Saturday, 13 May 2006

opinion columns

Geoffrey Rowell writes about dance: Let us ignore the mantras of modernity and dance the sacred dances.

Michael Binyon writes about a tent: London opens its desert tent of timelessness.

Christopher Howse writes about the Hidden life of Charterhouse.

Bob Holman writes about obituaries in Face to Faith.

Earlier in the week, following this news report, Simon Jenkins wrote about church buildings: The most important financial appeal I know is new roofs for old churches. This caused some letters in response today.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 13 May 2006 at 3:28pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

Geoffrey Rowell's column ties in nicely with the Monday, 8 May column on GenY. Yesterday, Friday 12 May I officiated at the wedding of a man and woman both age 21. They wanted the standard (ECUSA) 1972 Prayer Book wedding. No modern touches. No personal vows. In our pre-marital counseling sessions they shared with me their distaste for what my generation has come to call "happy-clappy" church music and unstructured worship. What they and their friends want is the old shape of the liturgy. They don't need the Elizabethan language, but the mystery of the traditional Eucharist is what they want, in buildings and patterns that enhance that mystery. And they wouldn't mind the hymns being made a little up-tempo, but they definitely want the old words of the old hymns. And they definitely want Jesus.

Four years ago I spent eight days at a triennual gathering of USA Episcopalian teens called Episcopal Youth Event, and I experienced the same thing. Yes, the accompaniment to the music was often a rock band and back-up group. But it was also a string quartet accompanying Taize chant, and an Australian indigenous instrument called a didgeridoo, and Native American drums and flutes. Yes, "Hyferdol" was played and sung in 2/4 time instead of 3/4, with syncopation. Yes there were songs that are not in the current authorized hymnal. But the theological grounding of the music was solid, and the shape of worship was absolutely traditional, filled with mystery, 1500 young people plus adults and bishops from all over the Episcopal Church being united across the generation gaps, practicing the faith and spirituality of our forebears. A different beat, but the same dance. And the same Jesus, doing the same things - healing, reconciling, renewing.

So I'm going to be careful about making assumptions about what kind of worship young people want. Instead, I ask them. I continue be surprised at what draws young people to Jesus, because it's most often the same things that draw me to Him.
Lois Keen, Priest
Diocese of Pennsylvania, ECUSA

Posted by: The Rev'd Lois Keen on Saturday, 13 May 2006 at 9:04pm BST

Lois' comments are very interesting. At the parish where I worship there have been on-again, off-again discussions about the necessity for parish growth and how to attract younger worshippers. I should add that I am under 30, and have yet to be drawn into this discussion. What I find most disturbing is that the majority of the people talking about 'what young people want' are anything but young, and frequently talking in strictly abstract terms. I find this worrisome, given that I am not a concept, but a person.
The parish where I worship uses the Interim Rite (1928). I was not taught to pray using this language, which is simply the standard English of an earlier century. I can see why it would appeal to some people, but don't accept it as a staple in the diet - it just isn't in my world. This does not mean that I would exclude a rite based on the use of pronouns and frilly verb endings, but given that the precision or grandeur of the language is generally advanced as the main reason to want to use it I can't say I really find it attractig to be invited to a literary seance masquerading as public liturgy. It strikes me as basically inhospitable, requiring one to be 'in' for the fullest appreciation of the experience. Or, in a darker moment, I would say it's possibly a little Pharisaical.
The problem with much 'youth liturgy' (code for anything pitched at the under-40s) is that it assumes that they have the same spiritual needs and wants as their parents. This is actually out of step with past patterns of church life: go back a century and look at the organisational life of the average parish church and you'll see various levels of involvement available accross a whole spectrum of ages. Compare that to the current day and the organisational life of your average parish church looks anemic by comparison. It sort of matches a worshipping life that has been stripped back to the point of becoming banal.
I find it most interesting that on the other thread, everyone is discussing a significant, but all the same, VERY insular topic. This is pretty much what I mean when I say that most outreach to younger people amounts to co-opting them into a shared set of prejudices, rather than a call to a saving faith in Christ.

Posted by: k1eranc on Sunday, 14 May 2006 at 8:13am BST

I've got to say that I agree with +Rowell that "modernisation can too easily cut us off from deeply rooted spiritual wisdom" - there is so much wisdom and human experience that we miss out on if we follow the current cultural attitude of old = irrelevant.

However there is also the need to relate to a culture that has that attitude; especially youth. Some UK Anglican networks are very successful with mainly modern presentational and musical styles. One example is "Soul Survivor" which was attended by over 20000 last summer: At least two Anglican Bishops are speakers this summer, including Bishop Pete Broadbent of TA fame:

Personally I don't see the two as incompatible. It is the core message and wisdom that is unchanging. But this has to translated a new for every culture and generation.

Posted by: Dave on Sunday, 14 May 2006 at 5:53pm BST

Surely any world religion which does not spend a sufficient amount of time caring for and transmitting the many treasures of its faith is - as conservatives are ever wont to remind us - in danger of becoming rootless, then blowing away in the next strong wind.

That said, the smart thing is always to let people begin just where they are, and to ask them what really moves them as you get acquainted. Modern humans of all generations and sorts have simply plenty of docking points, sticking out all over every cell of mind, body, heart, and spirit. But letting the sabbath conform to the human is still as difficult and controversial as it seems to have been in the days of the New Testament Jesus. As always, the people in charge too often equate being rich with the treasures of faith with having to treat others as either potential robbers and gold diggers, or as still yet beneath being privileged to safely handle the legacy silver with such grimy, average fingers.

The reach of our getting acquainted with one another across and among all the divides and differences needs to go so far beyond the core conservative rants about holiness, sin and repentance (conformed to cult, to purity) that the difference isn't funny in the least. It is not just Gen Y we fail to get, thought Gen Y is a good demonstration of these core issues in part.

One would think all this was just a total no-brainer, except that so far as one can tell from current religious leadership around the world, it isn't a no brainer. Too many world religious leaders, with notable exceptions thank goodness, are so entirely self-satisfied with just how their own following of Jesus or somebody else tick tocks, that they quickly conclude they must simply be the tick tock of all following of Jesus, or somebody else.

Alas. Lord have mercy. Despite our misunderstandings and brainpan chuffs, God is still at work - and sometimes it looks like our faith communities need that as much as any supposedly external world venue or group. Thank goodness. Thank God.

Posted by: drdanfee on Sunday, 14 May 2006 at 7:12pm BST

Addendum: Some folks cannot wait until the rest of us get it; they just sense that it is time to move ahead, regardless, and not mainly wishing to be against anybody else particularly, probably do hope the rest of us might someday catch up, to the extent that we genuinely can get this or that. An example of which I may be speaking in USA is: House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota.

See link at:,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/

While you are there, if, do catch the Easter season sermons given by Father James Alison: at:

There are indeed many others, most often flying below the institutional radar as it were. Hence, my guess that God is at work, regardless. Wow. Now that is my sort of Great Spirit, moving as always through fallible individual people who are called despite their being, say, hot headed fishermen or tax collector assistant, or - as Shakyamuni is said to have done, calling a lowly used flower seller to walk a new path. (It has been heartwarming to read some Buddhist history in this the Easter season even now passing onto another phase.) And inevitably, a community of pilgrims is gathered together, and then wow come the great blessings, if indeed blessings. Our letter kills, but the spirit constantly gives new life, even though in retrospect it seems like an iteration on the real, old life that is indeed the only eternal life.

Surely both the local church and the local worlds in which we live must all be vehicles of our journey, our spiritual growth.

Posted by: drdanfee on Sunday, 14 May 2006 at 8:43pm BST

There's some lovely postings on this thread. I think one of the mistakes that some people make is thinking that if people don't come to church that means they don't believe in God. I know a lot of people who refuse to participate in church life because they have been burnt by judgmental bullies, but when I watch how they handle difficult circumstances are often more compassionate and biblically consistent in their behaviours and choices than those born and bred in a church community. (And I've often asked why they have made such a choice and they have quoted a bible parable to justify their decision).

Also, I am aware that Generation Y also have a tendency to not disclose their innermost selves, so how they respond to a survey questionnaire does not necessarily reflect their inner character. Particularly in times where religion is being abused (justifying suicide bombings or wars based on lies), souls will deny their faith - but this is often more a rejection of those who are misusing the name of God for their own ends than a rejection of God per se.

Another issue is that people have tended to "bundle" things. So refusing to believe in Creationism = rejecting God. Being "liberal" = rejecting God. Opposing a war = being an anarchist. One of the delights of the last few months is seeing a plethora of books being written where people are challenging core assumptions e.g. left vs right, up vs down, legalism vs intent, God and the environment, common themes across religions (e.g. Karen Armstrong). Similarly some of the interfaith and intra-faith gatherings also offer hope of breakthroughs in terms of breaking down stereotypes and ignorance

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Tuesday, 16 May 2006 at 9:32am BST

There is much discussion regarding which rite to use. I believe there are rites to suit most people. However I depricate the practice of some clergy to impose their wishes on churches in the hope of growing the church. Invariably it does not work. Personally the Interim rite is my favourite, since it maintains a language which can easily be understood and at the same time maintains the majesty and mystery of the mass. The modern Anglican and Roman rites are besides being inaccurate in places,very lacking in conveying either of these qualities in the worship to Almighty God. In addition it has been my experience that young people get on quite easily with this language. However it depends whether when you go to church you wish to leave the world outside rather than bring it in with you.

Posted by: Trevor Standen on Tuesday, 5 December 2006 at 7:00pm GMT
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