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The Heart of the Book of Common Prayer According to Cranmer

I recently read this article, a review of Alan Jacobs' The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography, from over a year ago. The article is written by a person I would consider to be the world's foremost Thomas Cranmer scholar, Ashley Null. Null has earned the right of being called "foremost" both because he studied under Diarmaid MacCulloch, whose landmark biography of Cranmer set the new gold standard, but also because he is doing something no one else has ever done, painstakingly working through and preparing for publishing Cranmer's extensive collection of notebooks called his "great commonplaces." Null has been living in Cranmer's head and heart for quite a while now.

So despite some quibbles and corrections to the review insisted upon by Jacobs, Null's points are worth reading for anyone serious about understanding the original intent of the Book of Common Prayer. I say "serious" because the over four hundred years of Prayer Book study, revision, and historiography has littered the landscape with a lot of erroneous speculation about the theological center (or perceived lack thereof) of the Prayer Book. Cranmer's supposed intent has been coopted to defend practices and doctrine that Cranmer would not have desired. It's one thing to believe that the Anglican tradition should be wide enough to house all the permutations of doctrinal and doxological expression in today's worldwide communion. It's quite another to summon Cranmer for approval. We need more historical clarity.

I would be so bold as to say that Null is in the midst of proving that Cranmer was a convicted Reformational Protestant, not a confused churchman waffling somewhere between Rome and Wittenberg. Even more, Cranmer intended the Prayer Book to be a Protestant and "evangelical" (in the Reformational, not modern, sense of the term) worship document.

Null's article does a good job getting to the heart of the matter, but I commend a search of and appropriation of his extensive writings, including his dissertation turned publication, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love.

I leave you with a few of the choice quotes from the article that summarize just what Cranmer was all about with the Book of Common Prayer:

"Cranmer’s prayer books were primarily a missionary means to convert the hearts of English people."

"For Cranmer only divine gracious love—constantly communicated by the Spirit in the regular repetition of Scripture’s promises through Word and Sacrament—could inspire grateful human love, drawing believers toward God, their fellow human beings, and the lifelong pursuit of godliness."

"In short, the heart of Cranmer’s liturgies is moving human affections to serve God and neighbor by the power of the gospel."


Concerns about the Resurgence of Liturgy

Tongue firmly in cheek: I’m beginning to think that Santayana’s quip, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” should be added to Scripture, because it has proven to be pretty infallible. (Okay, okay, it shouldn’t be added to Scripture…it lacks apostolicity, universality, etc., etc.)

Sound Familiar?

My new context at Cathedral Church of the Advent has me reflecting a lot on the history of the Church of England, and right now I’ve been fixated upon the events of the mid- to late-1800s, which served to influence radical shifts in both the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States. We take many of those changes for granted today. It’s downright SHOCKING to read about the controversies of this era and what the debating parties said and believed. (Let’s just say that one pastor issued brass knuckles to his congregants as a result of this turmoil. I’m not kidding.) And there are some very uncomfortable parallels with some trends in modern American evangelicalism that make me at least a little more concerned about the resurgence of liturgical interest among folks like me.

Anyone who is interested in, dabbling in, swimming in, drowning in historic liturgy needs to be aware of what is variously called the “Oxford Movement” or the “Tractarian Movement.” In the nineteenth century, there arose a group of pastors, churchmen (and women), and leaders in England who were finding life in the rediscovery of the church’s forgotten traditions of the pre-Reformation era. Spurred on by some probably healthy desires to connect the worship and life of the church with more ancient tethers, young pastors and leaders like Edward Pusey (1800-1882), John Henry Newman (1801-1890), John Keble (1792-1866), and John Mason Neale (1818-1866) were digging through history like pirates finding buried treasure. They were enthralled by the beauty, mystery, reverence, transcendence, color, and life of old, forgotten hymns of the church and liturgical practices long cast aside. Sound familiar?

I Empathize...Deeply

I share, quite deeply, many of these sentiments. When I was first starting out as a “professional” worship leader, the recovery of old hymns and liturgical prayers and practices lit my fire. And it still does. In fact, John Mason Neale was (and still is) a hero to me. Many don’t realize that the Oxford Movement’s retrieval of forgotten hymns gave us some of the greats that we would not otherwise have. Classic example: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” a 12th century medieval Latin hymn (Veni, veni Emmanuel! Captivum solve Israel!) that Neale re-discovered and translated into English so that we, even today, weep every Christmas as we cry out for our longed-for Messiah. I can only hope that as I and others retune and re-give old hymns to the 21st century church, maybe something similar will be recovered, restored, and perpetuated for the sake of Christ’s church. However…

Always and Only for the Sake of the Gospel

The more I am reading quotations and analyses of the first hand accounts of the Oxford Movement, the more concerned I am that we who care about retrieving historic practices of the church take heed of the now encrusted and (in my opinion) negative consequences of the movement’s success. Cutting to the chase, the movement was so dazzled by “the beauty of the liturgy” and the connectivity with the ancient that the core of what made those things valuable and gave those things life—namely, the Gospel—was obscured, if not lost.

Brothers and sisters, recovery of hymns and liturgy must never be for its own sake, but always for the Gospel’s. The only thing that should dazzle us is God on a cross. All rituals, practices, formalities, and ancient accouterments should aid and abet that one reality. Insofar as ancient liturgy and historic hymns lead us to wonderment at the fact that while we are great sinners, Christ is a great Savior, I say, “Bring it on.”

Idol-Factories, Forever and Ever Amen

But the irony is you and I will make an idol of anything…even the thing that is intended to lead us to Jesus! This is my diagnosis of the Oxford Movement, by and large, and this is my concern for this current era, which shares some similarities in zeal and aim. As the Oxford Movement took hold and took over (it’s still quite discernable in American Anglicanism today), the window between the Christian and Christ, which Reformers like Cranmer worked so hard to clean, once again became smudged and smeared.

One of the things that I love about Bryan Chapell’s game-changing book, Christ-Centered Worship, is its call for retrieval of the shape of historic Christian liturgy precisely so we might recover the Gospel’s narrative in our worship services. I imagine that our retrieval of hymns and liturgy should look something like this, contextualized for our local flocks and expressions. Therefore, as we proceed in mining the jewels of the past and polishing them off for the present, I propose a simple, evaluative question: Does this practice help to lead our people toward or away from Christ and His finished work? I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all question. I think it needs to be asked perpetually, prayerfully, and locally. But, literally for Christ’s sake, we must ask it. Our gods can only dazzle for so long before they devour us.

In other words, as we dig for treasure, let's make sure we're not digging our own graves.


My Big Move, My New Church

Over the last twelve months, my postings have been sparse due to all the creative energy being poured into the book. (It’s available for pre-order on Amazon, by the way.) And over this last month I’ve been on radio silence as my family made a pretty big transition out of South Florida and on to a new call up the road. Many of you already know, but for those of you that don’t: I’ve joined hands with some great leaders and joined hearts with a vibrant, gospel-obsessed congregation in the heart of downtown Birmingham—Cathedral Church of the Advent.

What I Love About Advent

Advent is an Episcopal church with deep roots—established in 1872. It has a long and rich history, smack dab in the middle of a downtown that is going through all the joys and woes of urban renewal. Birmingham is an exciting town to live in, and all of us at the church are sensing a ripe season of ministry ahead. Part of what excites me about being a part of this church is its providentially strategic placement.

Another thing that excites me about Advent is its emphasis on the gospel. Though a completely different local church in a completely different town, there are many ways in which the Advent and Coral Ridge shared a strongly similar vision and mission for what a local church is and does. In fact, over the years there has been a lot of cross-pollination between the leaders and thinkers at Advent and Coral Ridge, which is how I first got connected with the church.

Yet another thing that I love is Advent’s worship (duh). Most of you all know I’m a big fan of the Prayer Book tradition—the oldest English-speaking liturgies around rooted in the best of historic Christianity’s pre-English-speaking worship words and practices. I’ve been studying the theology and worship of the English Reformation for several years now at Knox Seminary, and it’s answered a lot of questions for me about what gospel-centered, Reformational worship looks like. (My doctoral thesis will likely aim at what it means to bridge the worlds then and now in worship.) Advent has a glorious musical tradition with just about the best choir I’ve ever heard in a local church, led by a couple of great musicians who really care about congregational singing. Advent is growing in its more modern musical expression, and my job is to oversee the whole kit and caboodle (all of the services, all of the liturgical happenings).

My Journey from Coral Ridge

I’ve received a lot of support and prayers over the last year, and it’s been needed and appreciated. God walked Coral Ridge through a significant season of pain, and He saw fit to call me to be a part of the transition between the past and the future for the church. In fact, I tell people that it was actually the time when things got really hard that my sense of call was the most clear. Providentially, my last Sunday at Coral Ridge was the Sunday on which their new Senior Pastor, Rob Pacienza, was installed. I’m genuinely excited for the future of Coral Ridge, especially because I had the honor of passing on the ministry of worship to Julie Anne Vargas, a talented, capable, godly, pastoral leader who I had the privilege of mentoring and working with.

All I can really say is that God was gracious in simultaneously giving me a sense of completion of my call at Coral Ridge and a new call to a church that He was obviously preparing me for. The timing was perfect. (I know He doesn’t always work like that.) People have sometimes wanted to read subplots and intrigue into all of this, but there simply isn’t any to find. For me, the transition out of Coral Ridge was deep and sad (who doesn’t hurt when you have to say good bye to people you love?), but sweet and loving. They sent me to my new call like a missionary. And I will tell you, Birmingham is a new mission field for me if I’ve ever seen one.

What I’m Up To Right Now at Advent

Right now at the Advent, I’m trying to do a lot of listening, really. I’m trying to spend lots of time getting to know people, hearing their stories and hearts.  I’m imbibing the rhythms of worship, and I’m trying to figure out what makes things tick. I’m trying to get a handle on what the culture of worship at the church is like. I’m not implementing a thing. I’m merely taking in. I’m thinking, praying, asking, dreaming. I’m leading worship services, too, and feeling like a rookie once again—asking rookie questions, making rookie mistakes. It’s humbling, and it’s fun. I’m enjoying soaking in the richness of tradition, hearing God’s Word, His law and His gospel, coming at me in the liturgy, receiving preaching that points me to Christ, and taking in the nourishment of the Lord’s Supper. It’s all really, really good. I’m feeling blessed and grateful. And at peace.

Some FAQ’s I’ve Been Getting

Questions from friends near and far keep coming up. I thought I’d pose and answer the most frequent ones.

What’s your official title?

Canon for Worship & Liturgy. It’s pretty awesome. It makes me sound like a big deal. For those not familiar with Church of England-style lingo, a “Canon” is basically an “Associate Pastor.” “Canon” sounds strong and powerful, but the reality is I will need another “n” before I’m going to be able to blow anything up.

Are you wearing all the bling?

Yes, I’m sporting a collar on occasion—mostly on Sundays and for hospital calls. Yes, I don robes and vestments on Sunday mornings when I’m leading the liturgy. Daily, no. I wear downtown-y clothes during the week. :) For me, I’m all about doing what’s best for the flock, what helps me to minister well. It honestly feels a little uncomfortable for me, but that will fade with time, and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable for everyone else, which is what really counts. All things to all people!

Did your theology change?

Not at all. Actually, becoming a part of this very Reformationally-conscious Episcopal parish makes several aspects of the theology I’ve always been convicted of feel more at home, rooted, and centered. Advent, as a part of the Anglican communion, is very aware of its historic theological identity—its roots in the theology of the 39 Articles and the original Prayer Books of the Church of England—and it actually thinks (as I do) that the gospel articulated, prized, enacted, and preached therein is worth dying for.

Yes, many (well, most) other Episcopal parishes conceive their identity very differently. Advent is a place that chooses to take its historic roots seriously, engaging (and believing in the contemporary relevance of) the streams of Luther and Calvin that flowed into the Church of England at the time of its formation. Advent believes in all the evangelical (in the best sense of the word) essentials that I do.

What about your ordination?

For some, this will feel like yawn worthy TMI. I’m ordained in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), and when I was at Coral Ridge—a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)—I was serving in what Presbyterians call an “out of bounds” capacity. It makes me sound like a deviant. All it really means is that I retained my ordination in the EPC even as I served in a non-EPC church. I regularly attended regional EPC pastors’ meetings for support/accountability, even as I completely and passionately invested myself in the local church.

I’m doing the same thing in Birmingham. I’m transferring my ordination into the regional EPC body here and serving in an out of bounds capacity. It’s less-than-usual configuration, for sure. But it appears that my whole ministry to this point has been less-than-usual. I’m just following God’s lead. Though I readily conceive of myself in relation to the Church catholic, and in relation to denominations, movements, and tribes within the universal church, I’ve always felt that my sense of call must first and foremost be to a local church—to flesh-and-bone humans who do life together and pour out their gifts for one another and for the world. God has made my call to Advent crystal clear, and I’m excited to be rolling up my sleeves.

As the dust settles over the summer, I hope to resume a more regular rhythm of posting. It’s very life-giving for me. I imagine, given my new context, that I will be thinking different thoughts. I only and always find my best posts springing from reflections that happen in my local context. I’m excited for the release of the book and the conversations and new thoughts it will stimulate. The Worship Pastor might end up raising more questions than answers, but, as others have told me: That’s what second editions are for. 


Why Studying Cranmer Can Be Valuable for Worship Leaders Today

Periodically, I will be blogging over at Reformed Worship, a broad and thoughtful home for deep reflection and great resources. My first submission is a plea for folks in our Reformed tradition (and beyond) to take seriously the investigation of Thomas Cranmer, sixteenth century English Archbishop and architect of the Book of Common Prayer.

In the article, I discuss why we're tempted to overlook him as one of the Reformation's best worship thinkers and why he should be considered as someone who was laboring within the Reformed tradition (theologically, he's been unfortunately pegged all over the map). Then I offer takeaways for how his work as a "missional liturgist" (someone who thought about how to contextualize historic Christian worship for the people his day and age) can inform our practice. Go check it out!


A Helpful Primer for a Daunting but Important Book on Liturgy

These days, I meet more and more worship leaders interested in exploring the history and thought of Christian liturgy, and it's hard to recommend works that both do justice to the forms and evolutions of Christian worship across time and remain brief. One landmark work, Dom Gregory Dix's The Shape of the Liturgy, is a daunting and massive tome (which I haven't read in whole) that I wish, for the sake of unschooled inquisitors like me, were more brief. Well, I've at least found a helpful primer for Dix's work that I wanted to share with you all.

While searching for other things, I stumbled upon this wonderful article by William Tighe summarizing the history, impact, and major arguments of Dix's 700+ page groundbreaking volume. Originally published in 1945, Dix's work has never gone out of print and has successfully influenced liturgical studies all the way down through the present. I have only jumped in and out of Dix's work myself, but I found Tighe's article supremely helpful in getting at what appears to be the big picture of The Shape of the Liturgy. Go read the article, but here are a few excerpts that help summarize things.

On the major themes/arguments of the book:

If The Shape of the Liturgy has one dominant argument, it is that the Eucharist is not primarily a ritual by or through which individual communicants come to have an individual experience of “communion with the Lord.” It is the corporate “coming” of Christ to the faithful, through the Eucharist of the Church, his Body. It is a deepening of the union of the faithful with him in his Body, his Body being both the Church and the Eucharist.

On one of the book's more interesting and remarkable insights (we need to read Dix and judge whether we believe it's accurate):

An important theme concerns the “four-action shape” of the classical Christian Eucharist. The argument runs as follows. At the Last Supper, before the supper Christ took bread, blessed it, broke it, and distributed it.Afterthe supper he took a cup of wine, blessed it, and distributed it. Subsequently, the apostles and their immediate successors combined the “bread ritual” at the beginning of the meal (“This is my body, which is for you; do this for the remembrance of me”) with the “cup ritual” at the end of the meal (“This is my blood of the New Covenant . . . do this for the remembrance of me”) and separated them from the meal itself, which continued for several centuries as the “church supper” or “agape meal.” Thus, the Eucharist assumed the form that it subsequently followed in all primitive Christian traditions: the celebrant (1) takes bread and wine, (2) blesses them, (3) breaks the bread, and (4) distributes the blessed or consecrated elements to the communicants.

This way of looking at the Eucharistic action was one of Dix’s more remarkable insights, and if correct, it would have major implications for those Christian traditions which believed that following the practice of the (very) early Church, so far as this could be known from the Bible or the earliest Christian writings, was a good thing.

On the impact of the book:

It also gave rise in some circles to an ongoing “quest for the perfect liturgy” that resulted in incessant liturgical experimentation. It also gave rise to the view (which was not the author’s) that the worship life of the Church had gone astray at a very early date and needed radical overhauling at the behest of liturgical “experts.”

On what Tighe discerns as one of Dix's most concrete hopes for the book for the Anglican tradition:

Dix would have preferred an ongoing, long-term period of controlled liturgical experimentation within the Church of England, under the loose supervision of its bishops (but without according them any real authority to regulate it), in the hope that by doing so, not only would it have a liturgical expression more faithful to the Christian Tradition, but also it would come to a clearer sense of its own identity.

Tighe goes on to talk about the controversies it stirred in the Anglican tradition because of Dix's assertion that Thomas Cranmer's eucharistic theology was closer to Zwingli than either Luther or Calvin (which we might be able to understand, given Dix's vantage point as an Anglican with major sympathies for Rome). Having studied Cranmer heavily over the last few months, I concur with many Anglicans' criticism of Dix for this association. But while those Anglicans (of the more Anglo-Catholic persuasion) probably would want to see Cranmer as more Roman Catholic, the most recent observations (which will hopefully be published in the next few years by Cranmer scholar Ashley Null) point to Cranmer's eucharistic views as closest to Calvin. (This is a bit anachronistic, though, because Calvin would have had less influence on Cranmer than Calvin's influencers, like Martin Bucer.) What is obvious, though, is that Cranmer didn't have a Zwinglian, "symbolic," view of the eucharist--he believed in a real, spiritual (though not physical) presence of Christ at the Lord's Table.

Tighe discerns that The Shape of the Liturgy wasn't written as a "manifesto for liturgical reform," but as a contribution to a new and exciting discipline of study which had emerged in the 1940s--comparitive religion. Hence, Dix is keenly interested in the Jewish/Semitic origins of the Christian eucharistic rite.

One of Dix's more regularly quoted observations about the Book of Common Prayer as originally constructed by Thomas Cranmer was that it was "the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of justification by faith alone" (p. 672). The fact that Dix was not fond of this doctrine (according to Tighe) makes his observation that much more striking, and liturgy-investigators like me and others would do well to carry this observation into our mining of those original Prayer Books of 1549 and (especially) 1552.

Tighe then ends the article with a three-paragraph summary outline of the book. Very helpful. I, for one, plan on printing this article and tucking it into my copy of The Shape of the Liturgy as a reference.


Why God Rarely Lets Worship Leaders Have a “Perfect” Worship Service

Courtesy of despair.comIt happens every Sunday, but some Sundays “it” is more pronounced than on others.  Yesterday, I experienced a small- to medium-sized “it.”  We celebrated Reformation Sunday, and our church was hosting some of the leaders of the international gathering of PEAR USA, the (conservative, evangelical, Rwandan) oversee of the Anglican church in the United States.  In our presence were important figures, including our guest preacher, Bishop Nathan Gasatura and a few of my Anglican worship-leader acquaintances from across the US.  All of this made the service extra sweet, because we were able to break bread together and embody, with just a tiny glimpse, what the Kingdom would be like in its consummation. 

So, for probably some good and some bad reasons, I wanted the service to go off really well.  I planned a robust liturgy, with more Anglican (Prayer Book) elements than is common for us on a weekly basis.  And we pulled out all the musical stops—stately brass quintet, big fat pipe organ, 90-voice choir, and grade-A folk band.  We sang “A Mighty Fortress,” a Mumford-style arrangement of “10,000 Reasons,” “Help My Unbelief” (Red Mountain), and, for communion, “Open Our Eyes” and “In Christ Alone.”

We had one little snafu.  During “10,000 Reasons,” I (overly ambitiously) planned for a tiny musical extension leading from one verse to one chorus, to add a bit more flare and excitement.  You can imagine what happened.  The congregation (they sing boldly at Cherry Creek) came in where they weren’t supposed to, two bars early.  Awkward worship moment #2,653,238 of my career.  The cool part of it all was that I smiled at the congregation and they largely smiled back and laughed and we got on with praising God.  We’ve built that kind of trust and rapport over the years, where those kinds of things don’t phase us too much--a blessed camaraderie.

This was a minor thing.  Sometimes, though, they aren’t minor things.  Sometimes you don’t have a capo on when you should and you begin a song on an awfully dissonant downbeat.  Sometimes your tempo is dreadfully off.  Sometimes the sound is horribly off.  Sometimes you mispronounce a word and say something very differently.  (I have a few off-air stories I could share if you are ever in Denver. ;))  Why does God allow such things to occur? Well, I’ve learned over the years that it’s at least partially for your sake.

God provides errors as humbling moments so that we, in the words of Dan Allender, “lead with a limp.”  The moment we begin to rest in our adequacy, our performance, and our perfection is the moment we’ve most fully bowed to our self-serving idols.  We perfectionistic worship leaders get all bent out of shape over small glitches, and usually the congregation gets over them much faster than we do. (Many times, they don’t even notice it.)  It is so easy for us to inflate ourselves.  Every time someone gives us a verbal high-five of affirmation, it can be one more air-pump to our heads.  We’re sinners; it’s the way we roll.  We take a good thing, like mutual edification in the body of Christ, and we mix in some sin and taint it.  If we’ve got the humility to see it, then, we can realize that God uses the snafus to let a little air out from our heads. 

Here’s what happens when we don’t see it: we blame.  We point the finger.  We come up with 10,000 reasons why it’s the sound guy’s fault, the band’s fault, the congregation’s fault.  But, in Christ, we’re freed up to raise our hand with a bold mea culpa.  Our reputation’s not on the line when we mess up.  That’s sealed with God the Father, in Christ, through the Spirit.  Our performance record (counter-intuitively) isn’t marred when we mess up.  That’s already been taken care of. Our report card is a 4.0, straight A, summa cum laude, valedictorian’s rap sheet, because Jesus already mailed His own report card in to the Father with His name scratched out and ours in its place. 

If the above-mentioned issues are settled, then we can receive the mess-ups as the Father’s gracious, tender discipline so that we don’t think too highly of ourselves.  We can receive errors with holy joy.  So, after Sundays like yesterday, once I parse out all the yucky, sinful stuff in my heart, I’m able to simply say, “Thank You, God,” and look forward to the next Sunday.

More posts on Reformation Sunday:


Does Liturgy Work with the Poor, Illiterate, or Uneducated? 

I was recently in a friendly yet passionate dialogue with a pastor-friend of mine, for whom I have a lot of respect. We were wrestling through whether a more overt liturgy (one with readings, congregational responses and prayers, etc.) worked with more "simple" folk--people who think simply, need things simplified, and aren't attracted to high-level theological abstraction.  My friend contended that his context was one where high liturgy would not thrive because people weren't interested in heavy theology, antiquated language, and dense readings.  These "blue collar Christians" needed something simple, simple, simple.  I began asking myself the following questions: Is a more robust liturgy only appropriate for the white-collar intelligentsia?  Is liturgy unable to connect with uneducated or lower-income folks, or more simple-minded, non-doctrinaire Christians?

All this got me thinking, in particular, about a fellow pastor and missionary to Denver, Billy Waters, and the community that he serves, Wellspring Church, an Anglican parish situated in Englewood, one of the inner-ring suburbs of the Denver Metro region.  These older suburban communities are experiencing huge demographic shifts because of the gentrification occuring in central Denver.  The poor are being displaced to the first suburban layer of the city, and Wellspring is one of the churches that finds itself in the middle of this shift.  Billy and the other leaders have been faithfully following Christ and making disciples in their neighborhood for many years, now, and I shot him three questions about the above dialogue because I thought he might be able to provide a unique perspective to illumine the subject at hand.

ZH: Tell us about yourself, the church that you serve, and its worship context, including the worship service style/feel and the demographics of folks who come.

BW: The Church was planted 12 years ago. We started with about 15 people in my back yard. Our vision was/is to see fervent followers of Jesus in Englewood. From here, we desire to see a movement of new churches spring up around the Denver Metro area.  Our church and community demographics:

*Age spread at Wellspring: young families, students, singles, and a few people in their 50’s-70’s
*Socio-economics at Wellspring: diverse, though primarly blue collar
*Ethnic spread in Englewood (not yet realized at Wellspring): 75% Caucasian, 20% Hispanic, and 5% African-American

ZH: Some have said that a robustly liturgical worship service only works with intellectuals and "white-collar Christians." How does your worship context challenge that assumption?

BW: The liturgy has been, at least initially, a barrier to our illiterate population. After one or two months, however, they have it memorized. The liturgy has been tremendously formative for our homeless population and children. Many of our congregants utilize the forms in the prayers of the people as a template for their personal prayers. If you ask some of our kids what is the gospel, they will respond, "Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again." Recently, a homeless woman came back from another church to give her testimony and she said that it didn’t feel like church because they didn’t have communion. There are countless examples of how liturgy has generated and formed kingdom desires. 

 When someone says, "the liturgy is a hindrance or weird," it is usually coming from people who grew up in another expression of church. We have found that those who have NO church experience think what we do is normal and that to not have liturgy is weird. These are the people we are going after. 

ZH: In his book, Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith argues that liturgy has a shaping power on people, even if at times everything isn't completely understood. How have you seen the liturgy shape people in your context?

BW: The passing of the peace challenges people to reconcile relationships. We have seen many times relationships restored at the peace and before communion. The holding of the hands and saying the Lord’s Prayer at the Table, reminds people that we are unified body. The confession screams that we are a confessing people. We have had people proclaim publically their struggle with pornography, approval, work-aholism, addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, etc… The commissioning says we are a sent people. Any time we send someone out we do it at the commission. It is a powerful expression of mission and sentness.

All this seems to me to be a pretty powerful testimony about the power of the Church's historic worship modus operandi, regardless of someone's age or cultural or socio-economic background.  It corroborates what Smith has to say about how liturgy shapes people, sometimes without even knowing it.  Smith talks several times about liturgy's shaping effect on children and the mentally handicapped--folks who are supposedly "unable" to understand many aspects of the liturgy.  It just goes to show that repeated liturgy seeps into our soul, like water in cracks, waiting for the Holy Spirit to break us open in a Divine freeze.  The beauty of repetition is that foreign words and concepts become part of our soul's vocabulary.  Faithful, thoughtful worship "becomes" us over time. Our soul (whether blue or white collar...whatever that means, anyway) grows to the liturgy rather than the liturgy shrinking to us.  


What is a Canticle?

We evangelicals interested in historic worship practices, traditions, and liturgies have a steep learning curve.  Part of that learning curve is a glossary of vocabulary words that pretty much feel like a foreign language (and there’s actually good reason for that…much old school worship lingo is Latin-based, not English-based).  From matins to Magnificat, from vespers to Nunc dimittis, we cautiously dip our toes in the water.  One of those Liturgese words is “canticle,” and I’ve found it particularly hard to understand what it is.  Upon reading Paul Westermeyer’s concise yet thorough definition below, I now understand why. 

Click to read more ...