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.