Wednesday, March 16, 2011

'Targeted' Worship

Father Tim has an interesting post here about "targeted worship." I had initially wrote a good bit of the following as a comment, but thought I would post it here on my blog as a full length blog entry.

I have always been dubious of the "the church must change or die" school of thought. (I'm looking at you, John Spong!) I find this particularly true of various discussions on liturgical reform, or as my Missouri Synod friends in the Ministerial Association refer to as "worship wars."

I likewise tend to recoil from church buzz words, and "relevance" is a major one of those vacuous terms that sound like something good, but is often code word(s) for something else. Relevance, I mean doesn't want to be relevant? It's like "family values" or "social justice." There are great "warm fuzzies" as they said back in the '90's until someone tries to actually define it and lay out how one gets there.

I have some Evangelical friends who are getting all into a lather over Rob Bell's new book about Hell. (Honestly, until this recent flap, I had never even heard of Rob Bell.) While on a different topic that liturgical reform, that appears to be basically the same base thinking: we have to reform our _______ because we want to be relevant to _______.

Usually what is implied at the end of that sentence, though never stated explicitly, is to add "by whatever means necessary." If we have to chuck our traditions or doctrines or worship styles, then so be it because "relevancy" is the end unto itself.

My issues with "targeted worship" or really targeted anything is ask to what end? I think I agree with Deacon Phil: "Who we are aiming to please, God or 'the customers?'" I would only insert the term "consumers" for "customers" because that largely is what many of these Church groups are pandering to, as if liturgy is some to be consumed like a burger or a new iPad.

Particularly with Liturgical reform gurus (whether they be advocates of Praise music or inclusive language or whatever), I usually point out the fly in the ointment. Orthodox churches have used the same liturgy since basically the 4th century. There is a Roman Catholic religious order that does The Tridentine Mass of the Extraordinary Form called thr Confraternity of St. Peter. They have a seminary down in Denton, Nebraska, of all places. They, like the Orthodox, can't build churches or ordain clergy fast enough to meet demand. In fact, at the seminary I mention, there is at least a 2+ year waiting period for potential seminarians because they have no where to put that many. (They've expanded the dormitory at least 3 times in the last 3 years.)

Or even in our tradition, when I was in Cambridge, there was a church I attended called Little St. Mary's. Copious amounts of incense, East facing altar, 1662 BCP with a lot of Sarum Rite stuff thrown in. Even Sunday I was there, it was nearly standing room only with lots of college age kids!

Why is that? I think it is because good liturgy (whether Pentacostal electric guitars or High Church Solemn High mass Anglo-catholic liturgy) invites people to experience the Divine, as if the wall in front of the altar dissolves and brief glimpse into the mysterious other of heaven is seen. I have trouble believing that an experience of the Divine in a meaningful and life changing sense can be had from the U2charist or the Hip Hop Prayerbook (remember that?) or even the Clown Mass.

That's not an experience of the Divine through worship, that's liturgical tourism at best and a mockery of the seriousness of worship at worst.

1 comment:

Kelso said...

An excellent post. Though I consider myself religious I stopped attending church in 1979 when we were forced to change prayer books. I started out a Baptist and found my way to the Church of Beauty - as she was then - only to see her turn into the next thing to a Baptist church. If I wanted cheap music and cheap liturgy I'd have never come to the Episcopal Church - now separated from me for over 30 years. I miss going to church, but I'm not going to hug people in the nave when we have a parish house to hug in; I'm not going to call Our Lord by his first name since he out-ranks me so highly; I'm still praying the 1928 BCP prayers because they resonate with my soul - my unchurched wandering soul.