Saturday, April 20, 2013

Worship Style

Thinking Anglicans has called attention to a blog post by David Murrow. The title of the post is “Why traditional churches should stick with traditional worship.” Murrow is an Alaskan who usually worships in an Anchorage megachurch. He claims to like his church, though he offers some criticisms of megachurches generally.

Murrow’s essay is about a church offering traditional worship in his hometown of Chugiak. (For some reason, Murrow doesn’t identify the church, though I suspect it is Lutheran. He calls it St. Mark’s.) Here is his description of a typical service at the Chugiak church:
We’ve been enjoying our Sundays at St. Mark’s. The richness and rigor of the liturgy is refreshing after years of seeker-sensitive services. It’s an eight-course meal, carefully measured out for us by church fathers—confession, forgiveness, praise, instruction, communion, giving, fellowship and benediction. It’s like a spiritual multivitamin in an easy-to-swallow, hour-long pill.
Once a month, however, St. Mark’s conducts a “contemporary” service. Lacking the appropriate resources, however, it does not do it well. This is what Murrow has to say about the service:
People come to church to encounter God. A good worship service is transcendent; it helps people detach from this present world to connect with the divine. But when traditional churches try to be contemporary it usually comes across as forced, stilted or artificial. This dissonance jerks people back into the mundane world. Worshippers focus on the distraction instead of the Lord.
Murrow urges churches offering traditional services to continue doing traditional services well. He concludes his essay saying, “I firmly believe there’s still a market for traditional worship—even among the young—if it’s done in Spirit and in Truth.”

There is a message for St. Paul’s here. When I first came to St. Paul’s, our identity was very much tied to excellence in worship. In recent years, however, our traditional worship has deteriorated in many small ways, and we have flirted with more “hip” worship. As we try to be all things to all people, our identity becomes confused, and true excellence is worship becomes increasingly difficult to identify.

Read Murrow’s essay, and see what you think.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Video on Church Architecture

Clearly, the current 8:45 service and the now retired Refuge service represent attempts to make worship more meaningful to modern Americans. Even the Saturday evening service might be said to have such an objective. I personally find none of these services attractive for regular worship. Some agree with this view; others do not. If there is a way to attract crowds of new worshipers to services at St. Paul’s, we have not found it.

I will be the first to admit that I do not know how to make worship at St. Paul’s  more “relevant” to people who do not regularly attend existing services. What moves me does not necessarily move others. Whereas I do not believe that every American Christian should be an Episcopalian, I do think there are more people out there than we sometimes realize who could happily join our church given the right circumstances.

What has me thinking about this is a video I found on Bosco Peters’ blog. Bosco is a priest in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the diocese is considering how it should rebuild its cathedral, which was largely destroyed by an earthquake two years ago. The video, which appears below, is narrated by Richard Giles, the former dean of Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. That church made extensive architectural changes that facilitated liturgical changes. St. Paul’s, of course, has also made changes to its building, namely by modifying the chancel and building a platform extending to the crossing to accommodate a freestanding altar.

Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral made more significant architectural changes. I don’t mean to be endorsing such changes necessarily, but the video is thought-provoking. See if you don’t agree.