Thursday, February 10, 2005

Longing for Liturgy: Part One

This blog came out of reflections on bobbi's post Ash Wednesday in

It was another Wednesday of no particular significance in the church calendar. We were on our first holiday away from children, and found ourselves in romantic Charleston strolling cobbled streets in evening light. When bells began to toll, we followed the sound to a wonderful Episcopal church where earlier we had wandered among ancient tombs and pieced together stories of Colonial America. This time, we were not alone. From behind iron gates and painted doors in that museum perfect city, citizens of every discription emerged. A lady in a mink coat and diamonds, a poor man on crutches, a woman in a wheelchair, her friend, street people. There were young folk dressed in jeans and tees; older folk whose clothes, conservative and clean, had seen better days. There were children, holding hands with parents. White folk. Black folk. Gay and straight folk. A lot of hugging, waving and greeting as we all poured into the church.
Like Bobbi and Liam we were eyed with curiosity and welcome. We were greeted with a handshake at the door and carried willingly to places near the front.
It was a low church service of the kind we now refer to as "blended," a little guitar, a little organ. There was the usual juggle with the books. No matter. I didn't care if I got it right. I just soaked in the Spirit of the place, the clear intentionality of the worshippers, the focus on prayer and scripture, the beauty of the read prayers, the sincere tears at general confession, the release of absolution. The homily was a gentle reminder of our Christian duty within the world. With a full heart, I received communion, and let my tears of joy and longing fall unhindered.
I had been sneaking the restfulness of liturgy for years. It provided soothing contrast to the lively music, hearty singing, hand clapping, and "testimonies" of my home church. Read prayers were a considered change from the spontaneous, well-meant ramblings, which sometimes invited the Lord to endorse a narrow personal agenda. Communion drew my heart. Having grown up and served in a non-sacramental church, this act of ritual had special appeal to me. I loved the fact that one was not forced to walk the aisle alone, but that all those who wanted to receive came forward together. I loved that I participated in an act of worship which linked me to Christians around the world and down through history. The significance of this brought me to tears each time I participated. I could barely stand from the sense of holiness I felt in this...probably was very close being slain in the spirit right there in the Anglican/Episcopal church. This was the power of Communion for me.
Over the years, we have continued to seek out respite from evangelicalism in churches which have a highly liturgical service. Amongst the highlights: daily morning prayer at the little Anglican Church at Jackson's Point, Ontario; Christmas Eve in a Lutheran church in Florida; a memorial service for transplant donors at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Toronto; an Episcopal service in Savannah, the first Sunday of the war on Iraq.
We had crossed the border with some trepidation on the day the U.S. declared war. Strangely, there was no bottleneck, no added questioning. We sailed blythely on our way; Tybee Island, our longed for holiday destination. We had chosen Sunday as one of our days to tour nearby Savannah, and knowing from a previous visit that there was a church on just about every square in the old city, we had our pick. We began early, walking the squares, trying to sense the Spirit of each place, reading sermon topics on notice boards, noting times, praying. Our stroll took us to the Episcopalian Church. Somehow we knew we would feel at home.
It was a subdued service. We had expected perhaps, some flag waving, a chorus or two of God Bless America. No. It was a straight, right out of the book, Anglican/Episcopal service, with some resounding hymns and a homily taken from the lectionary texts for the day. (Rob has been preaching from the common lectionary for nearly twenty years. It forces him to come to terms with scripture, rather than riding any particular hobby horse. However, I stray.) So the sermon instructed us how we should live in the light of scripture. There is a place in the Episcopal service of prayer where names are mentioned specifically. It was there and there only where the war on Iraq was mentioned. It was acknowledged that some in the large congregation had relatives and friends who would be serving and be in danger. They were prayed for. AND THE IRAQI PEOPLE WERE PRAYED FOR. Simply. Lovingly. Non-dogmatically. Without prejudice. Kindly. The war had just begun, but there was healing in that place. The liturgy, the structure of the service had provided us all with safety from the urgency of the moment and placed us squarely where we should be in Kingdom goals and Kingdom ends. I am still thankful.

Some years ago Rob and I read a book called "Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: why evangelicals are attracted to the liturgical church" by Robert E. Webber. More about this later.


bobbie said...

oooh, thanks for taking the time to do this - i can't wait for part II!

daisymarie said...

I'm ready for "more."

One word really struck me here and it keeps rolling about in my head (some would say there's plenty of room for that): intentionality.

Thank you for this!

blessings and grace!

Deb said...

Me too...ready for part II. The book you mentioned sounds very interesting.