Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When We Eat Together But Do Not Share the Same Meal

Of all the things that bother me in so much of what is called "contemporary" worship, perhaps the thing that bothers me most is the practice of having multiple worship "styles" under the same roof. This is a fairly common practice and it is justified by giving people what they want but the damage it does to the congregation is often unnoticed.

At Grace we have two services, almost identical, at 8:15 and 10:45 each Sunday morning -- the same bulletin, hymns, choir, etc... with the exception being we do not baptized the same child at both services -- we pick one. Yet even this practice of two identical services has created two distinct groups within our congregation -- the early people and the late people. Each service has its own identity and manifests its own personality even though the presider, preacher, liturgy, hymns, and sermon are the same. The one thing that brings unity to this diversity is that we all know each other's language of worship and know each other's hymns. We are one in this even though we may be different in other things.

Yet in most congregations the services themselves are different. The "traditional" service is inevitably the earliest service (often at the ungodly hour of 7 am). Then a "blended" service and followed by a "contemporary" service. They often have cutsie names like "Reverent Majesty" or "Blended Praise" or "Celestial Celebration" (okay, okay, I made them up). And it all sounds innocent enough and caring enough -- if you want to go full blown happy clappy, you still want to make the old fuddie duddies at home (since they are the ones with the money), so you make choices acceptable to each taste (as far as is reasonable).

But the forgotten issue in this is how many congregations do you have? Do you have one congregation with multiple worship times or do you have multiple congregations? I am more and more convinced that you have multiple congregations -- distinct and separate and unwilling to be together. The "traditionals" do not know the songs of the others nor do they want to. The "blenders" are there because it is blended and they want the biggie praise choruses mixed in with generic Protestant hymns -- all within a changing ordinary (whatever that is). The with it folks want cutting edge music and no ordinary at all. These folks like spontaneity and surprise and don't want creeds and canticles, rubrics and rules. Unless you are singing "Silent Night" (Christmas transcends all divisions), these groups are separate and distinct and that is how they want it to be.

What does this say about the congregation? When you have three groups with three distinct identities, it does not take long to have three distinct visions and missions. How do you vision cast for three different and distinct congregations? I am confused by this. I have a hard enough time keeping two groups separated only by service times to see themselves as one congregation without all these other distinctions to distinguish them.

The truth is that we needlessly divide congregations and for the worst possible reason (personal preference and "taste") when we offer multiple worship services that are distinct and different and all for the reason of appealing to "what people want."

This is not just about music. The soundtrack of worship is simply the easiest way for me to highlight the differences. This is not just about music -- the more "contemporary" means the less identifiable the order, the ordinary, and even the propers. Many "contemporary" services focus upon one lesson and one only and often that lesson is unrelated to the pericopes. Sermon series abound that keep these folks from the liturgical pattern of the church year and the lectionary.

Our worship wars are not simply about congregations that have chosen different paths but about individual groups within one congregation that have chosen different paths. It is one thing to fight the worship wars between congregations; how do you fight them within the same congregation? We have not even begun to describe the architectural distinctions and logistical needs different to each group -- solved by some by having the "traditional" service in the sanctuary and the others in the gym/worship center/family life building. Again a distinction -- we all meet at the same address on Sunday morning but we go to different rooms and do different things -- is it no wonder that unity is one of the first casualties of diversity?

My point is this. We can go to a buffet restaurant and we can all eat what we want and we can sit at different tables... but are we eating together? Is it possible that we eat together in the same place without sharing the same meal? This begins to sound like one of St. Paul's Corinthians problems... And it is a problem we have yet to fully address.... I love the Chinese buffet but I know that it is different to go there and we each come and go back and forth to the buffet, eating different things... than when we sit at home around the table and eat the same food.


Anonymous said...

LOL, Pastor Peters. The Catholic parish I used to belong to was arranged along pretty much the same lines. Oh, the canon of the Mass was the same at each liturgy but at 7:30 a.m. the "traditional" minded parishioners trekked in. They were probably the smallest crowd and one usually heard a few "standard" hymns and the organist actually played a couple tunes on the organ, saints preserve us. There was even enough silence in the church before that Mass began that one could offer a couple of prayers and collect one's thoughts.

At 9:00 came the "young people" complete with guitars, vocal ensemble, et al.

At 10:30 came the "family" crowd, and the liturgy became more eclectic as far as music and worship went. This was the classical Oregon Catholic Press Mass. Our female music director was actually a very gifted musician but the way she played that gitt-ar of hers made me wonder if someone was going to break out in a flamenco dance. And the cantors, of course, singing so loudly I wanted to take away their microphones.

At 12:30 one got the senior crowd who don't like to have to tackle the roads early in the morning. Oh yes, Catholic worship definitely has its "blended" elements these days.


Chris said...

This definitely makes the case for use of the Liturgy, the same Liturgy, at all the services the church has to offer. If you're congregation is divided along the lines of lex orandi, lex credendi,then it's no longer a congregation.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I couldn't agree with you more.

Fortunately I was able to find an LCMS parish that uses the same historic liturgy at both services. It also helps that we have an exceptional organist.

The "blended" stuff drives me nuts. When I think of the strong sense of the numinous that pervaded pre-Vatican II Catholicism the culture at today's average suburban Catholic parish is really sad.


Janis Williams said...

The Baptists have been doing this for several years - giving people what they want. (BTW, I'm a former Baptist, now Lutheran.) For all their programs, changes and fooling around with their form of liturgy - they do follow pretty much an ordinary, even in their contemporary services - it hasn't changed things.

Most of their churches are the same size, only with a bigger debt. People do NOT flock to your church if you give them what they want; they can get it done better in the world. The world CANNOT do worship. It cannot give me or anyone Jesus' body and blood broken and shed for me. It cannot forgive my sins. My husband and I RAN from empty blended/contemporary type worship, right into the hands of a wonderful LCMS church (where Pastor Peters preaches and presides). God is truly gracious.

Why must we sacrifice the flock in the name of 'reaching people?'

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

I've always wondered what would happen to attendance at the "contemporary" or "blended" or "insert phrase here" services if they were scheduled to be the 8:00 a.m. service. As it is, it seems that they are scheduled at the perfect time to make it convenient for people to get to the service, in and out again in an hour, and still find a good seat at the breakfast place afterwards.

But perhaps I am being cynical.

Chris said...

I've always wondered why the traditional services were at the earliest times myself. If I were a conspiracy theorist (and I sometimes am), from a numbers standpoint, the few people who come for it, would be reason to kill it.

Pastor Peters said...

I was once yelled out because the length of the services here (70 min -- late service in particular) did not allow our Lutherans to get ahead of the Baptists at Cracker Barrel... Ha Ha Ha

Anonymous said...

Your post is most accurate. I attended a LCMS church where the traditional service was 8:00am and the contemporary service at 11:00. Loved the traditional service. Strongly disliked the contempory service - little reverence, no vestments, folks drinking coffee, conducted in the family life building. My dislike of the contempory service was not theological - just a gut feel instinct of something that did not seem godly or reverent. Maybe I am just getting old and grumpy.

Pastor Peters, these posts on "worship wars" are quite discouraging for those looking for sacramental, traditional Lutheran worship. Such churches are getting hard to find. When one is a strong proponent of attending neighborhood/community churches (as I am), driving 25+ miles to attend such a church is not an attractive option - especially in busy urban areas. I know others drive long distances to attend traditional LCMS churches, but one looses the sense of community.

What other options exist for those looking for sacramental, traditional worship? Roman Catholic? No, too many doctrinal objections. Episcopal? Won't even consider it. ELCA? Nope, on the same path as the Episcopal church. Orthodox? Perhaps. It's only 18 miles away, is a sacramental church, and clearly no concern regarding contemporary worship. Perhaps I could overlook some doctrinal disagreements to get reverent, liturgical worship.

Discouraging. What's one to do?


Anonymous said...

Rev. Peters,

Thank you for your fine post regarding congregations that have different types of worship each Sunday. There is no way that there can be unity in such a congregation.

I am a member of a Lutheran congregation that is possibly doing things in a worse way.

The first and third Sundays we use either the old page 15 from TLH or the Bugenhagen, and the Lord's Supper is celebrated.

The second, fourth and fifth Sundays, Matins or a 'chorale service' is used.

Personally, I find Matins, with the beautiful Venite to be a wonderful service, but not for Sunday morning services.

The 'chorale service' is such in name only. A true Chorale Service uses hymns, choral music, etc. in the place of the ordinaries. No such thing is done in these 'services'. The ordinaries are left out altogether. This 'service' should not be used on Sunday morning.

There is no choice of service on a given Sunay. It's truly sad.

What's sadder is that the leaders of the congregation believe this to be a good thing.

It just may be time to start looking elsewhere.

Pastor Peters said...

If I had my druthers... I would have Sung Matins (or Morning Prayer) every Sunday as the preparation for the Divine Service... Bible Study after Matins. . . the full sung Divine Service. . . followed by breakfast/brunch at Church where the gathered community might fellowship as the community of Christ they were made to be at the Eucharist. . . and then again at sundown for Evening Prayer (with incense). . .

I almost said "For me" when I stopped myself -- for our Confessions the ordinary service of the Lord's Day is the Divine Service. The offices may be surround Divine Service but they were not meant to replace it.

The musical setting may vary but I think varying it every week is too much. We use a setting for a year and then switch. This year, because we celebrate our 50th anniversary as a congregation, we are using the TLH p. 15 service (Divine Service, Setting three), on the third Sunday of each month. Even then it is a little jarring to switch so often. Music is sort of a part of the ordinary even thought it is not technically ordinary. . .

I grieve for those who have few options open to them, who search for a parish where the Divine Service is central, where life and mission flow from that Divine Service. I have no answer except to say that 25 miles might be a small price to pay to have what you treasure in the gift of Christ in Word and Sacrament. We have people who drive as much as 70 miles one way to be here on Sunday morning...

Anonymous said...

I fully sympathize with those who are faced with this dilemma. It may the cross some of us are called to bear at this time as we seek to remain faithful to orthodox Lutheran teaching and praxis.

At the moment I am driving about 20 miles round trip to attend an LCMS parish that has remained faithful to authentic Lutheran worship and teaching. There are two ELCA parishes within ten minutes of my house, several Catholic parishes and one Orthodox parish. However, I have to go where my heart is calling me. I cannot with integrity worship in a church body with which I am not in full doctrinal agreement. Reverence and high ceremonial exist in very heterodox Christian bodies and are not necessarily markers of faithfulness.

Still, I am by no means criticizing James and others who are struggling with these issues.


Anonymous said...

in the 'modern' service s what is done is being referred to as the "7-11" worship....sing the same song or praise songs (7words) ll times. I do not find it to be reverent. how could it be to our most Holy Father?
It is similar to Chanting and borders on practicing occultish, as if participates are trying to conger up some mysticial feeling