Friday, October 21, 2005

"Renewing Worship": What's that all about?

In recent e-mails and in a couple of suggestions to this blog, I have been encouraged to comment on the the ELCA’s project, called “renewing worship,” under which banner some souls hope to publish a new “worship resource” – which now apparently means a new hymnal and liturgical rites book, together with downloadable “online” resources. I hope that non-Lutherans won’t be offended that I’m taking on such a parochial project. (But really: is it parochial? Is there anything more central to Lutheranism and its relationship to society than the way it worships?) It seems a little off the path of a blog devoted to the intersection of “faith” and “life.” But liturgy is at the heart of all my thinking, and I have been thinking about this issue for a long time and fulminating to anyone who will listen about the wrongheadedness of the ELCA’s project. So I take another personal privilege and risk some kind of a critique.

Let me say that I am not completely informed about what product the renewing worship process will produce. As I understand matters, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly (the Disneyworld Assemble, I am wont to call it) authorized the production of a worship book and it placed responsibility for revising and approving the book in the office of the Presiding Bishop. We are promised that by March 2006 we will have a sampler of the contents of the book an that by mid-October 2006 a new book with supporting materials. But right now, no body seems to know what’s going to be in the book beyond hints provided by the previously published resources and overviews offered at the Renewing Worship website. That makes it difficult to discuss and criticize. That will not deter me however. I find it possible to criticize both process and product based on what is now available.

Since the project began, I have been troubled by the title taken for the effort: “renewing worship.” What does that mean? What is it meant to convey? Does “renewing” refer to process or to product?

Will the committee or task force, by its “own reason and strength,” seek to accomplish something that will renew “worship” within the Church? What, by the committee’s lights, needs to be renewed? Has worship grown flat in the ELCA? (It’s brazen arrogance to call oneself a renewer or a reformer – that title is usually granted, not claimed. But if that is the goal, perhaps the committee might have looked elsewhere than to the Lutheran Book of Worship, the rites and hymns book that has faithfully served the Lutheran Church for over twenty-five years, for a place to propose changes.)

Or is the phrase meant to carry a more consumerist note? Does/did the committee intend to develop “worship resources” that would “renew” the worshiper? That sounds current and mega-churchly, saleable and just vague enough to avoid definite meaning. (I can already see the ads: Joy Lutheran Church offers “Renewing Worship.”) But does such a suggestion – i.e., such an instrumental and utilitarian view of worship – reflect the or a Lutheran understanding of liturgy and worship? Is worship meant primarily to make us feel better? Even if one takes a very conservative position on the supposed distinction between sacrifice and sacrament, I doubt one would come down on the side of such personal fulfillment. (Rebuke and repentance may be good for the soul, but they are not necessarily good for the morale. I have heard complaints that Lent is a “downer” and ought to be downplayed in favor of Easter and joy, e.g.)

The lack of definition in “renewing worship” seems to have characterized the process that was meant to renew worship or to design person-renewing worship. The book now proposed for publication as “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” suffers from the same lack of definition.

The very title of the book is problematic, too: “Evangelical Lutheran Worship.” Is that to suggest that the book is from and for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the ELCA?)? Or does it offer a critique or worship in the Lutheran churches in America? Is “evangelical” intended to contrast with “high church”? Or are there non-evangelical Lutherans or is there non-evangelical Lutheran worship? (On that latest point, don’t get me started; I may have to cede the argument.) Is it intended to attract customers from the “Evangelical” wings of Christendom in America?

The process for “renewing worship” has also been problematic. I have checked my perceptions with others, and there is a sense that the “product” of the process has not been tested sufficiently for the Church to have confidence in it. I realize that materials have been available, and I see some evidence that supposed criticisms have been taken, at least partly, to heart. (E.g., I see that scandalously weak pastoral address of the Maundy Thursday liturgy has been corrected – but unfortunately, it has been eliminated altogether so far as I can tell from the materials now available.) Nevertheless, there is a sense among many of us that there simply was not engagement with the wider Church that characterized, for example, the development of the Lutheran Book of Worship. The process seemed, if not secretive, at least arcane.

Compounding that problem is the apparent snubbing of any member of the team that drafted the LBW. That is unfortunate for a variety of reasons. Many of those people still live (and I know enough of them to know that a sizeable sample would have been available). These are people of enormous talent and insight, theological acumen and healthy experience with the Church’s worship. They could have enhanced the quality of the product – and probably improved the process by which it was developed – in ways that we can now only imagine. Furthermore, by consulting them, the “new resource” drafters could have availed themselves of the institutional memory residing in the heads and hearts of those faithful servants.

In a future post, I’ll take on criticism of the final “product” – something that is hard to do because the final product is not yet set. The previously published interim editions of the rites are just that – interim. As I understand matters, the Disneyworld Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA gave authority for the Presiding Bishop’s office to make final revisions and changes and to produce the final product (which I think has to be approved either by the bishops’ conference or the Church Council). The final texts have not yet been approved, even though evaluation materials have been sent out to congregations and a brochure exists trying to sell copies of the book at pre-publication prices. (Talk about offering a pig in a poke).

For now, I offer a few general ideas about this project. First, it seems to me that the chief reason for developing a new “resource” is that the Lutheran Book of Worship is old – twenty-seven years old and counting. I am not sure why age seems a liability in a worship book (age and provenance are often tests of worthiness in the great Tradition of the Church), but apparently that concern intersects with another concern – viz., the need for a product that will find acceptance in congregations that are not keen on the LBW’s relatively sober, serious, and (mostly) European tone and substance. “Formal worship” – which has been inestimably encouraged the the LBW – seems to have fallen from favor; happy, clappy, praisy, band-led, entertainment-style events are the rage.

But for congregations that offset their “traditional” liturgy with a “contemporary” service (in order, I guess, to “give the people what they want” – sort of like bread and circuses), there is not much to draw on (arguably) from the LBW. I mean, Bach just doesn’t swing with an electrified guitar, lousy trapset, and electric non-organ keyboard. So if we want to offer resources to that cohort of the Church, we need new resources, right?

Finally, if one may deduce from drafts of the rites, there is at least one other motive behind the movement: that of reducing the scandal of the faith. I detect in the texts a softening of the realities of grace and death – and as a consequence a moderating of the stunning surprise of resurrection.

I’ll deal with my charge that the drafters are dumbing down the language of faith in my next post. But let me just say how wrong-headed I think it is to serve the other two purposes I’m positing. The folks who favor so-called “contemporary” worship (and some musicians ought to take on that misnomer: I hear no “new music” in contemporary worship) are not going to buy a hardbound worship book from AugsburgFortress. We don’t have nearly enough people working in that field to develop resource materials that praise bands and related arrangements want. Besides, few of them want a book at all; better are projections and downloadable resources. (Customers will be able to download materials from the book Evangelical Lutheran Worship. But on that point, return to my earlier point – that the people most desiring such stuff won’t look to our new worship book.)

Worship books ought not be designed around the findings of consumer polls. Their purpose is to serve God, not to serve current taste. The test of their success is not their sales volume (so I really don’t care whether AugsburgFortress loses its shirt on this deal or not – though I suspect it will), but rather their theological integrity, clarity, Christocentrism, durability, eloquence.

I’m not insensitive to the need for AugsburgFortress to develop new products to improve its bottom line. I used to own a bookstore; I know that new sells. But I question the wisdom of this approach to solving the problem. Why, in essence, a replacement for the LBW? Why not stand-alone resources?

I suspect that the answer will emerge from a look at the proposals already in front of us. And for that, I’ll need another post.


Anonymous said...

Why, indeed, Dwight.

It's all about the money - and I don't think anyone can convince me otherwise.

If it were, in fact, about renewing our worship, the church would be about the business of teaching congregations what good Lutheran worship is FIRST, and then providing resources which are helpful to this end. This would be a good way to truly renew our worship.
As it is, WOV bailed AFP out of their last financial spot and now they need another "seller" to stay afloat.

With the easy access we have to so much material for very little cost right now, I do not think that publishing a new book (with ten settings for Holy Communion, no less) at a hefty cost to each congregation is gonna fly. I don't think that congregations are going to consider it a wise investment. Like a friend of mine said about the project, "AFP are going to lose their shirts on this book - they are doing little more than re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic."

I could go on and on just about the money end of it. Don't even get me started about AFP's new "Sundays and Seasons online". If you don't think it's all about the money, learn a little more about this new resource and how it's marketed.

Of interest to you, though, might be to note that AFP's worship guy, Seltz, is scheduled to present information on RW at Adult Ed at your parish on Reformation Sunday.

LoieJ said...

A) You seem pretty worked up about something you admit not knowing a lot of details about. Hmmm???

B) Isn't "contemporary worship" something from the 70's and 80's? Ie, guitar music, etc? I think it would be better to think about "alternative worship." By that I mean, people are different so have different styles of worship, music, etc. There could be more variety, ie differences, in the worship settings in a hymnal. Afterall, we profess that God made us and we are different from one another.

C) Why do you seem to put LBW on a pedestal? There are a lot of good hymns in there. But after using that liturgy for all these years, I still don't find it very compelling, meaningful or singable. I do like other liturgies that I've sung, other books, other branches of Lutheranism. It is a wonderful thing when a snipet of liturgy pops into my head during the week and I think of the meaning.

D) "Worship books ought not be designed around the findings of consumer polls. Their purpose is to serve God, not to serve current taste. The test of their success is not their sales volume (so I really don’t care whether AugsburgFortress loses its shirt on this deal or not – though I suspect it will), but rather their theological integrity, clarity, Christocentrism, durability, eloquence."

This is an interesting statement. But the real question, unanswerable, is "Does God feel praised and worshiped by the liturgy, songs, and other elements of the worhsip service?"

I don't know the mind of God, but IF I WERE GOD, would I like to hear a minority of people in a church mumbling along, attempting to sing a liturgy that just doesn't move their spirit?

I mean this as a general statement, not a condemnation of the LBW, but I see and hear more involvement in WOV liturgies, for example.

And where is the Holy Spirit in all of this? Is IT present among the people when they worship? If the people's work (liturgy) is nearly the same every Sunday, does the Spirit even need to be there?

I used to love the High Church approach to the service, but I attended such a service two weeks ago and thought to myself that there was a lack of connection between the musicians, preacher, celebrant, and people. I wondered, "how does this "service" differ from the rehersal of the service?" So that begs the questions, was there also a lack of connection with God? Was the Spirit present?

Week after week, I sit in the choir and I can see the people in the pews. Some never open a book. Some never sing. What is going on in their minds during the service? Who knows? Many of these people are faithfully in church every Sunday. Maybe we need to think about the people who might participate if some of the "work of the people" was not done with music.

We also need to keep in mind that there are churches, not mine fortunately, who are not blessed with good musicians. There needs to be music that is playable by lesser musicians.

LoieJ said...

PS Our church borrows lots of music from the contemporary Catholic worship resources. Lots of that music is beautiful, yet simple and signable, and very meaningful and theologically sound.

Anonymous said...

"Week after week, I sit in the choir and I can see the people in the pews. Some never open a book."

Wow - how sad for you! This is certainly not the case where I worship. Our folks are for the most part, very actively engaged in worship - as I know they are in Dwight's church - and guess what? Both churches use the LBW as their core resource for liturgy. When people know what they are doing and why, if makes a big difference.

Look around and you can find parishes where people don't participate, no matter what you give them. (BTW, you certanily must know that the Catholics are not noted for their great involvement in worship and hymnody.

It depends upon where you go. Seems to me that if you go to church where people know what the liturgy is and what it's for, you get better participation. It's all about education. That the ELCA does little educate it's people about the why's of worship is sad, indeed. But you can sure tell which churches do teach their people about worship when you go to church in one!

The Holy Spirit is present wherever the name of the triune God is invoked. If we do not "feel" it (whatever that is), could it be that it has more to do with us than with the Spirit?

ps - Dwight may say that he does not know a whole lot about the RW process - or lack of same? -but I have followed it very carefully. I share Dwight's skepticism.

LoieJ said...

"Week after week, I sit in the choir and I can see the people in the pews. Some never open a book. Some never sing. What is going on in their minds during the service? Who knows? Many of these people are faithfully in church every Sunday. Maybe we need to think about the people who might participate if some of the "work of the people" was not done with music."

I need to clarify: The church I attend is in a very small town. It is full nearly every week, meaning at least 150 people are there. The majority do sing and participate. It is just that there are those who consistantly don't and I don't know their mind.

I also see visitors who seem to not know what is going on. This can be easily rectified by the worship leader making sure they specify what book is being used, what page, etc. And making sure that there are enough hymnals.

Our church used a great variety of music and we like lively music. I've been to some Lutheran churches where the liturgy and praising music is sung like a dirge.

What about people who don't like to sing? What is done to be "inclusive" for them. Or do we take the view that Lutherans sing in worship, so that is the way it is.

As long as I am writing again, I want to address one thing that I thought about a long time: I don't think that music should be "segregated" into church music, camp music, Sunday School (children's) music. I think that if the words are theologically sound and the music is singable, then there could be a long more mixing of they types of music.

When I was in Sunday School and Bible School, we always would memorize one of the "old chestnuts" each season. How good it is to know something like "what a friend we have in Jesus" by heart.

And how good it is for the children in the pews to have a children's song that they've learned in SS included during the service so that they can participate even when they are too young to read the music.

And the camps often use great praise music and sometimes Bible verses set to music. These would be great to use in church, not just reserved for "Camp Sunday."

The music that I think is good in our worship is that which praises God and/or teaches some Biblical lessons along the way. The melodies and tempo need to fit the feeling and message of the song. The words need to be understandable. Some of our older songs were translated and the English syntax is convoluted and difficult to understand even if the message is good.

Our ELCA recent hymnals actually contain a number of songs that are not new at all. I don't think that music should be picked because it is "contemporary" or "alternative" or "new" but because it is meaningful and because it is singable.

BTW, some of the newly composed Catholic music is being composed by Lutherans because they commission music.

Dwight P. said...

I want to spend more time thinking about these posts. But I will acknowledge one thing: I do, in a way, set the Lutheran Book of Worship on a pedestal. And I do so primarily for liturgical reasons. I know that that is loaded language: There are, indeed, a variety of liturgical styles. But it seems to me that there are certain principles of good liturgy that are objective and testable. And by those standards, the LBW does very well.

First and foremost, and in contrast to the well-beloved Book of Common Prayer and almost all Roman Catholic liturgies that have developed since Vatican II (and keep in mind that I studied liturgy with the Benedictines at St. John's, so I've been pretty tuned in to "liturgical reform" in the Roman tradition), the "green book" (LBW) allows the liturgy to be the liturgy. It doesn't have the leaders constantly announcing and narrativing what they're doing and why.

A good liturgical "rite" (and by that, I refer to the text that is being read, sung, and heard -- just as "ceremonial" is simply what is being physicall done)carries its own meaning without a lot of explanation. "In the name of the Father ..." invokes the presence of the Triune God more efficiently and effectively than does "We gather in the name" -- which, in the latter case, draws as much attention to us as to what we want. (I absolutely hate prayers that begin "We give you thanks" instead of "thank you" -- and the LBW post-communion prayers fail on this test, I admit.)

I think the LBW lets people worship without their attention's being constantly recalled to what they are doing. (That is the value of doing the same thing over and over, again, too: It allows you to do it and not to think about doing it.) And it does so with beautiful, at times almost poetic, language that, while elevated in tone, is not beyond the average person to understand and get ahold on. Even after thirty years, the language does not sound, to my ears anyway, dated or archaic or faddish -- though it is "formal" and solemn (which doesn't mean somber or sad or lethargic or "downer"). I am actually preparing a post on the issue of language in the proposed book in comparison to LBW language. So I won't carry on here about that.

In addition, I think the book includes some wonderful other stuff. Evening Prayer is about as good and "successful" an office as you can get. Morning Prayer is a little more problematic, I grant -- not immediately accessible, but endearing as one gets to know it.

And as regards the hymnody, well, in 1978, they couldn't be expected to include stuff composed in 1999, could they? Of course any "resource" (as the renewing worship folks insisted for a while on calling it)will have to be supplemented. Worship Supplement 19xx and With One Voice serve those purposes. (My aesthetic against paperbacks in church is trumped by my frugality in expending dollars for filling hymnbook racks. In my congregation, we actually built a roll-around cabinet with organizers on both sides, so that WOV and WS can be shelved outside the pew hymnbook racks. We hand them out only when they're to be used. So see, even in the rarified atmosphere of Mount Olive in Minneapolis, we supplement the LBW -- and I'm grateful for it. For example, how else will I be able to sing Purcell's setting of "Christ is Made the Sure Foundation"?) I question whether, on good ecclesiological and liturgical grounds, the new book will be an advance over the LBW -- especially since, as I am beginning to realize -- so much of the LBW hymnody is carrying forward into it. (It seems that about the only stuff not traveling to the new book are the Bach chorales -- and after the noble struggle to get them into the LBW!)

I think the LBW features music of a commendable range in singablility and in "piety." From "Away in a Manger" to "Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart"; from "Christ is Risen! Alleluia!" (131) to "Christian to the Pascal Victim" to "Now the Green Blade Rises" and "Let Us Break Bread Together."

I think that, in main, I didn't intend so much to praise LBW as to "diss" the new book. I think the process for developing it was terrifically flawed. (And I have decided to bring my confirmation class to the adult forum to hear Marty Seltz discuss that on Sunday -- the Feast of the Reformation.)I think the revision process is likely to be even more insular and flawed. I think the need for a new resource is questionable. And in any event, if there is a need, this kind of enterprise and product will not be the answer. People who reject the LBW are not looking for the LBW with a few language updates -- whether they are bound into a book or available for overhead projecting from the AugsburgFortress website (for a fee).

Finally, allow me to withdraw some of my attempt at humility. I claim not to know much about the process or the product because of the complaints I have raised. The process was secretive -- and remains so. (Our congregation has requested license to test one of the two 'through composed' settings of the liturgy and have been denied any access -- despite the fact that our cantor was on the committee overseeing the choice of liturgical settings!)

Along those lines, the target keeps shifting. The online resources are apparently the revised resources -- responses to the assessment of the first round tests. But no one will say whether these are final or not. (And the suggestion that the book be sent to the Bishop's office for revision and production suggests that more revision will be forthcoming -- and without further assessment.)

I am pretty hot about this, yes. In no small measure, my upset roots in my conviction that the reason for the new book is the red ink at AugsburgFortress. AF seems determined to shed the stigma of being a Lutheran publishing house in favor of being some sort of other entity -- maybe one that fills Northwestern Book and Bible shops. Both the predecessor houses of AF had remarkable reputations and represented a valuable ministry to the Lutheran Churches. They were very important and very valuable sources of resources for preaching and teaching within the faith. Except for backlist (what remains), I think that can no longer be said. It's a chicken-egg question whether the red ink preceded or followed AF's pimping to other markets. But they are related. (In their defense, I think there has also been a distinct trend among pastors and congregations away from any historically identifiable Lutheran identity. And that has most certainly not helped AF.)

I think the perils of AF and the problems with the new book relate to a common thread -- the business (I used that word unintentionally, but now I leave it in intentionally) of "marketing," of giving the people what they want, of overinvesting in maintaining one's institutional livelihood to the peril of one's soul. I think the ELCA is in that danger, and I think that this new book incarnates that problem.

But I want to consider whether "Jesus Loves Me" belongs among the proper hymns of the day. Frankly, I hesitate, because I'm not sure the extent to which my "taste" in music trumps my thinking about what is proper.

Keep talking at me and with one another, though. I like it.

LoieJ said...

It is too bad that you hand the WOV out only when it is to be used. That keeps it being "other" rather than "another" worship book. Our church just remade the pew racks so there is room for the Bibles, LBWs and WOV. We can use songs from both books during any service, although, admittedly, it is more confusing for visitors to do so.

Which gets back to the issue of hospitality and how you say that the LBW just lets liturgy be liturgy. Without having to announce what is happening. I'm not really sure that this is true or would be true for a visitor. I remember when the green book came out. We had practice runs. We had some books marked with red Xs so that we would know which alternative of the prayers and songs in the liturgy we were to look at. Any of these books is "easy" to follow if you've been there before.

A number of churches, even some with very consistant attendance and an educated congregation print out the whole liturgy and all the songs in a worship folder each week. That is a pet peeve of mine, since I think it wastes money and paper and secretary time. But it is supposedly done because people have trouble following the liturgy in the hymnals. The hymnals are the same two we've been discussing. I don't get this. People were able to follow in the old days before there were bulletins. Are we dumber? But this is an attempt to help new visitors, they say.

When the LBW came out, our organist went to some learning events about it. She said that the knowledgeble musicians played the liturgical music quite fast. However, in most churches I've been in except for my home church, the liturgy is played rather slow. Yawn. For me, that just donesn't fit the mood and meaning of the words.

This organist was quite accomplished on both piano and organ, but she says that the WOV music is written more for the piano than for the organ. Our current organist doesn't play on the Sundays we use the WOV. On those Sundays, the majority, fortunately, our pianist plays all the music. And how she can play. We don't have a positive song about faith come out like we are so sad.

I do love the liturgy and the give and take and participation of the congregation in the worship service. I just think we have to be careful about getting that form of worship becoming some sort of idol.

An aside: This summer our community had the unfortunate common experience of attending two public (about 1500 in attendance at each) funerals over the course of a Sat. and a Sun. for four people. The first was non-Lutheran, the second Lutheran. After the second service our pianists said,(paraphrase) "I didn't realize just how Lutheran I was until attending the second service. I appreciated having the attendees participate in the service."

Liturgy is the work of the people. If the "work" is outside of their experience or outside of their cultural background or confusing or somehow not made relevant to where they are in their spiritual journey, they don't participate. This, I believe, is necessary to keep in mind when we design our worship if we want new comers to feel welcome.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the church can base it's worship on "what will visitor's feel like?" Worship is about the body of Christ - and the work of THAT body. If THAT body does it's work well, it allows the Holy Spirit to do the calling, gathering , enlightening, and sanctifying. Christians will be brought to the faith not by Lutherans hopping on every bandwagon that it sees, but by being the church - that's it.

I (an ELCA Lutheran) regularly visit a Russian Orthodox church here in town (thankfully, they worship in English!). Now, do I expect that they will change everything they do - that they will be come something other than what they are, just so *I* feel welcome? Of course not. Did I understand everything that was going on when I first went - no way! I do learn more about it every time I go, though - and funny enough, I am drawn in by it. It is not because of what this church does to try to make themselves something I might "like", but rather because of what the Holy Spirit does through them when I visit. They are what they are - and they do not pretend to be anything else other than what the church is. Others are invited to join in the experience, but they will not change their worship in order that newcomers will "get it". And they are growing by leaps and bounds! Go figure! (OK, I've had this conversation with Dash before!)

I agree 100% with Dwight's feelings about this new book being all about he money - as I said before. (however, it might be a little about keeping up with the LCMS, who also has a new book). What AF hopes this book will be is a cash crop - I fear they are wrong.

Worship cannot be about trying to make God "palatable" to as many people as possible. Worship is about the people of God doing it's work.