A friend led (as organist/choirmaster) vespers last evening at
But what really got me was the recently remodeled Boe Chapel in which the office was prayed. There were two big errors, to my eye, that distracted me throughout the office. First (and probably less serious compared to the second), the organ console has been moved from the balcony/loft to right down front and center behind the free-standing table/altar, placed so that the organist faces the choir which sits between the console and the back wall, with his back to us. The result is that we are given more insight into the busyness of an organist during a worship service than I care to have: When prayers were going on, when we ordered into silence, and the like, the organist had to prepare the next piece of music, so there was rustling of pages and moving of books and checking of bulletin. In a school with a strong music program for church musicians and for an event of the Master of Sacred Music degree, this showed all the wrong touches.
Now I know that organists must be busy; that goes with the territory. But when the organ console is behind the worshippers (or as was the case at Gettysburg Seminary, where the console was integrated into the split choir, perpendicular to the worshipping community and more or less blocked by half the of the choir), he or she is able to do the busy work without distracting the pray-ers. To the contrary, when the console is front and center (and especially when it is oriented in the same direction as the worshippers), all that busy work is magnified and made to compete with the rest of the “business” of worship.
Lord, help congregations, design teams, and architects understand that.
The second thing was the magnificent display of the flags of many nations, which display hangs from the top of the walls at either side of the nave. Now I imagine (I didn’t even bother to ask) that the flags are meant to represent the nations from which Oles come to study at “
But that doesn’t change the fact that it is wrong to display national flags – or any other flag, for that matter – within the nave. While it is common practice, and especially among Anglicans and “conservative” evangelicals, I guess, it is still theologically and ritually and liturgically wrong.
Flags represent divisions in the world – and in most cases, artificial divisions, at that. (What, for example, calls for dividing
As Bill Cavanaugh so convincingly explains in “World in a Wafer,” (which you can read here), the liturgies of the Church – the Eucharist preeminent among them – are the enactment of the God-driven end to such earthly divisions. As God is One, so is the Body of Christ one – no longer defined by national identity, gender or sexual identifiers, economic status, or anything else. So when churches mount nationalistic banners in the worship space, one of two things happen: Either they disregard the importance of images and artifacts in the forming of people’s culture or they sanction (in the sense of validate) the very supposed reality reflected in the images and artifacts.
When churches hang or otherwise display national flags, they baptize an us-versus-them worldview that is incompatible with the Gospel. That is blasphemy, in short – the same as mounting statues of Shiva or the Buddha in chapels around the nave represents a return to the worship of Baals. (I can imagine that there are places that do that, but I pray that my imagination is overactive.) No god is more demanding of sacrifice and subservience than is the god of the nation (see another Cavanaugh article: “Killing for the Telephone Company,” here), and consequently no service must be more strenuously and tirelessly resisted than that directed to the god of the national culture.
Civil religion is a religion in competition with worship of the One True God, in other words. And for a congregation to give in to symbols of that civil religion is false worship, regardless of the touchy-feeling reasons given for excusing or justifying it.
Campus ministry is fraught with difficulties. But one can reasonably expect that colleges of the Lutheran church will think seriously about the implications of their curricula, their academic and student-life practices and policies, their sanctioned activities, and the designs of their spaces – most especially their worship spaces. On this, I think St. Olaf has failed the test.