Those of you (all three who read this blog!) who know me know that I was raised UCC, in the Evangelical and Reformed tradition, with a 15 year stint in the Episcopal Church. And thanks be to God for that!
Among the many things I learned was there is a difference between good liturgy and bad. And yes, I know this is all relative, and no, I would never take away anyone’s bad liturgy if it makes them feel good, but yes, deep in my heart I do believe that – just like music and art- there is good liturgy and bad liturgy.
People get all riled up about liturgy, and many claim that they are non-liturgical, like it is shameful to repeat rituals, as if we are somehow cheating if we do the same things every week. Certainly we don’t think that about sex, now, do we? And those same people are often the ones who get so angry when the offertory is moved to a different spot in the liturgy. Oh, we all have liturgy, we just don’t call it that.
Anyway, I happened to be at a religious service this year, a lovely affair. When it came time for us to responsively read the Statement of Faith, our leader asked us to read it very slowly, as if we were reading it for the first time, with feeling. Our leader did not want us to just recite it by rote.
I felt the urge to giggle. The congregation gamely tried to read the words with feeling and energy, but all of my liturgical alarm bells were going off.
When you have a liturgy with nothing but words, words are all you got. So we try to say them differently, with feeling, or put them in responsive format, or do SOMETHING, ANYTHING that will give us some variety, again, as if we are ashamed to recite anything by rote.
But for me, it was those rote prayers in the Episcopal Church liturgy that got me through some of the darkest nights of my soul, the prayers and words that we said every week came flooding back into my mind on days when I had no words of my own, only tears.
I confess sometimes I miss the smells and bells, the kneeling, the crossing, the processing of the Episcopal Church. But not enough to jump ship. I love our Harmony Creek worship, love the way we sing and pray together. I think we’ve got good liturgy going on. And when we all lustfully sing the doxology “with grateful joy, to you, the source of all life” – every week, the feeling lifts me up, and makes me glad. I know the song by heart. Rote. It’s a good thing. Fear no liturgy.