In God's Own Time

The Birthing of AR&LW 

by Harold M. Daniels

First in a series: 
Thoughts from our Founders

The elevator groaned as it jerked its way to its predetermined stop. Someone broke the stillness of the wait, “What would happen to the Presbyterian liturgical movement if this elevator suddenly dropped and we would all perish in the fall?”
Ripples of wondering laughter followed.
“I wonder,” came a response.
After a brief pause, “We need to restore the Church Service Society.” This impromptu remark was no idle comment. It expressed a growing belief that an association of persons committed to liturgical reform and renewal was urgently needed.
Of course, we were not the only ones who cared about Presbyterian worship, but each of us had felt loneliness in advocating for liturgical reform. It occurred in Chicago in July 1983 during a break in a task force meeting of persons responsible for preparing a resource for daily prayer and another for sung psalmody. The work was part of a design for developing a new book of services. I don’t remember all who were on that creaking elevator other than Donald W. Stake and myself. But when Don and I recently recalled the event, Don remarked, “It sounds like Arlo Duba.” Arlo was a member of the task force that was meeting.
The Church Service Society of the U.S.A. (CSS) was an association dedicated to advocating liturgical reform that had emerged twice in the previous one hundred years.
In a more deliberate conversation later in the meeting, several agreed that restoring the CSS would indeed be a good thing and took steps looking toward forming such an association. Don Stake agreed to circulate some promotion; I indicated willingness to secure permission to use the Reformed Liturgy & Music subscription list. Since I was director of the Presbyterian Joint Office of Worship, it was agreed that I should not be directly involved in forming the association, for, to be most effective, such an association needed independence from denominational structures.

The Church Service Society of the U.S.A.

The CSS was initially formed in 1897, modeled after its counterpart in Scotland with which it shared kinship. Greatly concerned that the church’s worship life was in serious decay, the members of CSS understood that the recovery of a service book would help restore integrity to worship practice. That a book of services had ever served worship in Reformed churches was a long forgotten fact of Reformed history. The CSS sought to correct this amnesia and directed its efforts toward restoring a book of services for use among Presbyterians. This objective was realized with the publication of the first Book of Common Worship in 1906. With its goal achieved, the CSS dissolved. Further editions of this service book followed in 1932 and 1946.
The CSS re-emerged in the mid twentieth-century, when the liturgical renewal movement, a movement seeking to renew the liturgy in the context of modern life, was spreading throughout the church ecumenical. The liturgical movement embodied a synthesis of worship, ecumenism, a renewed sense of the centrality of the Bible, and a witness to God’s justice and peace in human relations. In other words, its focus was the reform of Christ’s church at its very center.
In this re-emergence of CSS, its membership expanded beyond Presbyterians to include other denominations in the Reformed tradition. My great interest in the liturgy led me to join the CSS early in the 1960s. Its membership was then about two hundred. The CSS published a journal, Reformed Liturgics, advocated liturgical reform and renewal, and supported efforts for new directories for worship and a new book of services. Reformed Liturgics was important for me, for it nurtured my liturgical interests. The section of brief book reviews prepared by Floyd Doud Shafer for each issue of the journal was valuable in building my personal library.
The decade 1961-1970 witnessed momentous events in Presbyterian liturgical reform. It was during this period that the CSS was most effective. New directories for worship were adopted by both northern and southern Presbyterian churches, and a revolutionary service book, The Worshipbook: Services was published in 1970.
The same year that The Worshipbook was published, a new denominational office—the Joint Office for Worship and Music—was established. Horace T. Allen, Jr., the vice-president of the CSS and editor of Reformed Liturgics, became the director of the office. With the agenda of the CSS essentially absorbed into a denominational office, the CSS once again dissolved.
It was this memory of the CSS and its influence in shaping the worship of the church that prompted the conversation in the elevator in 1983.

A Voice Advocating Reincarnation of the CSS

A few years before the elevator remarks, and within a few months after my becoming the director of the Joint Office of Worship in 1978, I received a letter from Ross Mackenzie, a history professor at Union Seminary (Richmond). Ross had long been vitally interested in liturgical renewal and had produced and circulated a periodical, Lively Liturgy. He had concluded that something more substantial was needed for liturgical renewal to have greater effectiveness. He wrote to me expressing his intent to re-institute the CSS, and launch an American edition of the Scottish CSS journal, which he would edit.
Ross’s proposal failed to appreciate fully the expectations latent in the church’s 1970 action to establish a denominational worship office (representing both the northern and southern Presbyterian churches), which essentially absorbed the CSS agenda into the denominational structure. The locus of liturgical advocacy moved from the CSS to the Joint Office of Worship and Music, as evident in its agenda, leadership, and publication. The most visible expression of the CSS, Reformed Liturgics, became the responsibility of the new office. When the Presbyterian Association of Musicians was formed and participated in its publication, it was soon renamed Reformed Liturgy & Music (RL&M).
As the new director of the worship office (now called simply “Joint Office of Worship”), I feared that Ross’s proposal would erode the potential of the office. It was barely a decade since the office had been established. It had great promise for shaping worship in the church. However, at the time the letter came, it was struggling to survive, having lost momentum and direction after losing the leadership of Horace Allen. Both its journal and program were weak.
Before answering Ross’s letter, I had a conversation with one of my former professors, James F. White, who had broad experience with such groups. He advised caution, warning that such groups sometimes become obsessed with esoteric aspects of liturgy and thereby impede the broader work of a denominational office. I knew Ross’s work sufficiently enough to know that he was solid, and would not drift into such tangents. Nevertheless, with this word of caution, my own anxiety, and perhaps already thinking as a church bureaucrat, I replied to Ross’s letter. I reminded him that the agenda of the CSS had been absorbed into the new worship office, expressed my fears that his move would detract from the work of the worship office, invited his full support, and solicited his patience as the office sought to regain its strength and once again become an effective voice for liturgical reform and renewal. Ross abandoned his proposal.
In 1980, soon after the exchange with Ross Mackenzie, the Joint Office of Worship became responsible for developing a new book of services, published thirteen years later—the Book of Common Worship (BCW 1993). A few years into the preparation of trial-use resources that led to this book of services, it became apparent that a supportive network of pastors and congregations would be of great value. By the time the elevator conversation occurred in 1983, five trial-use resources were in various stages of completion in anticipation of the new book of services. It was no surprise then that the concern found a voice in that ascending elevator. Nevertheless, little resulted from the elevator conversation. While permission was received for using the list of subscribers to RL&M, Don Stake’s personal circumstances mitigated against his ability to follow through on his and our hopes. Though the need for such an association was never lost, it retreated from focus.

A Persisting Concern

In the meantime, the Reformed and Presbyterian membership in the North American Academy of Liturgy (NAAL) steadily grew, becoming a significant presence. A few years before the publication of the BCW (1993), the Office of Worship began sponsoring a gathering each year in conjunction with the annual meeting of the NAAL. This gathering brought together liturgical leaders from Presbyterian and other Reformed churches to share common concerns. Occasionally the need to restore the CSS was expressed. It took on greater urgency in the gathering preceding the 1995 NAAL meeting in Boston, MA. When the Academy awarded its coveted Berakah Award to a Presbyterian, a much larger group than usual attended the gathering. Nevertheless, there was no move to organize.
In 1998, at the Reformed gathering before the NAAL meeting in San Antonio, the concern was voiced with the greatest urgency to date. We engaged in lengthy and vigorous discussion on the form it should take, whether it should be expressed in a loosely formed web site, with exchange among those accessing the site, or by forming a membership association affording personal exchange in an annual meeting, with a web site growing out of such a structure. After considering beginning with a web site, the group voted to initiate a membership association with a web site to follow. From among those participating in the discussions, persons were appointed to meet and develop a strategy, and to report back the following year. Once again, personal circumstances in the lives of key members of the appointed group mitigated against realizing expectations for an association.
While the concern for such an association did not entirely fade in the minds of those who cared a great deal about liturgical reform and renewal, it did not soon move back to a place of prominence.

Pastors and a Congregation Call for Help

A few more years passed. Though use of the BCW (1993) was growing, some pastors experienced frustrations in seeking to implement the reforms it set forth. Furthermore, the numerical successes of mega-churches were enticing some pastors and churches to mimic their styles, thinking that the secret for growing memberships might lie in those styles. Fearing that the formative power of the liturgy was being sacrificed to the trendy attractions of the moment, a renewed sense of urgency emerged among those who cared most about the liturgy.
Then something remarkable happened—remarkable because it occurred in a very brief period of time. I received three calls for help in late 2001 and early 2002.
In October 2001, I received a letter from a California pastor with whom I had become acquainted when he was a pastor in Kansas and I was director of the Office of Worship. He shared his frustrations in not being able to lead the congregation he served into the most common liturgical elements readily embraced by Presbyterians. Leaders of the congregation resisted having any significant congregational participation in the service other than singing hymns. He began to wonder if there was a place for a liturgically minded pastor in the Presbyterian Church. He felt the need to move, and even considered seeking ministry in another more liturgical tradition. I cautioned him to hold steady, and that somewhere there would be a church that would appreciate what he had to offer—which he soon found.
A short time later, I received an e-mail from the search committee of a Presbyterian church in Texas. The congregation was strongly committed to preserving the richness of the liturgical heritage they had come to appreciate with their former pastor. When this pastor retired and the pastoral position became vacant, they fastidiously followed the procedures set forth by the denomination in securing a new pastor. In the information they supplied to the office responsible for providing them with potential candidates, they indicated that the liturgy was important in the life of the congregation. They wanted a pastor who was firmly committed to fostering a vital liturgical life. But the only dossiers sent to the search committee were those of ministers engaged in trendy styles of worship. None were of ministers committed to the liturgical heritage. The denominational process had failed them; and they were compelled to form their own network for seeking potential candidates. The e-mail expressed their dilemma. They asked if I could help them by suggesting ministers who were committed to the liturgical heritage.
They also sought recommendations from others who could empathize with their plight. In response to their queries, one person’s name surfaced again and again. Their attention quickly focused on him and, after meeting with him, they decided that he was the minister that would best serve them. They extended him a call and in time he became their pastor.
Later in March 2002, I received a phone call from a Louisiana pastor. Staff in the Office of Worship had told her that I could perhaps address some of her liturgical concerns of a pastoral nature. A few in her congregation were opposing every attempt to engage the congregation in participational aspects of worship as well as other liturgical reforms—set forth in the Directory of Worship and the BCW(1993)—that she had gently introduced. The opposition clearly reflected the Southern Baptist free-church influence prevalent in the region. Her call for help initiated a vigorous e-mail exchange extending over the next few weeks.

Time to Respond

Three cries for help in quick succession! Not unusual if they had spanned as many years, but coming in such a brief period was extraordinary. They brought to mind the conversations envisioning an association for liturgical advocacy and support that began nearly twenty years earlier in the elevator. It was apparent that such an association was desperately needed. When I received the phone call from Louisiana, the need resounded within me in a crescendo of great urgency. I felt called to do more than simply respond to their requests for help and address the concerns their calls raised in a broader way. Increasingly, I was convinced that I would be unfaithful to all that I believed, and to all for which I had labored, if I let this moment pass. I felt compelled to press one more time — undoubtedly my last opportunity to do so. At the time, I wrote in an e-mail to Arlo Duba (dated April 1, 2002):
I envision this as my last big effort to influence liturgical reform and renewal in the life of that portion of Christ’s church which has comprised my years of ministry, which continues to be my choice with which to be identified, and which will ever remain as the focus and passion of whatever labor I am able to give. To be able to see the torch picked up and carried with zeal by coming generations would be the greatest of tributes to the legacy of those who have sought liturgical reform within the Reformed tradition across the past one hundred and fifty years.
So, nearly nine years after retiring, and a few days from my 75th birthday, I began drafting a proposal. I had learned long ago that if you want to get something done, present something in writing for discussion; don’t simply talk about a concern. Since during the past two decades there had never been a written proposal for restoring such an association, I set out to prepare one.
I entitled my draft, “A Proposal for Structuring Advocacy of Service Book Use in Reformed Churches.” The proposal called for “an informal network of Reformed pastors and congregations committed to implementing and preserving the historic shape of Christian worship preserved in the churches’ service books.” It called attention to five Reformed churches in North America that had service books. It then called for a web site which would not only provide information about the association, but would make available previously published materials of lasting worth that could be downloaded for personal or congregational use. The articles would “encompass biblical-theological, historical and practical aspects of worship as set forth in the service books, representative of all churches embraced by the network.” Subjects for special note were baptism, eucharist, liturgical year, and daily prayer. It further called for availability, through the association and its web site, of a mentoring program and “counsel when requested from pastors and congregations.” concerning liturgical matters. The proposal then outlined procedural and financial matters. The key thrust of the proposal centered onadvocacy and support—advocacy of liturgical reform and renewal, and support for those engaged in restoring and renewing the liturgy. While still a work in progress, I shared the proposal with three friends, Arlo Duba, Dennis Hughes, and Gláucia Vasconcélos-Wilkey, asking for their comments.
In three months, the 2002 Summer Institute for Liturgy & Worship was to be held at Seattle University in Washington state. Gláuciaa had formed this institute, prompted by her love for the richness of the liturgical heritage, and her passion to convey its centrality in Christian life. As part of her position in the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University, she formed an ecumenical committee to work with her in planning the event. For the evening preceding the convening of the Institute, she had arranged a dinner meeting at a local church, inviting Presbyterians from the area as well as those attending the Institute. Some months earlier she had invited me to make a presentation for the occasion. Following dinner and evening prayer in the church’s chapel, I gave my address, “Ecumenism and the Rule of Prayer.” In conversations that evening and the following morning I shared the proposal I had prepared with those who had gathered. The response was consistently, “Count me in!”
It became apparent that this was a very special group of pastors who had come together that evening. Many in the group had been participants in a program that Gláuciaa had formed while she was an Associate for Worship in the
Presbyterian Office of Theology and Worship. Gláuciaa, a musician as well as a liturgical theologian, was an innovative staff person. Her love of liturgy and her burning zeal to instruct and nurture pastors and musicians in the liturgy led her to form, in 1997, a study group of knowledgeable pastors concerned with the theological and pastoral implications of the liturgy—Pastors as Liturgical Theologians (PALT). These pastors were committed to engage in a three-year course of study and each responsible for gathering at least three other pastors in their home area in a comparable study-nurturing group. Gláuciaa also formed a similar program for church musicians, Church Musicians as Liturgists.
The proposal had thus come into enthusiastic and supportive hands, the majority of the nucleus embracing its objectives that evening having been a part of PALT. As fate would have it, during a night following this weekend of presentation and conversation, I developed all of the symptoms of a heart attack and spent twelve hours in the hospital. Though the problem was happily not my heart, it nevertheless cost me my opportunity to follow up on the conversations I had launched. Fortuitously, Arlo Duba, who was also present with the group of Presbyterians and for the Summer Institute, took the initiative and gathered interested folk together to discuss the proposal. With the enthusiasm of those present, a long process of initial organizing and revising the proposal began.
The next year at the Institute, those interested in forming the association once again gathered to consider the mission such an association might have and hear a paper prepared by Arlo Duba. The paper developed the focus of the envisioned association and recounted the developments during the previous months. Arlo’s paper, substantially revised, has come to be regarded as a foundational document for the association. It became the lead article in the special issue of Liturgy, the journal of The Liturgical Conference journal (20.2, 2005). This issue of Liturgy also contained the proceedings of the inaugural meeting of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship in July 2004.
Though Arlo had prepared his paper, he was unable to attend due to illness and it was read by David Batchelder. I also was unable to attend because I was recovering from an illness. In reflecting on the inability of either of us to attend, I later commented to Arlo that perhaps its was fortuitous that neither of us “old guys” were able to participate in the deliberations at strategic points in the process, for it ensured that those younger would more readily assume leadership. During the following months, bylaws, a constitution, and a vision statement were drafted. The vision and labor of this dedicated group moved steadily toward the formation of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship.

From Infancy to Maturity

Twenty-one years of bringing it to birth! That is a long gestation period. From its birth on July 8, 2004, AR&LW will hopefully mature to provide the fullest expression of what it means to be an agency of liturgical advocacy and support. As it addresses the challenges of a different time and place in history, the association will assuredly manifest characteristics different from its CSS predecessor. Though some initial plans have been laid that set forth a promising future, there remain many other opportunities to explore and answers to be sought to a myriad of questions:
  • How can we best employ electronic communication? How should we shape a web site to be an effective means of liturgical advocacy and nurture, to inspire and guide an ever-widening circle to greater understanding of liturgical theology and practice?
  • How can we meet the ecumenical challenges of liturgical reform? What relationships ought we build? Especially, what are the implications for AR&LW in the Formula of Agreement that binds three Reformed denominations and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America into a relationship of special significance?
  • In what ways can AR&LW challenge and support denominational offices of worship and seminaries to provide training in liturgical theology and practice? How can we engage governing bodies to both give prominence to worship in their assemblies, and be intentional in leading congregations into worship practices that have integrity?
These and other questions about nurture and action are important subjects to probe as AR&LW moves through its infancy toward maturity.

In God’s Own Time

What has brought us to this place? Is the story recounted above merely an inexplicable series of events . . . a matter of fortuitous timing?
Or, have we been brought to this place by the providence of God, who, having been working in and among us all the while, has now implanted within us this call? In God’s own time.
It makes one wonder!

 


 

The Rev. Harold Daniels is an ordained minister in the PCUSA, now retired and living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As director of the Joint Office of Worship, he oversaw the development of the Book of Common Worship. He may be reached at hmdBCW@earthlink.net.