Friday, December 6, 2013

On the Rev. Leonard Freeman’s December 8, 2013 article in the Living Church.

My deacon recently gave me an article from "The Living Church" entitled "Martha, Martha, Be Still."  The context was a vestry discussion about using full service leaflets to make newcomers feel more welcomed.  The Rev. Freeman's admonition: "Let's put away the printing presses and copy machines and save a tree or two," coming on the heels of the vestry conversation was of certainly of interest.

The Reverend Freeman's article, however, was really about liturgical change and the appropriate amount of change from week to week.  He did not speak to the need to be hospitable to newcomers.  I assume that, as we would do in my parish, any full service leaflet used would merely be the prayer book service in convenient offering, and thus would not offend him.  For those to whom the words of the prayerbook have become a mantra, whether presented in one form or another matters not.

His thoughts on change in liturgy, however, did catch my attention and as you can see below, gave me pause of considerable thought.  The context is considerable change in the life of the parish I serve.  I am the new priest-in-charge.  Just before my arrival, a new organist and choirmaster was also added to the staff.  The combination of these two changes has meant that the "feel" of worship in our parish has, no doubt, changed considerably (even though we both are trying not to change anything). 

In this context, here are my thoughts on the Rev. Freeman's article:

I agree with the Rev. Leonard Freeman.
  1. if a priest-in-charge of a congregation has begun using full service leaflets as a way of escaping the prayer book, then that priest has erred.  I agree with his directive:  “Use the book.”
  2. the prayer book provides a “sameness, consistency, and a mantra” that is to be valued.
  3. his implied critique that some clergy change things for the sake of change (or because they are bored) should be applauded.  Clergy who change merely for the sake of change are forsaking their responsibility to the community of faith to lead the community in worship worthy of the name.
  4. Just as Jesus praised Mary’s behavior over Martha’s, the Rev. Freeman is surely correct to admonish us: “Stop being Martha.”  And further, agree with him that as leaders of worship we priests-in-charge should encourage “Mary” to listen, and deepen, and connect with the Spirit.”
I disagree, however, with a number of his assumptions and conclusions. 

  1. He juxtaposes change and unchanging liturgy as “competing” understandings of spiritual practice.  The liturgy of the prayer book, however, calls for change.  The collect of the day changes in its own cycle.  The proper preface of the season changes.  Even in ordinary time, the proper preface is changeable--the prayer book forcing the celebrant to make a choice between three different options.  During Lent, one is required to stop saying “Alleluia.”  In Rite I Holy Eucharist, the prayer book requires a choice between Eucharistic Prayer 1 or Prayer 2.  In Rite II, the choice is between A, B, C, and D.  All of this is just to point out the obvious--change and un-change are not absolutes.  Even if one wished to change as little as possible from service to service, day to day, week to week--some changes are rubrically required.  Other changes, while not rubrically required, are good liturgical practice.  Would one really want to stop the seasonal change in the colors of the hangings?  Further, General Convention, with the adoption of the Book of Occasional Services, has opened the possibility (if not the suggestion) that priestly blessings be changed seasonally, etc.  All of this to say--even in a place that wished to be unchanging (and use as few of the pages in the Book of Common Prayer as possible)--change is required if one is to be faithful to rubrics of the prayer book.  Further, is it really bad spiritual practice to use the fullness of the prayerbook and other liturgical resources approved for our use by the General Convention?
  2. We know different clergy.  We should swap rolodexes.  Most of the clergy he knows, he says, favor change.  Most of the clergy I know would rather have a root canal than to change their personally preferred routine practice.  I am surprised a few of my colleagues can manage refraining from saying “Alleluia” during the season of Lent (such is their discomfort with change).  This is to say, I find his statement “Clergy mostly favor variety, I think” to be an over-generalization, even with the caveats of “mostly” and “I think.”  It would probably be fairer to say:  “Some clergy (like me) prefer to change as little as possible from liturgy to liturgy and some clergy like to change everything possible from liturgy to liturgy and some clergy are somewhere in between.”  He could even say, “Some clergy even go so far as to break the rubrics of the prayer book in their desire to change things up (or in their desire never to change anything.).”
  3. I cannot take him seriously that he really believes any change since 1549 is ill advised.  I doubt liturgists “forgot” that “thee/thou” language was familiar and thus comforting and that such comfort was to be valued.  Or, that familiar language can be a “mantra” and thus a “gateway” to a “transcendent spiritual place.”  In each liturgical revision since 1549 thoughtful christians have struggled with what revisions are necessary.  And, there are a number of dangers in not changing.  A fact that should not go unnoticed in this regard.  Further, being fallible, sometimes their judgments in this regard have been in error.  But, that is not to say all change is bad and all unchanging is good.
  4. His statement:  “Go for the rote. Give it a season, and then another season.” Implies one should make no changes from one season to the next and as pointed out above, some seasonal changes are required by the prayer book and other seasonal changes (like the colors of the hangings) are good liturgical practice.  All change is not bad.  In short, I think he over simplifies the issues at play and overgeneralizes at several points.

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