WARNING: This rant may not offer anything of interest to anyone who is not ensconced in a liturgical church, most especially an Episcopal Church.
I grew up in the Episcopal Church. Some people call that a “cradle Episcopalian,” which strikes me as a leftover of the denomination’s class-bound British roots – as in, “I was born into this high class rather than married into it or some other cheap entrance.”
The high-tone literate nature of our prayers, patterned as they are after the foreign culture of Elizabethan English with its strained formality, and our heavily Euro-centric hymnody with dutiful and restrained lyrics, are as familiar to me as blue sky and billowing clouds. I confess it so often feels utterly alien to me.
I have become thoroughly secularized, which does not mean faithless or unfaithful.
Becoming secularized means that there is absolutely no confusion between God and the spiritual nature of the universe with the institution we call Church. My thoroughly secularized mind means I cannot see the parades and costumes and offices and peculiar customs of the Church as singularly or exclusively imbued with God, and so they are parades and costumes and offices and peculiar customs – some of which I actually like but others so foreign I look at them and shake my head.
Those of you that know me, know the worship I have been helping to create for the past quarter of a century is, at its most conservative, a blend of tradition and post-modern; and at its most progressive is simply post-modern (which includes elements of ageless ritual and ancient wisdom).
Sacred spaces, which many of the churches I have been blessed to serve truly are, offer a sense of the holy whether we add anything to them or not. But tromping around with theatrical attitudes can also easily violate sacred spaces. Most of the time when I visit Episcopal churches for worship, or participate in the grand liturgies that are the command performance for the gathering of clergy, it feels to me that the sacred is being violated by the inauthentic.
Wait! I recognize this may be the cost of secularization and that there are plenty of people for whom the mojo is still present in what The Episcopal Church usually offers. But I also recognize that the path I have trod is the path of most people in our culture. I am a thoroughly secularized Christian but many of those who have become thoroughly secularized are no longer practicing Christians because Christian practice has not been secularized also.
In fact, secularization is a bad word in theological circles. It means “non-sacred” in most traditions. But postmodern spirituality has come to embrace the entire Cosmos as sacred – an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible God. Secularization does not preclude the sacred but recognizes the sacred beyond our institutional ideas about the holy.
None of this is to deny the importance of ritual or tradition or sacred space.
Many of the things we do in worship can continue to be done and still attract and nourish secularized people, but it needs a greater degree of authenticity as well as rootedness in the present even more than in the past.
- Preaching, for one thing, needs to be compelling and cut to the bone.
- Music needs diversity in the ways that our culture is diverse.
- Ritual needs to employ language and elements of the present century even while including those of the past.
Even the definitions of sacred and holy are changing before our very eyes, and have changed already. I am beginning to think that I am, and others like me are, canaries in the mine. If so, I am still singing; and praying to God for the voice to continue.