue.

 

Patterns, Repetitions, and What Really Matters

I’ve been going back through the blog archives this week. With three years worth of posts, I sometimes forget what I’ve written about. It’s amazing how much “good stuff” just ends up lost in the archives, stuff that I forgot that I wrote, but is still powerful and relevant today.

I am intrigued by the patterns that have emerged in my writing. True, there are lots of posts on science-fiction, on being a women in ministry, and on my adventures as a seminary student. But, even more striking, is how often I reference the same thing: namely, the Apostles’ Creed. So far, I have found six different blog posts that point me back to the Apostles’ Creed as the most basic summary of my faith.

English: Wall painting at Partrishow (3) The A...

English: Wall painting at Partrishow (3) The Apostles’ Creed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is it evidence of spending the last two and a half years at an Anglican church? Possibly. But, I don’t think it’s solely related to that, given that in the last six months or so I have come to realize that I’m not as far down the Canterbury Trail as I expected I would be (or as people assume I am), and that I am becoming more comfortable with embracing the label “evangelical” as a self-identifier. That’s not to say that I’m not deeply appreciative of the warm blanket of Anglicanism that envelops me. Indeed, life circumstances (that is, the death of our car) has required us to take a mini-vacation from worshiping in Moose Jaw, and we are hanging out at the non-denominational church in Caronport for a few weeks because we can walk to it. And this mini-vacation is reminding me how influential the Anglican liturgy is on my soul, and on my Christian discipleship. I miss it. I miss communion every week. I miss the recitation of the Creed. I miss the sacred space of the sanctuary. I even miss the people (which as an introvert, is saying something because I never miss people!).

And so here I am, a broadly evangelical, theologically Wesleyan, liturgically Anglican, Barth scholar-in-training, Christian misfit. And what unifies all these diverse (sometimes competing) descriptors is the Apostles’ Creed. It is the common ground. It is the essential. It is the unifying confession of faith that reconciles and bridges the gaps between the different threads that make of the tapestry of my faith. And it is the signpost that marks my journey with Christ.

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Sunday Worship is a Celebration

It’s not very often that a sermon stays with me for an entire week. But for some reason the sermon I heard last week keeps popping back into my thoughts. For the past two weeks our pastor has been explaining the “why” behind our service. The first week he talked about the first half of our service (liturgy of the Word), and last week he talked about the second half (liturgy of the Table). He made this observation: Everything we do on Sunday morning in the service is a celebration. It’s a party. It’s time to bring out the best linen and the best plates  because it is no ordinary day, but a celebration day.

Sunday worship is a celebration. So simple, yet so profound.

And yet, if this is the case, why do our church services feel more like funerals? I get that there is a goal of being reverent, but too often, the attempt to be reverent misses and it becomes depressing instead.

Hymns that are played a half a beat (or even more) too slow.

Songs that have no joy.

Songs that are not singable by the congregation.

Songs that are theologically correct but have no heart, no depth, and no emotion.

There’s been a lot of bashing of evangelicalism lately on the blogosphere, with lots of talk of how evangelical churches do things wrong, even how they do worship wrong by dumbing it down.

And yet, I’m finding myself more and more appreciative of evangelical worship. Good evangelical worship has heart.

There are songs that are happy-clappy.

There are songs that you can’t help but tap your toes to, and you leave church still humming.

Yes there are fluffy songs, but there are also songs that are theologically profound.

There are songs that cause me to throw my hands up in praise and surrender at the majesty of the Risen King.

There are songs that touch my heart and cause me to cry tears of joy.

There are songs where the only proper response afterwards is a sanctuary-filling “AMEN!”

And so I find myself trying to figure out how to marry the best of both worlds. How do I embrace the liturgy and tradition of the church that I’m attending and yet still nurture that need for joyful worship that is found in the evangelical tradition? As much as I can put Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Paul Baloche on my playlist and plug in my earphones, it’s not the same as corporate worship.

Maybe this is just evidence that I’m not as far down the Canterbury Trail as I had assumed.

 

A Waste of Time

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

We live in a world that has a hurried sense of time.

It’s always a rush to get out the door.

There are always looming deadlines.

There are always too few hours in the day to get everything done.

I think that is one of the reasons I find myself attracted the use of liturgy, the Christian calendar, and of structured prayer times as found in the Anglican Prayer book (BAS), for example. For just a brief time, I am transported away from a view of time that is pressed, hurried, and haggard. I enter into a space, where I am reminded that God’s time is so infinitely different from our sense of time.

In fact, liturgy wastes time on purpose. It is repetitive and reflective and does not just “cut to the chase.” It builds, slowly and patiently, to the goal of bringing us into the throne room of grace, even if only for 20 minutes, or an hour. It allows space for meditation and reflection. It pushes away the noisy calls for “relevance” and “pragmatism” and “purposefulness”.

Paul Griffiths says it this way:

Wasting time is, in ordinary English, a bad thing: want, we think, to make the best use possible of it. But in liturgical terms, time, considered as linear time that can be scheduled, divided into minutes and hours, filled up, deployed, and measured by chronometers, is exactly what should be laid waste, and effectively is….To enter into the repetitive patterns of the liturgy is to lay waste linear time with the radiance of eternity, and in that way to provide a foretaste of heaven.

And yet, even though I am being shaped by this “otherness” of time, it’s a constant battle to ignore the drum of our culture’s sense of “hurry up.” James K.A. Smith writes of his attempt to incorporate Christian practices into his pedagogy, and tells of his experience in his 200-level philosophy class. Because the class met twice a week during the lunch hour timeslot, he decided to start each class off with “Mid-day Prayer.”

A noble endeavour. I said to myself, thinking about how that would be such a powerful practice to include in a theology class one day. And then the pragmatist (given that I’m reading this book in order to think through educational pedagogy, pragmatic thinking is obviously going to occur) in me said, “but how much time does that take away from the allotted 75 minutes of lecture time?”

There it was: the pressure of our culture’s sense of time. That time devoted to mid-day prayer would take away precious time from lecturing on the actual course content.  It didn’t matter that the students reacted positively to this practice of starting the class with the Divine Hours. My brain automatically began calculating how much time was lost; how much time was wasted by starting the class with the liturgy of prayer.

I stepped back from the book, realizing the conflict I was having over the sense of time. I opened my prayer book, and spent some time praying through the Mid-day prayer. And then, in the quiet, in the stillness, I thought about a possible bridge. What if built into Christian educational institutions class time was 10-15 minutes added specifically for prayer? That way instructional time wasn’t “lost” and at the same time the formative Christian practice was kept.

Until the new heavens and new earth, there will probably always be a battle between our culture’s sense of time and the eternity of time.

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

 That’s okay, White Rabbit, this time, you can run ahead without me.

The Best Reflection on the Newtown Tragedy I’ve Found So Far

I haven’t said much on the blog about what happened on Friday in Connecticut. Part of it was because I didn’t have words. Part of it was because I was waiting for the dust to settle a bit, which turned out to be a good move given how much misinformation was reported by the media in the first 24-48 hours after the incident. And part of it was because I didn’t want to jump on the “must say something profound” bandwagon.

And so, I’m still not going to say much, but instead point y’all to the best reflection on the tragedy I have found so far. Tim Perry is a Canadian Christian Blogger, and an Anglican. His post, “Where Was God?” and Other Wrong Questions is theologically profound, biblically solid, and thoroughly pastoral.

…The murder of 27 people, 20 of them children under 10 is evil. Beyond that it was an event of horrific evil, I have nothing really to say about it. And in my silence, I hope I am emulating the one thing that Job’s friends did well–stayed quiet. They got in trouble when they opened their mouths.

 

So, with and for the victims, I will stay silent.

 

I do want to offer some thoughts on what I think are some of the wrong questions now being asked.

 

The first wrong question is the religious question: “Where was God?” Were the question left hanging, followed only by the same silence that followed our Lord’s last cry on Good Friday, it would be a fine question. But far too often, it’s not. The question is a mere preamble to the answer. Thus far, I have read only two. In short, one says, God was absent. Having scrubbed God from the public life of America, or North America, or the West (take your pick), we are now left to live with the consequences of our “cleanliness.” God has indeed left and we are left to live with godlessness. I confess to holding this answer in some regard even if it is stupidly and insensitively presented by many. It does conform to the message of many of the Old Testament prophets, not to mention Jesus and St. Paul. A message that boils down to, “the consequence of sin is more sin.” But it is the wrong question and wrong answer for this time.

 

A second wrong answer to this wrong question affirms just the opposite conclusion as the first: God was present through it all–weeping, perhaps consoling, hastening a departure for heaven. This answer is often given as a response to the more unkind versions of the first answer. And while it does tug at my emotions, I find it wanting, not least because of the emotional response it evokes in me. After the initial pull of sentimentality subsides, I have anger. Were I ever to be in a similar situation, and I pray I never am, I would hope that I have the same courage as the principal and other teachers who died intervening to stop the gunman and to save children. To stand by and cry while observing such a massacre is the definition of cowardice. Not divine love.

 

Further, it seems to me both answers are wrong because, at the end of the day, they are not actually about God and God’s need to be justified in the face of evil.  (Did God ever say he needed us to defend him in this way?) They are wrong because their principal function is to help us reconstruct, at whatever cost to the parents and grandparents of the dead, our own sense of safety. “God is off in his corner. I’m with God and you’re not.” That’s the underbelly of the first answer. “I’m with God. I’ll cry from the sidelines and do nothing, too.” That’s the underbelly of the second. Either way, the answers serve to comfort us by reminding us that we are not the ones who are suffering. That we are somehow different. That we will (hopefully) remain safe from such events happening to us…

 

So, is there a right question to be asking? It seems to me that there is. It is the question that drives Psalm 80–the Psalm for this Sunday’s lectionary: “How long, Lord God Almighty,will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?” To sit with those who are grieving does indeed involve silence. But not simply silence. There are questions to be asked. But not questions about God, or guns, or mental illness. Rather, the question is to be directed to God. The Psalmist is not afraid to ask–How long O Lord? He goes on to say that his people have eaten enough bread soaked with tears. He tells God it’s time for him to turn his face again to his people and deliver them. He is not afraid to talk to God…

I’ve quoted just a couple of excerpts, so go and read the whole thing here.

What is Your Rule of Life?

We all have one. Even if we don’t call it a “rule” we all have an ethos and a pattern that shapes our day. Now of course there are formal “rules” like Benedict’s rule for his monastic order, which had specific rules and expectations for its members, and while these rules may seem legalistic and harsh (e.g., at least two references to the use and benefit of corporal punishment), they are not designed to be punitive, but are instead meant to be tools to assist the community to conform and be transformed to Christ’s image.

It’s our pattern or structure to how we live life. It is our boundaries for what we do and don’t do, and sometimes even includes measures for if we fail to do what we should. It can include practical things like, when do you read Scripture or do devotions? Do you do it in the morning or in the evening? Do you follow a specific “how to read the Bible in a year” program? Do you follow the Daily Office? When and how do you pray? Do you pray in the morning before you start your day? Do you go somewhere specific to pray or do you pray as you go about doing the dishes? What activities do you do in the life of the church? Do you attend a bible study or a small group? Do you gather with others to intercede for the people in your church? Do you regularly go to church? How do you participate in the corporate worship? How do you participate in the Great Commission of Christ? Do you engage in evangelism, support missionaries or go on mission trips? Do you regularly tithe? Do you practice fasting and how often?

The purpose in specifically thinking about our rule of life is to not only identify gaps but also to consider how what we do (or don’t do) shapes what our beliefs, our character and our identity as disciples of Jesus. It’s not about being legalistic, as if doing these works will save us or justify us before God. Instead, doing these patterns or rhythms are a way to respond to the saving work of Christ, to participate in the work and task He has called us to, and to testify to the power of the Holy Spirit who works in and through our lives.

Now saying all of that, I need to be honest. I wish I could say that I currently have a rule of life. But this semester is one in which I am operating in survival-mode only. My only rule at the moment is to survive until Christmas and to go to church every Sunday. But I know that this semester is only a season. In fact, up until this year I had a rule of life (even though it wasn’t called that), or a structure and rhythm to my spiritual growth. It will need to be tweaked as I enter the new year and a new season. It will not be survival-mode, because I know that I need and thrive under structure rather than chaos.

As I try to articulate my rule of life for the new year, the question that needs to be answered is, “how will I balance family, school, life, my family’s walk with God, and my own personal walk with God?”

Currently, at the dinner table, we adapt the BAS Evening Prayer to create a time of family devotion. The rhythm of that mirrors the rhythm of Sunday worship, and it has helped my three-year old to understand what happens at church. Every evening as we sing the Lord’s Prayer, the three-year old announces, “I sing that song at ‘talk to Jesus!” Come the new year, I would like to begin to incorporate the BAS morning prayer into my routine as a way to start my day. It will probably only be on days that I’m working in the library, and I hope to make it the first thing I do before I turn on my laptop and begin answering emails or working on schoolwork. One of the things that I am missing and need to find a way to better incorporate into a rule of life, is finding a way to carve out space to listen to and to sing worship music. Before moving to Saskatchewan I used to sit at the piano and play through worship songs for about half an hour every day (part of this was because I had been serving as a worship pastor). Since moving here I haven’t touched my piano except to dust it (and even that doesn’t happen as often as it should). That emotional-expressive component of my spiritual life has taken a back seat to the more cognitive, word/study based component of my spiritual life.

As for church life, I am and hope to continue to be active in the ministry role of “crucifer/server.” As well, I will continue to be on the list of “readers” who read the appointed Scripture passages as assigned. At the moment, those two activities keep me busy enough in the life of St. Aidan. One of the things that is profoundly shaping my spiritual development is the fact that we take communion weekly at St. Aidan. I still haven’t been able to find the words to articulate how exactly it is shaping me, but the rhythm of gathering with my family at the front and taking communion together has become important. So much so, that in the brief times when communion is not served (e.g., when we celebrate Morning Prayer instead of Eucharist), my soul feels hungry and even a little bit restless.

In my time at seminary, there have been three components that have been vital to my spiritual development. First, taking classes in a modular format is a great way for me to devote significant time in a focused way to learning about Jesus. There is something powerful about sitting in a classroom with others who are just as eager to learn. The bonds that develop in the intensity of a week-long class help to profoundly shape not only my “cognitive” knowledge of Christ, but also my “experiential” knowledge of Christ. Second, one of the first opportunities I had to plug into life in Caronport was joining the Karl Barth reading group. This group of students, pastors and laypeople meets Friday mornings to discuss short passages of Barth’s Church Dogmatics. It is also a time for prayer and a brief reflection on Scripture. While I have had to step away from this group this semester, my plan is to resume participation in January when my schedule becomes a little more flexible. Third, the St. Aidan cohort at Briercrest has been an amazing blessing. The mini-community of Anglicans at Briercrest is in some ways almost a small group or cell group. The ability to meet for coffee with one or more St. Aidanite, or even just to encourage one another in passing has been a source of grace.

While not directly related to spiritual growth, one of the things that I have been working on this semester, and hopefully will continue through the year is carving out specific time for my husband and I to have “us” time. This may mean going on a date, or just hanging out, but it is regular, weekly time for us to spend time together without the distractions of the kids or work or school. Thankfully, college students are able to fulfill their service learning requirements by doing free babysitting, and we have begun to take advantage of that by having regular Tuesday night dates. It is a time not only for us to rest, but also for us to edify and encourage each other in our vocational calls, and to even sometimes dream together about our future hopes and plans. (Or, to not do any of that but instead to just focus on how to slaughter the other person in a cut-throat game of Settlers of Catan!)

Another Adventure in Anglicanism — Women Bishops and the CoE

So yesterday the motion to allow female bishops in the Church of England failed. Reading through my twitter feed in the hours after you would think the world was coming to an end. I get that it was an emotional vote. But declarations that the CoE is irrelevant, out of touch with culture, or worse, misogynistic were not helpful, nor does it reflect the reality of life in the Anglican church.

There were calls to have the vote overturned.

There were American low-church (even some no-church) evangelicals declaring that Anglicans don’t need no stinkin’ synods to tell them how to run their church.

And there was the media declaring that the CoE had voted strongly against women bishops.

There were people pushing the political agenda, over-emphasizing that women’s ordination is about “justice and equality” but forgetting that churches don’t (or at least shouldn’t) ordain a person simply because of politics of gender, but because of sacrifice, service and spiritual giftings.

The only level-headed reflection to the vote that I’ve seen so far has come from Michael Bird:

If I can try offer some words of exhortation to the haughty, the hurting (and perhaps the hysterical), let me say this:

1. Due process is due process. The debate has been had, the arguments put forward, voices were heard, and the votes counted. Many are disappointed as their hopes have been dashed. But the processes are there to make sure that all representatives in the COE get a fair say and no one gets to decide what that “says” is. This is an issue that needed a mandate and consensus. And it came up short.
2. If women bishops are put forward in the name of a diverse, inclusive, and broad church, you have to remember that diversity and breadth cuts both ways, it means including and empowering people to the left and to the right of you.
3. Women bishops are inevitable, clearly the majority wants it, but the timing will depend on constructively engaging and assuaging both the anglo-catholic and conservative evangelical wings of the church rather antagonizing them or demonizing them.
4. This is not the last word. Discussion and debate will go on. Time for a cup of tea, an iced-vovo, and then some further conversations about mission and the episcopacy.

I’m all for women bishops, that’s no secret. But I am appalled by the reactions of other supporters who failed to guard their tongues, who failed to speak charitably about their brothers and sisters in Christ who voted against the motion, and who failed to demonstrate the love and patience that Christians are called to demonstrate.

Was the result disappointing? Yes.

But at the same time, it also was a blessing: the majority voted for women bishops, it was just that it failed to get a super-majority. There is hope in that. This is good news. It could have been much worse. It could have failed to receive even a majority, it could have been resoundingly defeated, but it wasn’t.

And dismissing the “no” vote because their representatives are old, grey-haired and out of touch with the times is not helpful. We need to listen to the older generation and to those with whom we disagree. We need to heed their wisdom. How we treat the older generation of Christians and how we treat those who disagree with is how we will one day be treated. As I’ve written before: “Are you listening just as equally to the stories of your elders and of those who disagree with you? Are you willing to do your part in reconciliation or are you expecting the older generation to unilaterally cave to your way of thinking? What happens in 50 years, when the new younger generation of [Christians] become disenfranchised and alienated from your ideas, experiences and politics?”

2012 Luther Lecture

In September, Luther College at the University of Regina hosted its annual Luther Lecture. This year’s speaker was Michael Ingham, Anglican Bishop from the Diocese of New Westminster in B.C. You can read about my thoughts on the lecture here. Luther College has uploaded video of the lecture. I have embedded it below, but if you’re having trouble seeing it you can go directly to the college’s website to view it.

Canadian Christianity — Bishop Michael Ingham

On Monday night, Luther College at the University of Regina hosted its annual Luther Lecture. This year’s invited guest was Michael Ingham, Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada.

Bishop Ingham was introduced as one of the 25 most influential Anglicans in the world, and given the issues and events that have happened in the diocese of New Westminster in the last decade, this is not surprising. I have spent the last two years reading and trying to figure out the Anglican Communion, and I have read about Bishop Ingham, as well as reading some of his own writings. Attending the lecture gave me a chance to see the man himself, and I hope that it will help me to better evaluate his influence and his theology without relying on some of the opinions that are coloured by pain and anger. Saying that, Bishop Ingham presented himself as a quiet, smart, and well-composed. And while there are still theologies and actions that I still strongly disagree with, and believe that have caused damage to the Anglican Church in Canada and worldwide, Bishop Ingham is not the devil incarnate, or the “bogeyman.”

To introduce his lecture, he talked about the recent controversy about whether or not the liberal, mainline churches are dying, as discussed in mainstream media articles like Ross Douthat, Margaret Wente and Diana Butler-Bass.

This leads to a need to talk about what “success” looks like or mean in Christian discourse. Is a church successful if it’s growing? Is it successful if it doesn’t? What does success look like in light of the fact that we follow a Saviour who suffered and died?

Ingham’s lecture was on the impact of the shift from modernity to postmodernity on the Christian Church. For the most part, what he said was not really controversial, as he gave a basic overview of both modernity and postmodernity. His argument was that the labels “evangelical” “catholic” and “liberal” are fundamentally modern in orientation and are thus meaningless and obsolete in a post-modern context. These labels have become political labels that represent ideologies rather than theologies, and they belong to an older generation of Christians, and have no place in the new Christianity of the 21st century. Thus, younger Christians are trying to find a way to distinguish themselves. They are post-liberal, post-evangelical, post-conservative, etc.

Ingham then looked at the evolution that has occurred within the three traditions of Christianity: liberalism, evangelicalism, and Catholicism. So for example, out of liberal Christianity has arisen post-liberalism and radical orthodoxy. From evangelicalism has arisen the emerging church movement, and from Catholicism has arisen communities like Taize.

He argued that part of the problem today is that in spending so much time about the decline of the church, we are missing the fact that new and exciting things are happening. Indeed, he emphasized that the church is not dying; but it is changing. And while changed can feel like death because it is painful, Christianity is in the process of evolving.

It was interesting to observe his confidence that he is right in his decisions and actions in his role of Bishop. His lecture demonstrated that he believes that the issue of SSM has been settled in the Anglican church, that he has won, and that it is just a matter of time before the rest of the Anglican church capitulates to his position. This was evidenced in his emphasis that the new generation of Christians doesn’t want to fight about issues or doctrine. The way he set it up, it was clear that the older generation just needs to get on board with the younger generation; that the reason the young generation doesn’t want or need to fight is because it is right on the issues.

If I had had the chance, (or the courage), I would have asked the Bishop one of  two questions:

First, what will this age of redundant and obsolete labels mean for the selection and task of the new Archbishop of Canterbury?

Second, his very concluding observation was that we shouldn’t focus on the people who are leaving the church but rather on the people who are coming, made me want to ask him if he is working at all to reconcile with the conservative congregations that left his diocese for the Anglican Network.

This was my first Luther Lecture, and I think I would go again. In the 40 years of the Luther Lecture, Luther College has hosted a diverse company of scholars and thinkers, including Stanley Hauerwas, Hans Kung, Margaret Somerville, James Cone, and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Next year, the Luther Lecture will feature Martin Marty.

Thinking Through the Benefits and Necessity of Liturgy

“Liturgy is boring.”

“Liturgy is repetitive.”

“Liturgy stifles the Holy Spirit.”

“Yuck, liturgy.”

These are some of the reactions I’ve had when people hear that I’m currently attending an Anglican church. And yet, even before I began attending an Anglican church I knew that liturgy was an important and necessary part of my Christian faith. Even in more low-church, non-liturgical settings, the routine and familiarity of the order of service, of the rhythm of taking communion once a month, the routine of 3 praise songs, the offering, the sermon, the altar call and time of prayer, and the dismissal shaped and discipled my Christian walk.

Today, I want to just explore some reasons why liturgy, especially formal liturgy, can be beneficial:

It creates space to hear the Holy Spirit. There is something about saying the same words over and over again, where they seep into your very core, and you reach the place where you no longer have to follow along with the bulletin or the liturgical text. You’re no longer thinking, “okay, what comes next? What do I have to do?” In that comfortable space, the words that are so familiar become new as you can focus on hearing the meaning behind the words instead of trying to play catch up and follow along. The comfortable words (to use a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer) become enhanced with new meaning as the Holy Spirit draws your attention to some new detail that you hadn’t previously considered, or as the Holy Spirit uses the words to heal your soul and give you rest.

It guards against accidental heresy.
We’ve all seen it happen. An elder, or a worship leader gets up and prays. And in the “moment” of spontaneous prayer ends up saying something Arian, or something Docetic, or something gnostic. Words matter, and the fact that the authors of liturgical texts have prayed and thought through the precise use of each word and what they are conveying, demonstrates that the words we say as a Church are deep, rich, meaningful and purposeful.

It connects us with 2,000 years of Christian worship. As I read the Patristic Fathers, in particular, I am struck by those aspects of early Christian worship that are still affirmed today. Take an early worship manual like Hippolytus’: Here is a liturgy that was written in the 3rd century that continues to be used even if just in snippets nearly 2,000 years later. Through liturgy, be it word or practice, we enter into something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our generation. Sure we may find ways to make it contemporary or “relevant”, but we don’t need to reinvent the wheel each and every time we do church.

Liturgy happens even when it’s not explicitly called liturgy.
Let’s face it, even the most charismatic, free-flowing churches have some kind of liturgy. It may not be written down, but it’s done pretty much the same way every week. Heck, even “extemporaneous” prayers are often repetitive and follow a liturgical pattern each time: You pray for the needs of those who are sick; you pray for the missions fields; you pray for outreach; you pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the church board as they make decisions regarding the church; you pray for the Holy Spirit to bless the congregation and to make his presence known. Rinse and repeat every week, even if the details are a little bit different each time.

Liturgy is not just a religious thing.
Liturgy happens all around us. How we orient our lives, our years, our weeks, happens in a fairly standard pattern. Since it is now September, take the academic school year. September is the “start of the year”. There is anticipation in August for it as school supplies and new clothes are bought. And then, the day after Labour Day, the parents walk the kids to their first day of school. It’s a rite of passage. And each year for the next 13 (or more) yearsthe students participate in the liturgy of the first day of school. They meet their teachers. They find their desks. They make new friends. They reconnect with old friends. Their days become structured around the school schedule 9-3. Fridays become an important day that anticipates the weekend. We don’t say that this liturgy is boring because we’ve done it every year. Instead, each new year it is approached with both the comfort of the structure, and the newness that the student is another year older and the liturgy of the school year will not so much be the same old, same old, as it will be a deeper experience of a ritual that takes on new meaning and new life each time it happens. And even if there are those of us who dislike school and shed the liturgy of the school year as soon as we can, we still come back to it and put our children in it, so that it can shape and mold them as it shaped and molded us.

Liturgy, be it Christian or secular, profoundly shapes us. It demonstrates a telos or goal of the good life that we aim to achieve. Because we are embodied creatures, what we do affects what we believe. It shapes how we think, how we feel, how we look at the world. James Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, argues that liturgy is important because humans are primarily desiring creatures, over against thinking creatures (Rene Descartes “I think therefore I am”) or believing creatures (the Reformed worldview emphasis). Liturgies, he writes, “are ritual practices that function as pedagogies of ultimate desire.” (87). Liturgy, and particularly liturgy as found in the practice of Christian worship, is “embodied and material.” (152)

And so, even those who chafe at the thought of liturgy in Church, who balk at the use of liturgical texts on a weekly basis, are being profoundly shaped by the liturgy of being anti-liturgy. Smith asks a brilliant question that every Christian congregation, liturgical or not, should ask itself: What does worship say about Christian faith? (134) If you were to sit in on a service at another Christian denomination what would their service say about what they believe? If a stranger were to come into your church and sit in on a worship service, what would he take away from the service about what your church believes and what it means to be Christian?

(While I am deeply indebted to James Smith’s book, stay tuned for an upcoming post where I strongly disagree with some of the assertions he makes).