Monday, March 12, 2012

Dignified Informality...

Not having received former Pres. Kieschnick's recent missive, I can only refer to what others have said about it.  One commentator put it this way:  From today's "Thursday missive" by former LCMS Pres. Kieschnick:  "To the greatest extent possible, pastors and other worship leaders do well to design and conduct services that . . . are conducted in what might be called a spirit of dignified informality."  (Pr. Thomas Messer)

Now I really don't have a clue what Kieschnick meant by that.  Clearly Pr. Messer thinks this is not an apt description of the "style" of good liturgy and I have no reason to dispute him.  Yet, I understand by this something slightly different.

People have often complained about liturgy which is done almost without any recognition of the congregation present.  They do not like this rigid formality which is somewhat like doing the liturgy with blinders on.  I have been in worship services that have fallen victim to this kind of rigid formality in which no one really feels at home or welcome.  It is as is we were all there in our own little private spaces but occupying larger space where the Mass was being offered.  Indeed, some of the complaints I have about the highly liturgical RC Masses (EF or Novus Ordo) is that it seems as if everything was going on without acknowledging an assembled congregation.  Interestingly, I have also heard the same complaint of distinctly non-liturgical "praise" worship in which each person present was in their own little world, soft of a me'n'Jesus all by ourselves atmosphere.

Although I would not use the terms dignified informality, I do understand that the formal worship of the liturgy does not ignore the fact that there are people present -- real people and not plastic folks or robotic people in the pews.  I have often described the services here as liturgical but not formal.  In other words, we have lots of kids and lots of little kids and babies.  We have some folks with back problems who cannot sit for long.  Sometimes it is a bit more ordered chaos than I feel comfortable with but most times there is a balance between the formal, liturgical worship of the Divine Service with its ceremonies, usages, and rituals and a congregation of folks of all ages who walk around in the back, who take a child to the rest room, whose little hands occasionally drop a hymnal, whose feet sometimes kick down a kneeler in the wrong spot, etc.  Once I had a child wander into the chancel during the distribution when a young mom with a baby in her arms was communing and the small child let go of her arm to come up and give me a hug.  It happens.  Sort of like the unplanned things of a dinner table at home.  We are not manor born folk or landed gentry.  We are ordinary people.

I am certain that Pr. Messer was sensitive to the fact that it was no secret the Kieschnick administration favored and fostered blended worship or contemporary worship as the essential tool of outreach and growth.  I am in no way inclined to that point of view.  But I am also certain that Pr. Messer did not mean that the folks in the pews were like the perfect children of old -- seen and not heard.  It seems what we struggle with is a middle ground.  On the one hand, the form of worship for Lutherans is the liturgy (no matter which page number in the book or whether it is printed out in the Sunday bulletin).

We are people of the liturgy or Divine Service.  But we do not perform the liturgy as some sort of ritualistic play designed to prove our piety to God.  The liturgy is the DIVINE Service -- God's service to us through the means of grace.  We expect children to be present and there is something wrong when they are not.  We are not actors playing a role to please God but Pastors whose voices and hands God uses to deliver to us His Word and Sacraments and a people who receive, through faith, the gifts He offers there (forgiveness, life, and salvation).

I would not have called it dignified informality anymore than I want orderly chaos.  What we want is a liturgical setting which is not casual but neither is it rigidly formal.  The key to this, in part, lies with the attitude of the Pastor presiding.  Some see the liturgy as monologue time and crack enough jokes and engage in slapstick humor which demeans what God is doing among us.  Others believe the faces of folks at the Mass should be devoid of every emotion.

The dignity of the liturgy is a given because of the God who bids us come and then bestows upon us His gifts and grace.  Formality is a given because we are not spontaneous but follow a form -- the liturgy. Say the black, do the red.  That is good advice.  Strong, loving, and wise presiding helps.  Pastors who are comfortable in their own skin while at the altar and pulpit, to be sure. And it does not hurt that the people are at home in the liturgy enough to be instinctive about what is going on and where things are headed.


Janis Williams said...

Dignified informality. Black jean with no holes. Singing with hands raised, but no swaying allowed. Drums on 'stage' but muffled by a plexiglass cubicle. Praise teams with women up front, but no low blouses or short skirts. Pastors who don't wear 'dresses' and don't show off by chanting.

Dignified informality is like saying, "jumbo shrimp."

We spent years looking for dignified formality. Show us to that 'dead orthodox' church, we want to attend there, please.

Todd Wilken had it right the other day. When the powers-that-be want to introduce contemporary, relevant, informal (whatever word you'd like to insert other than traditional liturge), RUN! The question (according to Todd) to ask when this happens: "What is more Lutheran about this than what we are doing?"
Another one: "So what changes will we make in order to keep our children dignified but informal?"

Preachrboy said...

What was the Cwirla quote, "Relaxed formality"? That might be a better approach.

Preachrboy said...

Preachrboy said...

Sorry, the correct quote is "relaxed dignity", from the first comment to this post:

Anonymous said...

Preachrboy's comments are helpful. It's interesting in the two formulations what is foremost, the noun of the pair, and what is secondary, the adjective.

Just as their is an enormous difference between "Christian Lutheran" and "Lutheran Christian", so I would say is there a world of difference between "dignified informality" and "relaxed dignity." In the first instance, informality is the chief virtue. In the second, dignity. Prs. Peters and Cwirla explain the importance of the second well.

Pr. John Rutz