Thursday, May 7

Explorations in the Liturgy

As I found myself the only pastor at Reconciler this past January, one of the challenges I felt we faced was how we would authentically keep an ecumenical witness to our liturgy. To some degree this has always been a challenge. The way we faced this chalenge originally was in creating a liturgy (the form of which coincides with most church's liturgy of word and table) in which each of the three pastors when they lead that portion of the service did so from within their tradition. The clearest way this happened was at the table each of the three pastors followed their tradition. However, attempting to duplicate either the Baptist or Episcopal way of celebrating communion wasn't really an option for me, and I didn't want this to simply become a "high church" Covenant worship service. It was clear early on that this was in our worship the place of challenge to the ecumenical vision.

As I reflected on this I remembered that our liturgy itself was an adaptation of the BCP Eucharist service and the Lima Liturgy of the WCC, along with some Baptist elements (a form of altar call) and what might be called emergent elements (like discussion after the sermon). So, during the Octave of Prayer for Christian unity I used the Lima liturgy unchanged, and it seemed to fit us more or less and the feedback I received on the liturgy was positive (though only a few gave feedback). The challenge of our current situation turned into an opportunity to explore making some changes to our liturgy that may bring about an adaptation of the Lima liturgy to a congregational and weekly used order of worship. Also, on other Sundays I have been adapting the Eucharistic prayer from the Apostolic Constitutions of Hypolotus of Rome. In the past couple of weeks I have been playing in our liturgy and the Lima liturgy, seeing how our liturgy may be more informed by this ecumenical liturgy designed for ecumenical worship and how the Lima liturgy may be adapted to our context.

Our context includes the space we worship in. This has lead me more and more to play with the idea of simply using the "east facing" altar in the chapel, which would mean facing the same direction as the congregation during the Eucharistic liturgy and not facing the congregation. Of course such a posture could communicate many different things, including exclusion and distance. However, the original idea of all including the priest facing towards the altar and not facing the people is that we are all praying together, rather than one person performing for everyone else: priest and people have a singular action which the priest does on behalf of all. Most importantly though we are all praying together facing God as a community. An altar against a wall is called "east facing" because it was the practice to build churches such that the sanctuary of the church where the altar is was on the east side of the building. This all has lead me to think about having our congregation move in our space so that at the liturgy of the word we sit around lectern at the rear of the chapel and then move and stand at the front near the altar all facing the same direction at the Eucharist, maybe even at some point having all process in together at the beginning of the service from outside the chaple.

All of this thought of getting us moving more, with the liturgy becoming something we do with our whole selves and together, presents a difficulty if we are all carrying books and papers, not impossible but certainly more difficult. Which has me rethinking the role of projectors and screens in worship and the liturgy. I am beginning to wonder if we have been thinking too piecemeal when it comes to the use of "media arts" and projections. Liturgical books were to be "media" aids towards the right and orderly performance of the liturgy, and then a means like with the Book of Common Prayer that all could know and understand what the liturgy was and what was going on, but still as a "media" aid to prayer and the work of the people. But now as we look at the liturgy and attempt to delve the depths of Christian worship we are rediscovering that worship and liturgy are more than words, it is an act and action we do with our bodies. There are varieties of way of attempting to live into this: some of which abandons much or all of whatever might be viewed as "tradition" or "traditional", or we attempt to add things and integrate thing into a "traditional" liturgy. But what if "media art" is like books have been? What if we use them to communicate and direct the congregation in the act of worship; that is what if what is projected on the screen using various technologies isn't there to augment or create ambiance but is itself giving direction to the congregation in the way our bulletins and hymnals and worship books do now? Reconciler is a long way from possibly getting rid of paper and books, or so it seems right now, and whether projection would work in the chapel at Immanuel is another question as well. However, the challenges of January have at least for me, your pastor, lead into an opportunity to play with the liturgy and explore how we can both be more ecumenical in our worship but also engage our whole selves in this ecumenical worship.