Archive for the ‘St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church Athens Georgia’ Category

Good Society, Part VI   1 comment

Above:  Christ Blessing the Children, by Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Leviticus 19:1-18 or 2 Kings 2:1-15

Psalm 68:1-6, 32-35

Hebrews 7:22-8:12

Mark 9:38-50

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MAKE LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR GREAT AGAIN.

–A sign I saw on a bulletin board in the copy room at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, in 2019

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What else am I supposed to think when I cannot possibly reconcile the Biblical commandment to welcome the strangers among us with news stories about refugees at the southern border of the United States treated as criminals and worse than feral four-legged animals?

The divine law–the one we, as human beings, are supposed to have written on our hearts–teaches the following timeless principles, among others:

  1. We depend entirely on God.
  2. We depend on each other.
  3. We are responsible to each other.
  4. We are responsible for each other.
  5. We have no right to exploit each other.

The Law of Moses abounds with culturally-specific examples of those timeless principles.  We can think of effective, culturally-specific ways of fulfilling those timeless principles in our societies, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, et cetera.  Whenever, wherever, and whoever one is, one has a divine vocation to practice the Golden Rule.  When one’s life ends, others will continue that vocation.

I ask you, O reader, to read Leviticus 19:1-18.  Identify the timeless principles and the culturally-specific examples of them.  Then ponder your society.  How could your society improve with the application of the timeless principles?  Ask yourself what the best tactics may be.  Examine yourself spiritually, also.  How could you improve with the application of the timeless principles?  Trust God to help you do so.

Society is people.  Society shapes people and influences their opinions.  However, people also shape society.

May we shape our societies for the better–for the common good and the glory of God–with the help of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 26, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANNE AND JOACHIM, PARENTS OF SAINT MARY OF NAZARETH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/26/devotion-for-proper-23-year-b-humes/

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Uncomfortable and Difficult   2 comments

Above:  Elijah Slays the Prophets of Baal

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Exodus 24:12-18 or 1 Kings 18:1, 17-40

Psalm 58

Hebrews 3

Mark 8:14-21

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I teach a Sunday School class in which I cover each week’s readings according to the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).  The RCL has much to commend it, but it is imperfect.  (Of course, it is imperfect; it is a human creation.)  The RCL skirts many challenging, violent passages of scripture.  This post is is a devotion for a Sunday on an unofficial lectionary, however.  The note on the listing for Psalm 58 reads,

Not for the faint of heart.

Indeed, a prayer for God to rip the teeth from the mouths of one’s enemies is not feel-good fare.  Neither is the slaughter of the prophets of Baal Peor (1 Kings 18:40).

I remember a Sunday evening service at my parish years ago.  The lector read an assigned passage of scripture with an unpleasant, disturbing conclusion then uttered the customary prompt,

The word of the Lord.

A pregnant pause followed.  Then the congregation mumbled its proscribed response,

Thanks be to God.

The theme uniting these five readings is faithfulness to God.  Jesus, we read, was the paragon of fidelity.  We should be faithful, too, and avoid committing apostasy.  We should also pay attention and understand, so we can serve God better.  Hopefully, metaphors will not confuse us.

I perceive the need to make the following statement.  Even a casual study of the history of Christian interpretation of the Bible reveals a shameful record of Anti-Semitism, much of it unintentional and much of it learned.  We who abhor intentional Anti-Semitism still need to check ourselves as we read the Bible, especially passages in which Jesus speaks harshly to or of Jewish religious leaders in first-century C.E. Palestine.  We ought to recall that he and his Apostles were practicing Jews, too.  We also need to keep in mind that Judaism has never been monolithic, so to speak of “the Jews” in any place and at any time is to open the door to overgeneralizing.

To condemn long-dead Jewish religious leaders for their metaphorical leaven and not to consider our leaven would be to miss an important spiritual directive.  To consider our leaven is to engage in an uncomfortable, difficult spiritual exercise.  It does not make us feel good about ourselves.

We also need to ask ourselves if we are as dense as the Apostles in the Gospel of Mark.  To do that is uncomfortable and difficult, also.

Sometimes we need for scripture to make us uncomfortable.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/devotion-for-proper-19-year-b-humes/

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Thoughts and Questions About the Temptations of Jesus   2 comments

Above:  The Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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For St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia

Lent 2019

 

Texts:  Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

Reading the Bible for spiritual formation is an ancient Benedictine practice.  My primary purpose in writing this short piece is to ask, how do the accounts (mainly the Lukan and Matthean ones) of the temptations of Jesus challenge us, both as individuals and a parish, to follow Jesus better than we do.

The Temptation to Turn Stones into Bread

Bread was especially precious in ancient Palestine, with relatively little arable land.

We are blessed to be able to purchase our bread inexpensively at stores.  Bread is abundant in our context, so we probably take it for granted more often than not.  We can, however, think of some tangible needs related to scarcity.

One challenge is not to permit tangible needs to overtake intangible necessities.  We all depend entirely on God and dwell within a web of mutual responsibility and dependence.  According to the late Henri Nouwen, this temptation is the temptation to be relevant.  Relevance is not necessarily bad; in fact, it is frequently positive.  However, maintaining the proper balance of tangible and intangible needs is essential.  Furthermore, Christ’s refusal to cave into the temptation to use his power to make bread—to cease to depend on God—ought to remind us never to imagine that we do not depend entirely on God.

Questions

  1. Do we permit tangible needs to distract us from intangible necessities?  If so, how?
  2. Do we manifest the vain idea that we do not depend entirely on God?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple

Many scholars of the New Testament have proposed what the pinnacle of the Temple was.

That matter aside, this temptation is, according to Nouwen, the temptation to be spectacular.  It is also the temptation to attempt to manipulate God by trying to force God to intervene in a miraculous way.  That effort, like turning stones into bread, would indicate a lack of faith.

We humans frequently like the spectacular, do we not?  We tell ourselves and others that, if only God would do something spectacular, we will believe.  We are like those who, in the Gospels, only wanted Jesus to do something for them, and not to learn from him.

Questions

  1. Does our attraction to the spectacular distract us from the still, small voice of God?  If so, how?
  2. Does our attraction to the spectacular reveal our lack of faith?  If so, how?
  3. Does our attraction to the spectacular unmask our selfishness?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Worship Satan in Exchange for Earthly Authority

Many Palestinian Jews at the time of Christ thought of Satan as the power behind the Roman Empire and of the Roman pantheon as a collection of demons.  Jesus affirmed God the Father as the only source of his identity.

This temptation is about idolatry, power, and morally untenable compromises.

Many well-intentioned people—ministers, politicians, and appointed office holders, for example—have, in the name of doing good, become corrupt and sacrificed their suitability to do good.  They have sacrificed their moral integrity on the altar of amoral realism.

Some compromises are necessary, of course.  As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, we cannot help but commit some evil while trying to do good, for human depravity has corrupted social systems and institutions.

Questions

  1. Have we established our identity apart from God?  If so, how?
  2. How have we, with good intentions, committed or condoned evil?
  3. Have we made morally untenable compromises?  If so, how?

The Good News

The good news is both collective and individual.

I discover the principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Jesus has modeled the way to resist temptation—to trust God and to understand scripture.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

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The Tribe of Alleged Heretics and/or Apostates   Leave a comment

Above:  My Heretic Shirt

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Although some have accused me of apostasy, I am not an apostate.  And, despite allegations of heresy, I do not consider myself a heretic.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1973) defines apostasy as

a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.

The same reference work, noting that “heresy” derives from Greek and Latin words for choosing, defines heresy as

opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, esp. of a church or religious system.

Doctrinal purity tests generally irk me.  One reason is that I fail them.  I know enough ecclesiastical history to state confidently that, within the Western Christian tradition alone, the Roman Catholic magisterium has redefined aspects of orthodoxy more than once.  One might point to the case of Origen (185-254), one of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.  He was orthodox, especially with regard to Trinitarian theology, during his lifetime.  After the First Council of Nicaea (325), however, he became a heretic of the ex post facto variety.  Furthermore, many of the items on doctrinal purity tests are not key to salvation.  My rejection of the Virgin Birth, therefore, should not marginalize me theologically.

I have always been intrinsically intellectual.  The dominant form of Christianity around me during my formative years was anti-intellectual, reactionary, Pietistic, and revivalistic Protestantism.  It never fit me.  I have also always been an introvert.  Thus the contemplative traditions of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have appealed to me.  Also, the extroversion typical of Evangelicalism has alienated me from Evangelicalism.  No, ritualism, contemplation, and dispassionate intellectualism have defined my spirituality.

Recently I have heard, in close quarters, condemnations of my “apostate” Episcopal Church.  I have rejected the adjective, of course.

If, however, the reasons for the allegation of apostasy are related to ecclesiastical support for social justice, I embrace the label of “apostate” as a badge of pride.  Yes, I support full civil rights for all human beings, including homosexuals.  I reject homophobia, for I recognize the image of God in people, many of whom are quite different from me.  Yes, I favor the ordination of women.  Equality via the Holy Spirit is a wonderful lesson to learn from many strands of Christian tradition.  I understand that these positions are, according to many of my fellow Christians, heretical, if not apostate.  So be it.  I can do no other.

Various mysteries of the universe perplex me.  One of these is why, in the name of Jesus Christ, so many self-defined conservative Christians adopt political positions that would make Atilla the Hun look like a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) by comparison.  In this context I feel comfortable claiming the tribe of alleged heretics and/or apostates as my own.  In so doing I identify with Jesus, friend of outsiders.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 2, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE NINTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN KONRAD WILHELM LOEHE, BAVARIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND COORDINATOR OF DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN MISSIONS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS NARCISSUS, ARGEUS, AND MARCELLINUS OF TOMI, ROMAN MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ODILO OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SABINE BARING-GOULD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of My Confirmation   Leave a comment

bulletin-december-22-1991

Above:  Cover of the Bulletin, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia, December 22, 1991

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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On the morning of December 22, 1991, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I became an Episcopalian.  The Right Reverend Harry Woolston Shipps (who died recently), then the Bishop of Georgia, confirmed me.  Officially I retained membership in The United Methodist Church until the following Autumn, on the occasion of the 1992 Charge Conference of the Sumner Charge (four congregations at the time).  Indeed, I remained substantially a Methodist for a long time, but I had begun to think of myself as an Episcopalian prior to my confirmation at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Tifton, Georgia.

I have become convinced that I was supposed to become an Episcopalian, for the affiliation is a natural fit for me.  I am, after all, somewhat Roman Catholic while retaining many Protestant influences. Ritual appeals to me strongly also.  Furthermore, The Episcopal Church grants me a wide berth to respect certain traditions, break with other traditions, bring my intellect to bear on my spiritual life, disagree peaceably with many people, and be an introvert without feeling out-of-place.  Evangelicalism, as I have experienced it, is relentlessly extroverted.  That is not an inherently negative characteristic, but the manner in which many extroverts fail to respect the value of introversion and therefore marginalize introverts is unfortunate.  Indeed, personality typing helps to explain why certain denominations and styles of prayer are preferable to some people but not others.  That which feeds one person starves another.

I have never looked back from my choice to become an Episcopalian.  As I have become more liberal in some ways, more conservative in others, and incorporated Lutheran theology into my thought, I have become a different type of Episcopalian than I was in 1991.  My faith life is a work in progress; I wonder how it will proceed as I continue from day to day.  The Episcopalian way of being simply makes sense to me.  Since I moved to Athens, Georgia, in August 2005, I have dwelt spiritually primarily at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia.  I have also frequented two university chaplaincies (Episcopalian and Presbyterian U.S.A.), attended services at First Presbyterian Church and Holy Cross Lutheran Church, engaged in community volunteering at one Presbyterian U.S.A. and two United Methodist congregations, participated in a performance of the first part off Handel’s Messiah at Oconee Presbyterian Church (Watkinsville), and attended community functions at four other churches (Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalist, Assemblies of God, and non-denominational Charismatic) in the area.  Furthermore, I have attended a diocesan gathering at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, without ever entering a worship space there.  The fact that I seldom want to attend services in another denomination demonstrates the fact that I have found my niche.  Why should I seek another place?  Nevertheless, I am agreeable to ecumenical engagements.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-SIXTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK AND WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOPS OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CHAEREMON AND ISCHYRION, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF HENRY BUDD, FIRST ANGLICAN NATIVE PRIEST IN NORTH AMERICA; MISSIONARY TO THE CREE NATION

THE FEAST OF JAMES PRINCE LEE, BISHOP OF MANCHESTER

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The Issue of the Choppiness of Pericopes in the Revised Common Lectionary   Leave a comment

2-thessalonians

Above:  The Second Reading for Proper 26, Year C

Scanned from the Bulletin for St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, October 30, 2016

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) (1992) is a wonderful resource for preaching and Bible study.  With its three-year cycle it covers about one-fourth of the Bible (the Protestant Bible, that is, I suppose).  Certainly the RCL covers more of scripture than does its immediate predecessor, the Common Lectionary (1983) and any of a number of one-year and two-year lectionaries the RCL has replaced in a variety of denominations.  Furthermore, as a number of clergymen and clergywomen have said, the RCL requires them to address passages of the Bible on which they might not have preached otherwise.  Another advantage of reading scripture via a lectionary, the RCL in particular, is that it helps one read passages of scripture in the context of each other.  Scripture is, after all, one context in which to read scripture properly.

Sometimes the RCL chops up passages of scripture, skipping over certain verses.  On some occasions this does not change the meaning or flavor of the pericope; the cut might serve the purpose of sparing the lector of having to read polysyllabic names that have no effect on the point of the lesson, as in Nehemiah 8:4.  Sometimes the cuts create an awkward composite reading yet do not change the meaning of the passage.  For example, the First Reading (Track One) for Proper 26, Year C, is Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, skipping over God’s reply to the prophet and most of the prophet’s answer to God in the first chapter.  The main reason for this kind of cut seems to be time.  Besides, a good homilist can summarize the cut material, so that omission is fine.  I do, however, object to other cuts.

Consider, O reader, 1 Thessalonians 1.  The verses from it assigned for reading on Proper 26, Year C, are 1-4 and 11-12.  This fact makes me more interested in verses 5-10 than I might be otherwise.  In The Revised English Bible (1989) verses 1-4 read:

From Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians who belong to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friends, we are always bound to thank God for you, and it is right that we should, because your faith keeps on increasing and the love you all have for each other grows ever greater.  Indeed we boast about you among the churches of God, because your faith remains so steadfast under all the persecutions and troubles you endure.

Verses 5-10 read:

This points to the justice of God’s judgement; you will be proved worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.  It is just that God should balance the account by sending affliction to those who afflict you, and relief to you who are afflicted, and to us as well, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in blazing fire.  Then he will mete out punishment to those who refuse to acknowledge God and who will not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, cut off from the presence of the Lord, and the splendor of his might, when on the great day he comes to reveal his glory among his own and his majesty among all believers; and therefore among you, since you believed the testimony we brought you.

Verses 11-12, the end of the chapter, read:

With this in mind we pray for you always, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and that his power may bring to fulfilment every good purpose and every act inspired by faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Omitting verses 5-10 removes the crucial link between verses 1-4 and verses 11-12.  It also changes the tone of the reading, dropping the balance of divine judgment and mercy.  I understand that the question of the balance of judgment and mercy in God can be uncomfortable for many people, but that question does recur in both the Old and New Testaments.  I do not pretend to have arrived at answer other than “only God knows.”  So be it.

Omitting uncomfortable verses is a pattern in the RCL, which does not omit all of them.  All one has to do to notice this pattern of avoiding reading certain verses is to pay attention to the RCL’s treatment of the Book of Psalms.  The RCL avoids some Psalms entirely and omits certain uncomfortable passages in others.  The emotions in the Psalms are frequently raw and not Christlike.  This fact might make one uncomfortable speaking, chanting, or singing certain lines in Christian worship.  Nevertheless, the RCL does include all of Psalm 137, even the part about dashing the heads of the children of enemies against a rock.  In contrast, I note that the Common Lectionary (1983) omits the final, vengeful verses of Psalm 137.

I have noticed these omissions more than I used to since I began to teach an adult Sunday School class just over a year ago.  For slightly more than a year I have studied the assigned readings ahead of time so I can lead a discussion of them between the morning services.  More than once I have extended readings in class and led a discussion of pericopes as I have thought they should have been, that is, not chopped up, cut, and pasted.

As much as I affirm the RCL as a useful tool, I also recognize its limitations.  There is, of course, the three-quarters of the (Protestant, I presume) Bible it does not cover.  According to my reading regarding lectionaries, a seven-year cycle would cover just about all of the (Protestant, I presume) material.  How many congregations and homilists are ready for Years A. B, C, D, E, F, and G?  And how much of Leviticus does one what to hear read aloud in church on Sunday mornings?  The main limitation of the RCL is one pastors can fix easily; they can extend readings and restore omitted verses.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT WOLFGANG OF REGENSBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP

THE FEAST OF ALL HALLOWS’ EVE

THE FEAST OF THE REFORMATION

THE VIGIL FOR THE EVE OF ALL SAINTS’ DAY

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Incense, Mustiness, and Sanctity   7 comments

Book of Common Worship 1993

Above:  The Title Page of the Book of Common Worship (1993)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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One does not plead for the use of incense–Presbyterians are not likely to come to that–but at least one may protest against mistaking a general odor of mustiness for the odor of sanctity.

–Kenneth J. Foreman, Professor of Philosophy and Bible, Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, in “Better Worship for Better Living,” Presbyterian Survey, August 1932, page 482

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Foreman’s words struck a chord with me a few years ago, when I found the quote while conducting research.  In fact, I chuckled quietly, as I was in a library at the time.  And, as I have affirmed since, Foreman was correct.

The worship of the living God ought to be an activity characterized by decorum and great dignity.  This attitude of mine explains why I dislike revivalism, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, and contemporary worship, and why I gravitate toward good liturgy.  And yes, I like the use of incense.  Some of the rural United Methodist congregations my father served in southern Georgia, U.S.A., were musty by Foreman’s standard.  Prolonged exposure and subjection to bad liturgy starved my soul.  Now, fortunately, good liturgy has become my steady diet.

U.S. Presbyterianism, despite its strong Puritan-influenced rejection of formal worship, comes from the Church of Scotland, which had a formal liturgy in the 1500s.  (The Church of Scotland, which has had its liturgical ups and downs over the centuries, retains an edition of the Book of Common Order.)  Formal worship–including frequent Holy Communion–is part of the Reformed Christian heritage–its tradition.  Yet this fact constitutes news to many pious Reformed Christians, especially in the United States, where many such congregations follow worship patterns influenced more by Puritanism and bygone rugged frontier conditions than their Protestant Reformation heritage.  As The Worship Sourcebook, Second Edition (2013), a product of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, states:

The biblical Psalms may well have functioned as a prayer book for the people of Israel.  Some of the earliest Christians compiled their advice about forms and patterns of worship into church order documents, the first of which, the Didache, dates back perhaps into the first century A.D.  Over time, especially in the early Medieval period, these documents grew very complex, with detailed instructions about every aspect of worship.

In the Reformation period Martin Luther and John Calvin called for significant changes to recommended or dictated patterns of worship by simplifying the structure and testing every text by theological criteria.  Out of the various Reformation traditions, the Anglican and Lutheran traditions retained the most detailed instructions.  The Anglican tradition preserved common patterns and texts for worship in the famous Book of Common Prayer, while the Lutherans did so in several editions of service books, adapted for use in each town. The Reformed tradition was also a service book tradition, albeit with far simpler liturgy.  In addition to the influence of Huldrych Zwingli’s liturgy, Calvin’s Genevan liturgies were adapted for use in Scotland and Hungary, while new liturgies that were developed near Heidelberg, Germany, became influential in the Netherlands.  Throughout the early decades of the Reformation, pastors did not create new orders of service for worship each week, as so many do today.  Worship was, to the surprise of many contemporary readers, “by the book.”

Despite this tradition, most evangelical and even many Reformed and Presbyterian congregations in North America have resisted the use of formal service books and set liturgies.  This resistance resulted partly from the influence of Puritan critiques of “by the book worship, which were much more stringent than critiques offered by the Reformers.  Other influences included the formation of early Methodist, Baptist, Anabaptist, and other “free church” congregations. as well as the spread of North American populism, pragmatism, and revivalism.  Congregations in many streams of North American Christianity have long resisted being told how to structure worship and have cherished their ability to respond to their own preferences and sense of what is most effective.

As a result, thousands of North American congregations today owe a great deal both to both a two-thousand-year history of service books and to the legacy of North American freedom and populism.  In recent years amid remarkable changes in the practice of worship, hundreds of those congregations are looking for new ways to appropriate both of these aspects of their identity.  Some efforts go by the names “blended worship,” “convergence worship,” or even “ancient-future” worship.  But despite vast and remarkable growth in contemporary music based on popular styles, many of the best-selling books on worship today are, ironically, studies of worship in the early church, prayer books for formal daily prayer, and books about the recovery of the sacraments.  Recent innovations under the umbrella of terms like “postmodern worship” and “alternative worship” sometimes feature even greater interest in traditional forms and texts than in the “contemporary worship” of the 1980s and 1990s–though in configurations that elude easy categorization.

–Pages 28 and 29

Worship the Lord 2005

Above:  The Cover of Worship the Lord:  The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (2005)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Laudable Reformed Christian rituals and service books exist.  I point, for example, to the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1993)  and Book of Occasional Services (1999) as well as to the Reformed Church in America’s Worship the Lord (2005), all of which grace my liturgy library (the Book of Occasional Services as a free PDF).  But how many PC(USA) churchgoers know of their Book of Common Worship?  And how many Reformed Church in America worshipers attend congregations which make little use of the 2005 liturgy?

The first words which enter my mind when I ponder worship in the Presbyterian Church are

decently and in order.

In other words, I think of decorum and great dignity–even if the forms are simpler than they are elsewhere.  Worship patterns vary within denominations, of course, so this generalization does not apply universally among Presbyterians (or members of other denominations).  Yet I affirm the historic Presbyterian commitment to dignity and decorum in worship.

There is a High Church Presbyterian movement; it has existed in its renewed form since at least the middle 1800s.  I have availed myself of archive.org and downloaded certain congregational and semi-official and official service books from Reformed churches.  Such downloaded files join volumes, such as every edition of the U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (starting with the 1906 edition) as invaluable parts of my liturgy library.  I have found denunciations of these “Episcoterian” tendencies in certain online forums.  Perhaps the authors of some of these posts need to review the history of their own tradition and ponder Professor’s Foreman’s critique.

I will be in my Episcopal parish, bowing to the high altar and to processional crosses most Sunday mornings.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 7, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES HEWITT MCGOWN, HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DRAUSINUS AND ANSERICUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF SOISSONS; SAINT VINDICIAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF CAMBRAI; AND SAINT LEODEGARIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF AUTUN

THE FEAST OF EDWARD OSLER, ENGLISH DOCTOR, EDITOR, AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINT PERPETUA AND HER COMPANIONS, MARTYRS