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Liturgy For Pc Worship?


Keith Kelly
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What is the opinion here of liturgy and progressive thinking?

 

For example much traditional liturgy does not fit well with progressive Christian thought, however should that liturgy therefore be changed? Even as a progressive thinker, picking up a Unity songbook and seeing the changes is nonetheless a bit odd.

 

Should traditional liturgy (creeds, hymns, etc.) be jettisoned to match progressive thinking? On one hand it seems it would make sense. On the other, however, we would not go into a museum and propose melting down items no longer used or useful to make Toyotas, etc. The old still seems to have a cultural and historical value that would be lost if abandoned.

 

As a progressive I recite the creeds but don't feel like I am obligated to believe all in them.

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Keith,

 

I'm thinking your going to find many difference responses - because the nice thing about this forum is that there is seldom a consensus on thinking!

 

I personally struggled with exactly this question. I was so uncomfortablre reciting the creed, I finally stopped reciting it completely. That's not to say I think it "should be" jetisoned, just that its not right for me.

 

As far as hymns go, I just can't make myself let go of the traditional hymns from my childhood nor of the more contemporary songs my traditional church uses in worship that have touched me in the past. What I choose to do instead is reinterpret the imagery used (eg, God "holds us in the palm of his hand"). If I were going to plan a progressive liturgy, I think I would probably keep some traditional songs but be selective.

 

As far as other parts of the liturgy, I would definitely have scripture read, but I would like to see a more critical reading - and balance it with perhaps readings from today's progressive writers.

 

That's my opinion - I can't wait to see what others think!

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Keith wrote: On the other, however, we would not go into a museum and propose melting down items no longer used or useful to make Toyotas, etc. The old still seems to have a cultural and historical value that would be lost if abandoned.

 

This is not quite an accuate analogy, since while we might value and life to enjoy viewing the "useless" museum artifacts, as they are in a museum setting, we wouldn't thereby be choosing to continue to use them ourselves, in our daily lives. Even if we admire and expereince nostalgia looking at antique automobiles, we are probably going to still drive the newer Toyota or some such.

 

Artifacts placed in the museum wouldn't mean we still find them of use to us today, but the elements of relgious function, liturgy, classic old hymns, ARE still in use, and their being in continued use is to me the point under consideration here. So they don't compared well with the useless, and unused, items in a museum.

 

There's no doubt we form strong condtioned responses to certain things exposed to, especially through our childhood, and for many raised in a religious environment, there are strong associations formed to the liturgy and music of our past. I still find that some of the old hymns that moved me as a child still do, even if my intellectual mind rebels against and reject some of the words, the message presented by them.

 

In a few of those old hymns, deeply moving to me, I have taken to change a few words here and there myself, and that is how I sing them within a congregational singing, never mind what words the others around me are singing. I don't mean this in any big disruptive way, but such as instead of singing the words "that saved a wretch like me" I sing "that saved and set me free." At several churches I've attended, Baptist and AoG, when I've done that in that song, interestingly, while a lot of people don't seem to even realize I've done it, the music directors, with their gifted ears, have noticed it, and do far, seem to have actually liked it. At the Baptist church, I've even noticed the music director's facial expression, of anticipation when he is about to lead the congregation in one of the hymns I've done this too, and when we hit that point, his grin is from ear to ear and expressing something of an amusement, as if he's in on some clever little secret.

 

I think just trashing or putting up on a museum shelf the liturgies and hymns that move so many people would be a mistake, would take something very important away from the worship expereince of those pre-conditioned to them. I think my own approach, slightly changing some words at points that express something no longer really a part of our beleifs and views today, might be an effective adaptation, a way to keep the old hyms and liturgies that move us, but in an updated way. Of course, some are so far from where we are today, there is no "rescuing" them with merely a few minor changes of words. But keeping in mind, just as we were influenced as children by what we heard, so will children today hearing whatever it is being presented to them...it may seem new and foriegn to us 'older folks', but it will become the foundation for what moves these children today, in their adult years.

 

Jenell

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For instant gratification Bruce Sanguin. This takes you to the TCPC site where you will find other selections. At the link are some of Sanguin's poems which I have used for liturgy. His book, If Darwin Prayed, is worth owning. (Neither Bruce nor I have any doubt about whether Darwin prayed. :) )

 

I prefer that worship elements be as freely sourced as possible. I only occasionally get the opportunity to pick worship materials. In August I used a selection from the book, The Shack, which describes God as a verb, as scripture. Clergy working with me adapted Sanguin's work and evolutionary Christianity ideas to write the communion liturgy.

 

A church could use labels like modern, traditional, - I forget the others right now - for songs, hymns, and creeds. So if an old hymn is used everyone knows that it reflects a traditional understanding and no one has to act out in objection. Broadway show tunes and rock hits would also be acceptable.

 

I much prefer language which reflects current understanding. And I may hear more of that - a new pastor began work here today. I look forward for more intentional language in worship.

 

I have done what Jenell has suggested but no one would ever smile at my singing. Replacing the words is a useful practice occasionally. I have also just not sung the words. Looking for a new way to understand the words in front of me is helpful. Some of the conversations I have had here help that endeavor.

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I, too, have changed certain words of traditional songs, but it can't always be done in an unobtrusive way. Not only that, but if I were planning a liturgy, I don't think I would want to change the words to every song to reflect modern, progressive theology. There are songs - both traditional and contemporary, that use the words of the Psalms. I would not want to change the words, because they are poetic just the way they are. What I would do, if I were planning a liturgy, is to do away with any kind of sermon and have a dialogue in its place, talking abou the imagery of the song(s). Because, really, isn't that a lot of "religion" is - imagery, symbols, myth?

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f I were planning a liturgy, is to do away with any kind of sermon and have a dialogue in its place

I have heard this mentioned several times. Often a real dialog is not intended. Most often it does not meet my expectation. It is difficult to create the ability for a passive group to be willing to participate. And sometimes the pastor has done the most thinking. There is work in the house church movement that is focusing on this kind of interaction that may point to successful ways to have a conversation as part of worship.

 

My former church tried to plant a church. The pastor "sacramentalized" coffee time by placing it in the middle of the service. The conversation was not directed so it doesn't rise to the dialog I would want to be tried more often. (The planting did not take for other reasons.)

 

Dutch

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Well, Dutch, I didn't mean that so much as it is my singing that brought the smile to that music director's face, I think he really just likes my little "editing" in the words, particularly that in Amazing Grace, of while everyone else is singing ..a wretch like me, I'm hitting it with ..and set me free!

That wretch thing just never quite was a comforatble fit anyway, I mean really, I could never think of myself as a wretch and I kinda doubt many others can either. A few wretched moments here and there, but as an identifying label?

 

Jenell

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It is difficult to create the ability for a passive group to be willing to participate. And sometimes the pastor has done the most thinking.

 

I think I prefer that someone (i.e. the pastor) has given some deep thought to an issue or a biblical passage and finds some meaning that is relevant to our lives. The progressivity is in the message. I have often come away inspired or with new insights.

 

A few times at our church (PCUSA) a little congregational discussion following the sermon has been tried but not very successfully given the lack of time to think the issue through and the reluctance of many to speak in that kind of context.

 

As for hymns, I don't mind the old traditional hymns even if they express ideas that I don't hold (I don't insist that I agree with everything in a service). I do draw the line at ones that contain what I consider objectionable material like "Onward Christian Soldiers."

 

George

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Hi Keith and welcome,

 

Should traditional liturgy (creeds, hymns, etc.) be jettisoned to match progressive thinking?

 

Good question and thanks for asking. I would personally like to see them jettisoned as far as practical use and perhaps paste the old ones in a historical church scrapbook for those so inclined to museums. Like others have indicated when i am caught in such a church that uses the traditional liturgy, such as the few times when attending special occasions involving my grandchildren at their church, I often change the words or keep silent and ignore the words rather than allow them to spoil the spirit of the moment.

 

It seems to me i would not choose to attend a church regularly or full time that remained un-progressive in their liturgy though i do not see anything 'wrong' with others so inclined to do so.

 

Joseph

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Interesting. I grew up in the Catholic church and am old enough to have caught the tail end of Latin masses. I would never, ever advocate the return to that. I don't like singing Latin songs in a participatory liturgy, either. Having said that, however, there are some beautiful Latin pieces that I don't think should be jetisoned completely, nor the sheet music stuck in a scrap book in an archive somewhere. I like to use some Latin chants and even accompanied SATB as meditation pieces.

 

I feel quite strongly about participatory liturgy, but that's my personal bent. While its definitely good to have someone who has meditated on a particular message to give a sermon on it, its not so good when the person giving the sermon is either woefully unprepared or unfortunately uninformed. I've sat in on more than my share of those sermons. I have also been part of very successful dialogue - granted, it was with smaller groups of less than 25, not with a full congregation. But then, who said a liturgy has to involve lots of people?

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This is Keith. I have been ill for the past few days with a seasonal illness. Nothing serious, but quite draining. I see that others share some of my sentiments regarding traditional liturgy. The quandary of it all is that while it is historic and in fact some of it is downright beautiful, it does not fit in with what many Christians understand in the modern (since the mid 1700s?) era. Some of it may be amended or adapted, but frequently it is not. There are a number of folks in church who for some reason get quite a bit of comfort not only in the historical liturgy, but the historical (and "outdated") beliefs as well. This will, of course, vary from church to church, but also denominationally and regionally. Now some liturgy is, as pointed out, beyond the prospect of adaptation. For example, this performance of a traditional Methodist hymn by Saint Michael’s Choir of Coventry Cathedral of "O For a Thousand Tongs to Sing" (tune Lyngham by Thomas Jarman) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LezdsDAr0-E. The theology is, in progressive terms, is very misguided and beyond adaptation, but the the performance is beautiful as well as quite historical and cultural. Maybe we may, with effort, glean some gems from it with a strong bit of editing or reconceptualization based on our own understanding. But overall, what are we to do with such a relic?? As noted before, I do not feel uncomfortable reciting the creeds. It is history. I do realize that the person setting in front of me may have quite a different take on it than I one what parts of the creeds make sense. In the past the best approach from a pastor's standpoint is to comment on the versus of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and then discussing alternate meanings of the text as well (I am an usher, not a pastor, having periodic discussions with the music director).

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There is no doubt that the past few centuries have brought more change than perhaps ever before, in so many ways that affect our world views and lifestyles, and thinking about everything. And htis is surely most deeply felt in cherished traditions, notably relgion, where so many have traditionally found their strength and solace in confronting the world and life's problems.

 

I am brought to think of the 60's classic folk song, done by Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and other groups, "times they are a-changin." Such dramatic changes coming so fast has, I think left much of our world's population feeling disoriented. And while some may embrace the changes, charge boldly forward to embrace them, or boldly walk off into muck, as the case may sometimes be, others desperately seek to hold on to what seems familiar, even toward regression to some idealized former 'better time', and that has to create a lot of discomfort, and even conflict. Thus it is, I think, that we are seeing such a range of reponses to modernity in religion world-wide, in swings both toward regressive, conservative fundamentalism as well as progressive liberal exploration in new directions, as well as those just trying to hold on to a present state in the middle of the wildly rocking boat while feeling increasingly the effects of motion sickness.

 

Jenell

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Janell above states: "Of course, some are so far from where we are today, there is no "rescuing" them with merely a few minor changes of words. But keeping in mind, just as we were influenced as children by what we heard, so will children today hearing whatever it is being presented to them...it may seem new and foreign to us 'older folks', but it will become the foundation for what moves these children today, in their adult years."

 

This is so true. As I did some laundry today I pointed out the little pocket above the bigger right pocket on my daughter's fashionable jeans and asked "do you know what this is?" She replied "who cares!" which is about right for a relic of design. She had no idea that it is, or that started out, as a watch pocket. Certain things seem to hang on. Some are even more ingrained like the qwerty problem whereby the layout of the keyboard was originally intended to slow the typist so as not to snag up the system. Other things, like liturgy, have staying power because of tradition (some which will fade away or be transformed) or once-useful convention, but also because there are folks who seem to need the psychological assurance offered by the church. Witness how many "assurance" hymns are in most hymnals!

 

Now some of this will not be easily changed. Perhaps the answer is that we will move toward an understanding based on understanding as opposed to being based on tradition, as tradition will invariably change with new understandings. I recently heard John Shelby Spong and it seems his point is that the traditional understandings are not providing an adequate resource and reference for those persons more amenable to a progressive understanding of the world. While I think that most of the decline in the mainline relates to modern lifestyles of not being connected to civic and social connections in general (Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, pointing to a decline in a number of civic and social organizations), this is likely a factor for some or many. This also means that Methodism will be less Wesleyan, Presbyterian less Calvanistic, and so forth. We are seeing that happening now in a number of ways. Maybe it is time to let the beautiful gems of the past slip from our hands in order to grasp and create other gems. Others need to be reinterpreted--this also applies to the Bible as well (some of the early writers and early "church fathers" seem to hold to traditional views, then came the Enlightenment). For this reason there will always be the need for reinterpretation. It is a matter, it seems, selecting what needs to be retained for reinterpretation. This probably relates to establishing a value for various liturgical forms (to be retained or not) and further considering what the real-life application of that liturgy is or can be. Thanks to all for your insightful and thought-provoking comments!

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And I suppose that it will not be up to us, as progressives, to solely influence the liturgy. But--what does the group think here that is worthy and appropriate for liturgical worship? I suppose a vote could be held as in the Jesus Seminar--like a black bead for excluding a passage or a piece, a red bead for including it as it, a yellow bead indicating inclusion, but needs reworked, and a gray bead for "needs further study." Some of these things---passages, hymns, or other pieces--as noted, can have double meanings. Religion is heavily about telling stories to bring meaning to life instead of describing a specific history. What would be the group's take on: the Nicene Creed, Apsotle's Creed, Lord's Prayer, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, various Old Testament passages (I take it some may come to mind), etc.? Do you know of any place that has actually incorporated such changes or inclusions (I'm sure there are many, but am specifically unaware)? The Methodist Church is a bit different than some as it has its pastoral staff on an itinerary, rotating through every few years.

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What would be the group's take on: the Nicene Creed, Apsotle's Creed, Lord's Prayer, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, various Old Testament passages (I take it some may come to mind), etc.

Keith,

Individual creeds and hymns/songs are easy to avoid if the pastor wants to. Also new hymnals leave behind hymns that are not politically or progressively agreeable but the hymnals are for masses and may include songs I don't like. Two of the last three churches did not have new hymnals and habitually did not use the new supplement. If my church is likely to read a creed it is the church's mission statement. I don't run into the creeds very often.

 

How many of you frequently attend services which regularly include the Nicene or Apostle Creed or songs like Onward Christian soldiers?

 

For many many churches the Lord's Prayer is the most holiest of cows. I once lobbied for rotating paraphrases and was told that this particular congregation would tolerate some variety in worship but not changing the Lord's Prayer.

 

Take Care

 

dutch

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How many of you frequently attend services which regularly include the Nicene or Apostle Creed or songs like Onward Christian soldiers?

 

Creeds? occasionally. "Onward Christian Soldiers?" Never, not in the hymnal. (PCUSA)

 

George

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I've realized any of my own thoughts and ideas on this topic are significantly handicapped by my having not been active in church much of my adult life, only some young childhood memories, and a few years of not too successful attempt at it a few years back, and limited mostly to Baptist, with a brief stint in an AoG, and a few occasions of attending services at an assortment of other denominational churches, both evangelical and otherwise. So that's really all I have to draw on, how what has seemed to me, what I experienced and whether it was positive or negative for me, personally. Yet that as a handicap is at once, perhaps, a potential positive, because I have experienced both being in services with a lot of familiar elements, and a small variety of those signficantly different. And for that, may have become aware of something a lot of Christians are not. That is how very different the traditions are from one denomination to another, not just in beliefs, but elements of their services, the tone, formal, esthetic as compared to informal, energetic, as well as different formats the services generally follow, different kinds of music and choices of hymns, just about any and every element of a service that could be variable.

 

There's no doubt that for me, and I think it must be for others, as well, that from one denomination, one church, to another, my experiences often involved variable mixes of the sense of familiar, comfortable, and unfamiliar, foreign. Often, for as beautiful and positive I may have cognitively, rationally considered some element that was unfamiliar, it still often lacked those early-formed associations that moved me emotionally, spiritually, as did those of more familair traditions. A few certainly did, but not many. Of those that did, and remain meaningful to me, they truly brought some element that seems crucial to my faith into a representative form.

 

The point here is that in considering this question that it is actually two different questions, applicable to two different kinds of PC situation...one of how to best "progressivize" anexisting, established denomination, church congregation, where you are working with a tradtional format most members hold in common, and second, a newly formed or forming PC congregation in which PC is the common factor, among members of a wide range of backgrounds in different traditions.

 

Jenell

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Apostle's and Nicene Creed, or occasionally other such as Korean Methodist creed or creed of United Church of Canada, is recited every Sunday in the traditional worship service, but not the contemporary, at my church. I prefer the traditional worship service, however. As for "Onward Christian Soldiers" it is in the Methodist hymnal, however I cannot ever recall it being sang over the years. There was a big deal over it when it was about to be excluded from the hymnal in the early 1980s and supporters successfully lobbied to include it. There are many other songs that are athwart progressive theology, however, referencing being "washed in the blood" and such. And, of course, the old Methodist hymn "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" which is a favorite. Dutch, that was quite a gutsy move to "tamper" with the Lord's Prayer! Was it the usual "forgive us our sins/tresspasses/debts" phrase or something else?

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When I had the power of choice I used the following paraphrase of the prayer Jesus taught and as scripture the selection from the Shack. This is kind of worship elements that would feed me. Today finds me disappointed in the words selected by our new pastor. The hint of hope is that he said it would take him a while to understand who we are and that will inform his sermons.

 

 

THE PRAYER OF JESUS (from Francis Macnab)

Good caring presence within us, around us, and above us;

Hold us in a sense of mystery and wonder.

Let the fullness of your goodness be within us and around

us;

Let all the world know your ways of caring and generosity.

May we find we have all we need to meet each day without

undue anxiety.

Overlook our many stupidities, and help us to release everyone

from their stupidities.

May we all know that we are accepted.

Strengthen us that we will reach out to the best, always

with the faith to rise above the ugly realities of our exis

tence.

And we celebrate the gifts you have given us –the rich

kingdom of life’s possibilities the power to do good and

the triumphs of good and the moments when we have

seen the glory and wonder of everything.

You are life’s richness.

You are life’s power.

You are life’s ultimate meaning –Amen.

 

 

Verbs and Other Freedoms, The Shack, Wm Paul Young, p. 206.

 

“I”—Sarayu (Spirit) opened her hands to include Jesus and Papa—

am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am

alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb:”Mack still felt

as if he had a blank stare on his face. He understood the words she was

saying, but they just weren’t connecting yet. “And as my very essence is

a verb,” she continued, “I am more attuned to verbs than nouns. Verbs

such as confessing, repenting, living, loving, responding, growing, reaping,

changing, sowing, running, dancing, singing and on and on and on.

Humans, on the other hand, have a knack for taking a verb that is alive

and full of grace and turning it into a dead noun or principle that reeks of

rules—then something growing and alive dies. Nouns exist because there

is a created universe and physical reality, but if the universe is only a

mass of nouns, it is dead. Unless ‘I am: there are no verbs, and verbs

are what makes the universe alive.” Mack was still struggling, although a

glimmer of light seemed to begin to shine into his mind. “And this means

what, exactly?”Sarayu seemed unperturbed by his lack of understanding.

“For something to move from death to life, you must introduce something

living and moving into the mix. To move from something that is

only a noun to something dynamic and unpredictable, to something living

and present tense, is to move from Law to grace.”

 

Dutch

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Benjamin Franklin's Version of the Lord's Prayer. Follow link for his explanation

 

"Heavenly Father, may all revere thee, and become thy dutiful Children and faithful Subjects; may thy Laws be obeyed on Earth as perfectly as they are in Heaven: Provide for us this Day as thou hast hitherto daily done: Forgive us our Trespasses, and enable us likewise to forgive those that offend us. Keep us out of Temptation, and deliver us from Evil."

 

http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/123/A_New_Version_of_the_Lords_Prayer_1.html

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