Change: unsafe at any speed

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by Maria L. Evans

Almighty God, by the radiance of your Son’s appearing you have purified a world corrupted by sin: We humbly pray that you would continue to be our strong defense against the attacks of our enemies; and grant that [this____________and] whatsoever in this church has been stained or defiled through the craft of Satan or by human malice, may be purified and cleansed by your abiding grace; that this place, purged from all pollution, may be restored and sanctified, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

–Prayer to restore a consecrated church item that has been profaned, p. 318, Book of Occasional Services

One of the writers I’ve come to appreciate on our own Episcopal Cafe is George Clifford, simply because he’s not afraid to walk to the edge about some things we hold dear about our church in a visceral way–for instance, his recent suggestion that the printed Book of Common Prayer is going the way of the dinosaur. However, it was one of the comments that really got my mind going, one by EH Culver:

“They may replace real candles with flameless ones, but I doubt that anything can make a thurible safe and yet still able to do its job. After all these centuries, lighting the coals and producing an impressive cloud of smoke constitute the messiest, most dangerous liturgical action of all. If there’s a way to clean this up, I haven’t thought of it.”

All of a sudden it clicked for me–our obsession with (and our reaction to) the various Holy Accoutrements mimics the visceral tension of understanding ourselves as Christians and growing into the people God calls us to be as individuals and in community.

Anyone who has been an Episcopalian for any length of time has the Holy Hardware we love, and the Holy Hardware we can’t stand. I’ll confess mine. I love real bread at the altar (can’t stand Holy Fishfood,) and want RED, not white, wine (What? Plasma of Christ? No way!) There are people who love incense and people who can’t stand it. There are people who feel physically ill from the notion of being denied a BCP to hold, and people who would just whip out their smart phones and deal with it.

Now…the reality is I know in my heart the Eucharist is still the Eucharist, even if it does have the liturgical equivalent of a Necco wafer of bread, and a white wine that looks like the most protein-starved blood donor I’ve ever seen. But that tension bred by choice and technology, rather than concentrating on our reaction to it, should be our teacher instead. Notice that the things we most often react to, are the things that are tactile and sensory. Books vs. e-books. Candles vs. oil-candles. Wine colors. Crisp folds and pristine whiteness when it comes to corporals. Incense or the lack of it.

In short, we want to pick and choose between our messy and dangerous things–but full speed ahead Christian discipleship takes us out past the boundaries of safe and comfortable. There will always be a place where being Christian and doing Christianity feels distinctly unsafe and palpably uncomfortable. To stay comfortable is to die–it insulates us from the realities of a broken world, a world that is crying for us to be a participant. It’s why the mainline Christianity of our parents and grandparents is beginning to look like a mausoleum of hollow, empty churches. We are, I believe, called to use our own awareness of our discomforts in our church communities as training exercises for the discomforts we will encounter in taking our stories to an increasingly unchurched society.

How can your own personal unease with changes in worship in your home parish become a springboard to your own personal sense of mission in the world–a world that’s potentially messy and dangerous? What are we inadvertently profaning in the church be insisting it remain “the way we’ve always done it?”

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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Adam Wood
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>>I think the answers will vary from community to community.

>>My hope is that people feel secure enough in the Gospel to ask them in community.

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Yes, very much.

Whenever I have been in a parish (or other organized community) where there were serious problems, especially in dealing with change (whether change was needed but not happening, or change was inevitable but being resisted) one of the most fundamental problems I've seen is an inability to talk - really, actually talk- about what the underlying issue is.

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Maria L. Evans
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I think every one of those questions are valid ones, Adam, and I think the answers will vary from community to community. My hope is that people feel secure enough in the Gospel to ask them in community.

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Adam Wood
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And of course, as the writer hints at, to suss-out just what is going on with an objection to "change."

Am I upset about new music because I don't care for the style? Or am I right that the lyrics are not adequately communicating the faith?

Do I balk at projection screens because "we've never done them?" Or am I annoyed at how tacky there are? And if they are tacky- could THAT fact be improved?

Do I prefer Ye Olde Englishe Prayeres because of their beauty? Or because I can't really understand what they're saying, and I really prefer that?

And then- at least as importantly- if not moreso- the PEOPLE DOING THE CHANGE need to really think through what's going on...

Are we introducing rock music at Mass because we think it's a great way to appeal to the youth? Or is there a legitimate group within the community that desires to worship in a different style?

Are we switching to projection screens to save money? To look more like a mega-church? To increase participation? To open up more options for liturgical texts and songs?

Have we switched from red wine to white wine so we have less laundry to do? Have switched from wafers to bread (or bread to wafers) as some sort of ecclesiastical-identity statement (wafers = AngloCatholic; real bread = progressive and emergent)?

Is there really a need for "change?" Is this really the change that's needed? What problem is being solved? What bias or point of view is informing your desire to implement something new or different? What do we think of as "default" or "neutral?" What do we think the purpose of liturgy is in the first place?

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