January 4, 2021

 Liturgical Correctness

There were a lot of very positive aspects to my seminary training, but the one glaring deficiency was that we didn’t have a worship professor. To those of us in the church, this might be shocking – but it is true. We had an excellent preaching professor, and a decent choir director who taught us about hymns, but there was no class that focused on crafting interesting, moving, diverse worship experiences. This came a couple of years after I graduated – which made me sad that I had missed out, but glad that the next students would not.

I had been raised in a standard, boring church that did (as I remember) the same thing every week. Nothing against them; it was really how most churches in America functioned in the 1960’s and 70’s (and even today!) We followed the same service the church had always followed, and it was, to be honest, really dull. As I learned about other denominations, it turned out that they were in the same situation – stuck in the past and feel very comfortable there. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the wider church began to reconsider what it meant to do meaningful worship, and out of that movement there grew an interest in ecumenism and experimenting with different worship styles. Still, most congregations stayed stuck.

To make up for my lacking education (while I was still in seminary), I joined a liturgical order called the Order of St. Luke. This group met monthly, and I learned all about the way worship was structured. Unfortunately, they were also stuck – doing something different was usually frowned upon, and while I continued to attend and participate, I began to try different things in worship in the churches I served – which, as anyone who is churched knows, was like slapping someone’s mother. It just wasn’t done. The last 7 words of the church – “We Never Did It That Way Before” – is still alive and well (actual, it is largely what is killing the church), and there are a lot of people who fight tooth and nail against newness and change. Liturgical Correctness maintains the past and limits the possibilities of doing anything different.

I am an Emerging Church Thinker, which means that I keep that which works and throw out that which doesn’t. I appreciate the beauty that exists in all traditions, and I critically consider what I will include in the life of the church. Every denomination has things that are great, and things that are no longer useful. If you can go through a worship service by memory – and prefer to keep it that way – it is my opinion that you are stuck. Yes, I understand the value of consistency, but I also know that too much of the same thing will bore you to death. Formulaic sermons, the same liturgy every week, hymns played in the same style all the time – just a few of the ways we have bored generation after generation with our liturgical correctness. Jesus didn’t worship in German or English or Spanish, He didn’t sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” or “Amazing Grace”, and He didn’t sing simplistic praise songs. He definitely didn’t read the King James Version of the Bible. Every hymn was new once, and they also drew the ire of people who didn’t want new-fangled stuff in their – THEIR – worship services. 

Worship is the act of the people, and if God is our audience, we are doing God a disservice if we keep doing the same thing over and over again. No denomination – Catholic, Baptist, UCC, whatever – has ever created the perfect worship service. Worship isn’t about how slick or perfect or modern or traditional we can be – it is supposed to be the engine that moves our ministry – it is our beginning, not our ending. I think it would be wise for us to admit that every single thing we do is inherently imperfect, but it shouldn’t bore people to tears, or put them (or God) to sleep. Shake it up a bit – you never know what might happen. Instead of putting God to sleep, we might awaken the Spirit. That would be a good thing. And a scary thing. But a necessary thing.

Prayer – Holy God, we are sorry for boring You. This is a perfect time for us to try new things. Hang in there – we are trying our best. Amen.

Today’s image is just a reminder.