Tradition is the New Counter Culture

The title is for a friend. But in reality, the increasing popularity of traditional “high church” worship is more than just rebellion against the consumerist pop-worship of the Baby Boomers and my sad generation, but is recognition that the church has sold out to a pagan culture. My question: if it plays in Lawrence, KS, would it work in Enid, OK? Read the article linked below (I posted the teaser too).

When introducing a new service these days, most churches seem to go the rock ‘n’ roll route — something new to bring in a younger crowd.

To say that Trinity Episcopal Church went in another direction might be a bit of an understatement.

When the church decided to add a new service in fall 2006, instead of looking forward, it looked back.

Way back. As in the fourth century.

The result is a unique celebration of Christianity referred to as the Solemn High Mass. A mystical meeting of old traditions in a setting where blue jeans and T-shirts are appropriate, the Sunday night service features incense, music and what the church, 1011 Vt., refers to as all of the “major propers” including the Kyrie Eleison, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Credo, the Sanctus and Benedictus and the Agnus Dei, which are chanted.

Performed only during the Kansas University school year, the service, which began its 2009-2010 season last Sunday evening, has snagged a crowd young and old, Episcopalian and not, says the Rev. Paul McLain, the church’s curate.

How’s this different than how Redeemer worships? Several reasons.

  1. This congregation does use the traditional liturgy with some chanting, but we do not chant the full service. Nor do we use incense, and processions are somewhat rare.
  2. We do not use all the propers, but only a few of them.
  3. In all honesty, I think the congregation’s preference of the traditional liturgy is less a choice and more a default position. In other words, despite my efforts, I think for many we worship using the liturgy of the hymnals because “That’s what Lutherans do.” It’s comforting. This is part of the reason why we don’t use the full propers or incense and such: it’s not part of what most of them experienced in days gone by. And some of it is the fact that I prefer liturgical worship, and they just put up with me.

Why might it work better in Lawrence than here? Lawrence, Kansas is a college town, and college kids tend to be more open to new experiences. Enid, OK is also a college town…but it has more of a community college feel. Few travel to Enid to come to college; most of the students are from around here, trying to figure out what they want to do with their life, or trying to get grades up so they can go back to OU or OSU. Like most major college towns, Lawrence will have a more cosmopolitan atmosphere. Enid is more of an agricultural town, and the college is simply not large enough to affect the character of the town that much.

Why could it work here? Because it’s true.


6 comments on “Tradition is the New Counter Culture

  1. Well, of course, I believe it’s true, but there’s a different theology behind it.

    Much of the return to the traditional smacks of consumerism. It’s just another ‘style’ or ‘choice’, rather than ‘the truth’. For instance, “When the church decided to add a new service…” was the phrase and not something like, “after a review of doctrine and church precedent, we have come believe…”.

    In its favor, this latter is more like a Lutheran approach – especially those of the high church, catholic evangelical persuasion within the LCMS. But even there, its a rethinking of theology, a fresh look at the norms leading to yet another recreation, a new ‘reformation’ rather than a reentering of the continuity of the preserved and living work of the Body of Christ. That is, it’s just another attempt at ‘rediscovering the early Church’ in the mold of every Protestant from Luther through the Anabaptists to the Charismatics and House Church Movement.

    I think the positive part of your parish’s mindset is there default position of holding on to their tradition. They aren’t comfortable with innovation. That is all very good.

    The same unfortunate dynamic is seen in various ‘unhealthy’ Orthodox parishes and in Eastern Rite communities. Somewhere along the way a significant change was made or foisted upon the church. Once the dust settles, people return to the Orthodox default position of conservatism in the development or change of anything in the church thus enshrining error.

    Of course, change has always taken place, the guarantor is Irenaeus’ reference back to the practices and beliefs of apostolic foundations – plural – which points to the second guarantor: widespread, broad, time-tested support. That is, a teaching or practice idiosyncratic (and/or new) to a particular area, culture, language group, etc. is highly unlikely to represent the apostolic deposit. If the or many major centers of the faith also stand in opposition to it, then so much the less. For example, papalism has always been a strictly Western thing; Mono- or Mia-phytism has primarily an Egyptian thing (a little Syrian, too).

  2. It’s unfortunate, I think, when “tradition” comes to mean simply, “doing it the way we’re used to.”

  3. Weedon says:

    Picking up on Chris Orr’s point – why would we want to? We HAVE a living liturgical tradition of our own, one that descends from that High Mass as it was celebrated in the Middle Ages and that Lutherans have lived for centuries since. I’d think that would “play” as well in Enid as it does with Mason down in Tulsa, no? Ah, shoot, if you “do the red” and “say the black” as Pr. McCain is always encouraging us, you’ll even be swinging the incense as your people sing “Let my prayer rise…” during Evening Prayer. :)

  4. Dixie says:

    Having attended college in Kansas, just down the road from Lawrence, it is hard for me to think of Lawrence as anything BUT an ag town. OK…to be sure, KState in Manhattan would be more aggy than Lawrence but either way, cosmopolitan is not the first thing that comes to mind! ;)

    Nonetheless, I honestly don’t think the gravitation to full (emphasis on “full”) traditional worship is generation dependent (although there are always some counter culturalists) rather I see it as consistant with those seeking a richer experience of Christ. Many of the kids today grew up on abbreviated worship (even VII Roman Catholics) or on worship that was more rock and entertainment focused. I suspect as people develop in the faith they sense that there is something missing from that kind of worship and they look for something richer out there. Once a serious seeker finds a full traditional worship…well, there is something there that his faith was looking for.

    We had a former Baptist catechumen come to our parish (in a true “cosmopolitan” college town ;) ) who was thrilled to find our Orthodox liturgy (complete with chants and incense and processions). He said he loved Jesus ever since he was a little boy but that this was the first time he ever felt like he truly worshipped. There was no going back for him.

    I think you are right though that a lot of folks are comfortable with what they have, what they grew up with…tradition does have a comforting appeal, even if it is tradition only in the sense of a generation or two.

  5. You’re right about the consumerist “return” to Tradition, insofar as it’s a reaction against entertainment-worship and/or one choice among many. Not the reason for the “Traditional Liturgy” at all.

    It is healthy that my parish wishes to be Lutheran. However, with most of us Lutherans, lay and clergy alike, Lutheran means what is “Lutheran” for me. My earliest memories are Matins on the two non-communion Sundays per month, and hymns from TLH. For the church I served as vacancy pastor in Alabama, it is TLH pg 5 or 15 with spirituals and baptist songs (they were an African-American parish).

    The really sad thing is when laity and clergy alike read the Lutheran Confessions and say, “Well, that was then and them and not us today.”

    A much bigger issue.

    Getting back to the choice of Traditional worship, I still wonder if choosing a Solemn Mass as an option is still moving in the right direction, even for not-so-good reasons. Giving children vegetables even before they realize how necessary they are for healthy living is better than waiting for them to choose them for the right reasons…

    Ach so…

  6. Eric Brown says:

    On the amount of “smells and bells” used in the service, I am totally indifferent, which is good as I would consider them to be adiaphora. Note, that doesn’t mean “not-beneficial”, but I’m not going to say something is fundamentally better if there is “smell” as well. If we pine and lament how we don’t get to play with our censor, then we are shifted off of the focus we ought to be having.

    This is me guarding against my own bias towards the high.

    I am less concerned with reintroducing the high in places where it is not (like mine), but rather with increasing familiarity with such things so that people realize that if they see “incense” or someone crossing themselves that this is not “Roman Catholic” but something that is part and parcel of our very own Lutheran heritage, even if it is not common here.

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