Saturday, October 5, 2013

Culture, Context, and Liturgical Exuberance

A recently posted video of "a spontaneous expression of great joy" that occurred at the end of the recent consecration of the Rev'd Stewart E. Rausch III as the first Bishop of the Upper Mid-West for the Anglican Church in North America has generated a number of views and no small amount of comment, including an interesting post by my friend the Very Rev'd Dr. Jonathan Riches, Dean of Reformed Episcopal Seminary. In the interest of full disclosure, my own admittedly snarky comment "Swing your curate dosey doe, they start that I'd have to go" may have been one of the "disparaging and insensitive remarks" to which Dr. Riches refers. He is certainly free to disagree with my appraisal of it as I am to differ with the display as videoed.

While noting that this worship was not his own style of worship or preference, Dr. Riches writes 

there are many Anglican Churches throughout the globe that have a vibrant worship style much more akin to this video then a staid reading of the 1928 or 1662 BCP. Further there are churches in our own Reformed Episcopal Church that have events before, after, or during worship that have similarity to this. Anglicanism holds that traditions and customs in every place do not need to be the same.
 I will not for a second dispute that one of the strengths of Anglicanism is its very roominess -- ours is a church in which the spikiest Anglo-Catholic and the most decided Evangelical and the even the Charismatic can peacefully co-exist, not will I disagree that many Anglicans throughout the world, particularly in the Global South, are far livelier in their worship than WASPs like me tend to be. Although my own preference is for traditional 1928 Book of Common Prayer worship I have worshiped in and led services that were considerably more contemporary and have been edified in doing so. In fact, just a few weeks ago I was the only Reformed Episcopalian in attendance at the consecration of the Rev'd David Collins Bryant as a Bishop for PEARUSA; while there were parts of the service that tended more toward the contemporary than is my norm, it was excellently done and downright old school compared to the Upper Mid-West expression. In sum, I am certainly not saying that contemporary, lively worship cannot be done well.

Dr. Riches' comment about "churches in our own Reformed Episcopal Church that have events before, after, or during worship that have similarity to this" particularly caught my attention because I strongly suspect that his comment largely referred to my own Diocese, which is unique among the Reformed Episcopal Church in being predominately black. I came to Anglicanism in this diocese in 2000 and have been associated with it ever since, save for a brief sojourn in Texas during that time where I was canonically albeit not physically resident here. He is correct in that there are parishes that feature Praise Dance Teams (I'm not a fan) but he overstates the case -- I have never seen anything that could compare to the display in the video in any of our parishes. Also, a careful viewing of the video and the procession at the service showed that the attendees were hardly multi-ethnic save for one bishop and a few other attendees, so the cultural argument is a bit forced.

A good deal of my ordained ministry thus far has been spent in majority-black parishes -- I currently serve as the Vicar or just such a parish -- and one of the things that I have found distressing is that instead of tapping into the rich heritage of spirituals the music that is often thought of as such shows far more of an influence from TBN than from the interweaving of African and Celtic music that is the uniquely American Spiritual. The result is often a worship service that can be so bound to one culture that it can be off-putting to other cultures. 

Last weekend it was my privilege to hear a series of lectures by the Rev'd Dr. Douglas F. Kelly at St. John's Chapel, a parish of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina that has been revitalized on Charleston's Eastside. Its Vicar, and my fellow Coastal Carolina University alumnus, the Rev'd Dr. Dallas Wilson, has sought " bring uncomplicated worship to Charleston's Eastside Community." Dr. Wilson came to Anglicanism after many years of ministry in the Assemblies of God specifically because he saw that fractionalized black families of the Eastside could benefit from the structure of liturgical worship found in the Book of Common Prayer. On Sunday following my own services in Mount Pleasant I slipped into St. John's Chapel to hear the last of Dr. Kelly's sermon. The worship at St. John's Chapel was far from stiff-upper lip and featured a number of spirituals but were done decently and in order. One inescapable element feature of the congregation was that it was multi-racial, with an fairly mixed age demographic as well.

Am I seeking to condemn Bishop Rausch or his newly-formed diocese? Not in the least. I hope that they minister faithfully in the Lord and that He blesses their labors. I would, however, dispute the notion that those of us who are less than approving of this portion of the service are not merely old liturgically fundamentalistic fuddy duddies but are instead seeking to worship the Lord with reverence, decency, and order.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tis the Season for Church Meetings (and Fake Twitter Accounts at the Same)

June and July are prime time for meetings of various church bodies. The Southern Baptist Convention, the granddaddy of such gatherings in the United States in terms of size and influence is going on as I write this and my friends in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church concluded what was by all accounts their most harmonious meeting in a long time this afternoon. The Presbyterian Church in America's General Assembly  will be meeting next week in Greenville, South Carolina. My own Reformed Episcopal Church and Anglican Church in North America aren't meeting this summer and The Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have the year off too, which is probably a good thing.

Being a bit of an admitted church geek I enjoy keeping tabs on some judicatories and Twitter is great for doing so; the Pope tweets and any who are inclined to follow me can do so here. It's a useful tool for up to date information, but it's not above giving rise to some (usually) good-natured mischief that can be quite entertaining. In this year's special election for Congress from the First Congressional District of South Carolina a myriad of fake accounts arose for various candidates (some of which were less than good natured) and a Twitter debate was even organized among the various fake accounts by Earl Capps. It seems that frequently tedious church meetings are also fertile ground for them as well. They can be entertaining and so what follows are some of the ones that I have followed, some of which are quite funny (although those not familiar with the back story may not fully get the joke); listing here does not constitute endorsement:

@PCA Liberal: It could probably also be called PC(USA) Conservative. "Intrigued by BioLogos, paedo-communion, female deacons, Karl Barth, NT Wright, to name a few." Other than paedo-communion I don't endorse any of those, but it can be entertaining.

@FakeARPClerk: Ostensibly the inner voice of the Rev'd Dr. Ron Beard, longtime Principal Clerk of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, who is a friend. This tweet was quite funny.

@ARPModerator: As is the case with the Pope's account, this one changes based on who holds the office. Except that it's not really real, but it is really amusing.

@ARP_Curmudgeon: Likes Marrow in his ham-bones and in his theology (the ARPs have taken fake Twitter accounts to a nearly unprecedented level, particularly on a per capita basis).

@herselfthebishop: No longer active, it was ostensibly from Dr. Katherine Jefferts Schori. There may have been a lawsuit, I don't know.

@ChrchCurmudgeon: Non-denominational and without specific geographic reference. I feel like I've known the guy, because I have.

@CelebrityPastor: By an unnamed megachurch pastor. Very funny.

If you appreciate satire, and I do, these feeds can be entertaining.

Friday, June 7, 2013

‘Is you is or is you ain’t my clergy?’ Local clergy called to decision

[From the June 2013 Charleston Mercury.]

By Charles A. Collins, Jr.

The oft-covered Louis Jordan song asks of a sweetheart “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?” It’s a question that attempts to DTR – define the relationship — and recently the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, provisional bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (the structure set up for the minority of parishes and clergy who wished to remain a part of The Episcopal Church after that body’s October move against the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina) sought to do just that as he contacted each of the approximately 140 clergy who did not respond to his call to convention earlier this year and asked them to make their allegiance known. In a letter dated April 7, vonRosenberg cautioned that priests and deacons “face a very serious decision, with significant consequences” for them and the church and encouraged their careful and prayerful consideration.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Aubrey Alling Jones, R.I.P.

When I first decided to attend Georgia Military College (where, I am quick to point out, I was in the Corps of Cadets -- it was a different school than it is now, just an observation) on of the first letters that I received was from A. Alling Jones, the-then Alumni Director (I can't recall exactly what his title was) and I remember specifically it referencing "when you pass through those historic gates" somewhere in the course of it; it was a form letter and he did not then know me from Adam's housecat but the phrase stuck with me. Later on, during my time as a cadet I needed some bit of information for, as I recall, a dining-in and so I went to see him and had a good time visiting with him. I got the information that I needed and we saw each other occasionally during the rest of my time there. After I graduated -- and became an alumnus -- I got to know Alling better, especially after he engineered my election to the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association some years later.

Alling had trained in the law and practiced it for a time, but he loved GMC and so he was happy to go and work there, doing yeoman's work keeping alumni connected with the school. He also taught French and, somewhat unusually, enrolled at Georgia College after completing college and a law degree to obtain a second bachelor's degree in French so that he could teach the language at GMC (I know he taught in the prep school and he may have taught in the college as well -- languages not being my forte, I stayed far, far away during my time there). Such was his love of learning and of the school that he'd attended as a younger man. Alling had done some work at Duke Divinity School but ultimately decided on the law and when he found out I was headed to seminary he made a point of giving me my first Greek Lexicon; I still have it.  

Some time after that he left the Alumni Office at GMC, going on to do other things including serving as a municipal judge, but his love for the institution endured.

Alling was an active Episcopalian and communicant at St. Stephen's Church in Milledgeville. When he found out that I'd swum the Thames and moved from the Presbyterianism of my upbringing he heartily congratulated me on the decision. I last visited him in December 2006 while in Milledgeville; it was a good time of catching up but he'd had some health problems. Some time ago I'd gotten wrod from a mutual friend that he'd moved to a nursing home and he had been remembered in my prayers for some time. I had hope to visit him when I got back to Milledgeville.

Judge Aubrey Alling Jones died this morning, and I regret that I'll not have a chance for that visit but I give thanks for his friendship and a life well lived. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

No Charmed Lives

The temptation to think that others lead charmed lives -- lives free of worry, stress, or failure -- presents itself all too easily. I wish that clergy were immune, but we're not. Those serving in small parishes can be envious of those serving in larger ones that are experiencing substantial growth and, as in other places where jealousy rears it's ugly head there's nearly always someone whose parish is bigger and/or growing faster than yours (just as there's always someone who is richer, more successful, and has more toys). Among clergy and among churches there are few more prominent or larger than the Rev'd Dr. Rick Warren and Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. Beginning with 200 people (a crowd for which many of us would be thankful) in 1980 it grew to more than 22,000 in weekly attendance in the following three decades while launching a global AIDS ministry, planting new churches, and spawning a number of Purpose Driven books.

I had heard of Rick Warren, read some of his work, and seen him on television in 2009. I knew that he'd given the invocation at the Inauguration of Barack Obama, something that had raised the hackles of some on both the right and the left, and shortly thereafter learned that he was to speak at the Inaugural Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America in Bedford, Texas. Although I was not one of the delegates from my diocese, it was an historic even for which I wanted to be present so I went at my own expense as an observer. There was some grumbling when it was announced that Dr. Warren would be speaking (I admit to being one of the grumblers) but when he gave his address in a massive air-conditioned tent on sweltering hot Texas day I and most others in attendance were favorably impressed. Since that time I've followed him on Twitter and appreciated his insights, realizing that while he and I don't quite do church the same way (I'm, uh, a little more formal and traditional) we worship the same Lord and I wish that I would have a fraction of his humility and devotion to Christ.

But yet, not even Rick Warren lived a charmed life, free of troubles. His son, Matthew, struggled with depression for years and today took his own life. Obviously he, his wife Kay, and the rest of their family need prayers at this time and they have them. I trust that the church that he's pastored will pastor him and them in these trying days. 

It has been my privilege to get to know some other very successful people -- men and women who have excelled in their fields and, in many cases have amassed great riches. As I have gotten to know them and count many of them as friends I've often learned of great tragedies, losses, and failures that they've experienced. The Tenth Commandment guards against jealousy and covetousness and  we need that warning -- as much as we'd like to think so, no one leads a life free from pain and those experiences are the crucibles that forge us, grow us, and (for those who are Christians) fit us for God's Kingdom.