Keynote address, the first of three papers, given at the inaugural meeting of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship, July 3, 2004.
To all my Christian sisters and brothers of the liturgical diaspora, among whom are those
Grace and peace to you all,
who, have been led by God to “taste and see” the goodness of God
in worship that is Trinitarian, ecumenical, incarnational and sacramental;
who believe that “worship is the principal influence that shapes our faith,
and is the most visible way we express the faith;”
who find themselves in need of companions in this journey
of living faithfully our common baptismal identity with all its ethical dimensions;
who, though children of Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, and Bucer,
are able and eager to claim a lineage to Ambrose of Milan, Cyril of Jerusalem, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and John Chrysostom;
whose “eyes have been opened” to a new recognition of worship’s fundamental shape which is centered in the twin foci of Word and Table,
each utterly indispensable to the other, as the grace-filled means through which we encounter the Living Christ:
from a fellow pilgrim in this quest for a renewed lex orandi
and lex credendi
not that our highest aspiration is getting Lord’s Day worship “right” for its own sake; but rather, that our worship might truly transform and transfigure this broken, bleeding, burdened world so loved by God.
We are gathered on this first weekend in July 2004, in this great city of Seattle, to midwife a new initiative in this movement of the Holy Spirit that has come to be called “liturgical renewal.” That we have come this far, to the water’s edge of this Puget Sound, through many toils and snares, to give birth to this association, is astonishing in itself.
The joy we feel is as genuine as the hope that fills our hearts. There are among us some who have known the fear of Abraham and Sarah that the treasure of liturgical worship, which has always been present within the Reformed Tradition, might be left without heirs.
Yet, childbirth (which is what we are about today) in the wilderness is fraught with peril. The infant mortality rate of fledgling organizations such as this one is high. Of no small concern to us is the struggle for survival that we are seeing among some not so new organizations of similar purpose. Therefore, we dare not take anything for granted.
While this day is an occasion for rejoicing, we dare not lose our trepidation in a matter deserving of some fear and trembling. Wisdom counsels us to remain humble in the presence of this modest beginning which is a gift of grace. Only by the Spirit’s prompting, stirring, and leading has east and north and south arrived in this west to discern a path beyond which we have not been before.
But we are not faint of heart. We continue to marvel at what God has done, beginning with our own lives, for not many of us were wise by liturgical standards having been nurtured in traditions more concerned with the rule of creed than the rule of prayer.
Many would count ourselves eyewitnesses to worship overly cerebral, rational, verbal, passive, somber, and undernourished by tables infrequently set with bread and wine and fonts left dry save those days when a ration of water is set out for washing.
My own presence today would have been unthinkable a few decades ago were it not for a persistent thirst that even Jacob’s well could not quench, only the living water of sacramental worship, both reformed and liturgical.
Raised among dedicated Scottish Presbyterians who migrated from the Canadian Maritime Provinces, I was nurtured by worship that was austere and grave, sober and solemn. But I was led to discover that I am not so much a sinner in the hands of an angry God as a loving God, who redeems sinners in waters that refresh, feeds sinners savory morsels from the wedding banquet, and commissions sinners to life-changing service. Responding to this call, I attended seminary and began ministry in a country church west of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains, America’s first frontier. It was there, eager to be faithful in the matter of holy things, that I became a “seeker,” filled with questions for which I had no answers concerning the what of worship, . . . the why of its meaning, . . . the significance of how worship is done, . . . and the priceless but neglected heritage of the church’s ancient practice to inform all these questions.
Like many of you fellow seekers, my pursuit has led me to wonderful companions with whom to share conversation, challenge understanding, probe meaning, imagine new practice, and ponder the profound connection between how we worship and how we live. More than anything else, it is this necessity for vital companionship among pilgrims of liturgical renewal that has brought us to this moment.
That we should feel its urgency is no surprise. Recent history recounts similar efforts of like-minded pilgrims to form alliances of shared learning and commitment to faithful practice. In its various reincarnations, the Church Service Society is one such body worthy of veneration. It led, if not directly, at least indirectly to the Presbyterian Church’s 1906 Book of Common Worship, the 1961 Directory of Worship, and the 1970 Worshipbook, as well as the scholarly journal Reformed Liturgy & Music whose absence is mourned by many still today.
Throughout these recent decades, there has been some opportunity for fellowship and support. In organizations such as these many of you have found encouragement: the Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM), Pastor’s as Liturgical Theologians (PALT), Church Musicians as Liturgists (CMAL), and the North Academy of Liturgy (NAAL).
For some time, Presbyterian and Reformed members of this last organization, have felt the burden of the liturgical diaspora who need continuing encouragement and support and, increasingly, and lack a voice capable of being heard in places where such a voice is badly needed.
My own memory of such conversation reaches back to 1995 when the Academy recognized Harold Daniels with the Berakah Award for his priceless leadership in bringing the 1993 Book of Common Worship to publication. Since that time, the central question concerning that book has been held up to us, not by a Presbyterian but a Lutheran. With gentle persistence year after year, Gordon Lathrop has faithfully inquired among Presbyterians concerning the reception of the Book of Common Worship in our churches. Naturally, this question of reception inevitably leads to concerns for the support of all those—professionals and lay persons—who have been enticed by its vision, committed to its use, and needful of a fellowship where the many questions of practice can be thoughtfully explored.
This concern for faithful practice in local assemblies surfaced again in 1998 in San Antonio when Reformed members of the NAAL gathered for our Reformed tradition pre-meeting. What made this meeting different was a resolve to move beyond conversation to action. Seven of us, myself included, were selected to meet the following September with the purpose of drafting a strategy to organize. This new organization would provide for support and resources through a conference gathering in conjunction with an existing liturgy event. Unfortunately, this initiative was never realized due to personal circumstances among members of the planning team. What is important for our purpose today is to see the connection between the purpose for which we are gathered now and the long identified need to which many have testified over the years.
What is this testimony? It is a longing for companionship in the hard work of liturgical renewal, shared conversation filled with support, which is part affirmation and part admonition. It is a longing for resources with the skill and insight to discriminate the wheat from the chaff in order to discern what is most faithful to the historical shape of the liturgy that we are learning to call the ordo, word and table, calendar and lectionary, daily prayer, and ministries of intentional formation leading to and from the font.
Testimony to this need is being voiced not only from clergy and musicians, but commissioned lay pastors, and Christian educators. We are hearing cries from committees seeking a minister committed to liturgical practice and ministers who are seeking churches open to sacramental worship. Increasingly, members of congregations without leadership roles, who have experienced the richer fare of liturgical worship, are voicing this as their preference for each Lord’s Day.
The success of denominational matchmaking to bring such churches and ministers together for new relationships is mixed at best. My present congregation found it necessary to abandon such a denominational system and rely on a network of its own making. Other churches can claim a similar experience.
Another church, with which I am familiar, called a minister whose liturgical practice did not match his rhetoric. Now a minority has become estranged from the larger worshiping assembly. Longing for the worship with greater integrity, thirty of these persons have been meeting for more than two years for home worship that follows the service for the Lord’s Day but without Eucharist.
Some churches, which began to experience liturgical renewal, have been casting about to find capable leadership to succeed the pastor who pioneered the renewal.
I know of young pastors, less than five years from seminary, who have grown tired of entrepreneurial worship and have begun to search the church’s worship heritage. They are asking which books to read, conferences to attend, and for experienced people who can help them. They are looking to be guided in a host of practices new to them such as the imposition of ashes, footwashing, communion by intinction, a baptismal catechumenate, and more frequent celebration of Eucharist.
I know of musicians, the targets of ultimatums by church senior ministers, who have been told they must prepare and play for contemporary worship services. One such minister of music resigned over this matter after only three weeks on the job. Most of you can recite similar stories. Perhaps you have lived through one or are living in one now.
Recent changes in some of our denominational offices have resulted in a decreased ability to help through diminished funds. Yet even with ample dollars, it is unclear whether liturgical worship would be accorded a sufficient priority. History and experience has shown that we should never put all of our eggs in the denominational basket. Nor can we depend too heavily on our own seminaries. To my knowledge, there is currently but one in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that requires a course in worship for graduation. Though recent faculty appointments bring us some encouragement, pending retirements in some institutions carry uncertainty about whether the perennial Reformed favorite of homiletics will again overshadow the importance of liturgy as successors are chosen.
Therefore, support for those committed to a vision of Reformed and liturgical worship can never be separated from an energetic advocacy for this same vision, especially in those places where institutional arthritis inhibits a willingness to change old ways. For this reason, a two-fold concern is proposed for this new organization, the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship (AR&LW). At its heart must be both support and advocacy. Together they form the double-helix of our mission.
Let us first consider advocacy. We are now in a time where a respectable, articulate, knowledgeable, persuasive voice for faithful liturgy of Word and Table is needed to affirm and admonish as appropriate. Thankfully, we will not be a solitary advocate in these concerns, but in many places, the voices of the committed have grown tired and weary, or the powers that decide have come to hear but not listen. In many places there is no advocate at all, only those who champion entrepreneurial worship in culturally accommodated models.
A voice of advocacy needs to be spoken to denominational offices, seminaries, and middle governing bodies such as Presbyteries, committees of oversight for the preparation of ministers, and publishers responsible for hymnals, worship resources, and books on liturgy.
In rendering this prophetic ministry, our speech must be careful to avoid even a trace of arrogance as it expresses our deep convictions lest we perpetuate the tiresome “worship wars.” At the same time, we believe that we have a stewardship to fulfill, otherwise, we would not be here today. Let us render it with passion and love.
How this Association comes to provide support is yet to take form. Some have suggested that we could establish an electronic meeting place. All means should be considered, but most of us, I suspect, have come thus far through personal relationships that have been life-giving and renewing. Therefore, others recommend face-to-face exchanges at a national level and in more local or regional levels much the way the earlier Pastors as Liturgical Theologians (PALT) initiative functioned. Though its form might be varied, we shall know support by its fruits.
We envision a mutual support that infuses new life and learning, opens us to new understanding, and deepens insight into faithful liturgical practice. Support must encourage the beleaguered and comfort the disheartened. It must affirm and admonish both, while inspiring all to worship that is genuinely the source and summit of the church’s life. Where appropriate we must provide one another gentle correction and honest challenge, all with the absence of ego that is so often a nuisance and impediment for further growth. At the same time, we must recognize that among us are persons who can serve as badly needed mentors for those who so desire. Few of us here have come to what we know and practice without the gift of mentors.
By now it must be obvious that the shape of this support will include relationships, a coming together and a being with one another in a context that promotes this sharing. This need was identified early on by some of us who held conversation together a few years ago. If advocacy and support are our principle purposes, we must not squander our energy in planning a separate conference that will add itself to an already overcrowded schedule of worship events.
Our annual meeting does not compel us to plan a worship conference; rather it requires only a common meeting place and time, which ought to be conceived in relation to an already existing event. Early on, we envisioned attaching ourselves to some existing gathering, which we felt was compatible with and supportive of our vision of liturgical renewal. When Arlo Duba and I spoke of this two years ago, we imagined ourselves holding this Association’s meeting in conjunction with this institute. There is no other conference of its kind, which engages in scholarly reflection upon the meaning, and practice of liturgy and its implication for life in the world. As conversation expanded the audience of this organization to include others outside the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), some caution was expressed about the strategic wisdom of holding our annual meetings in conjunction with the Summer Institute for Liturgy and Worship offered by Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry.
The expressed caution revolved around three concerns: (1) geographical location; (2) perceived disadvantages that might be experienced by an association with a single conference; and (3) the harmony between the liturgical vision of our host worship conference and the vision of the AR&LW. Speaking in pastoral terms, is there a risk that the ritual form and liturgical embodiment of our host worship conference might be seen as beyond the reach of persons and churches new to the renewal of the liturgy?
In addressing these concerns I offer the following reflections. I believe that it is easy to exaggerate concerns for geographical location. Wherever we reside in the country, most of us will need to fly to the meeting unless we are among the few who live within range of driving. My experience is that the time spent getting to the airport and through security is no less with a short flight than a longer one. In addition, cost of travel quite often is not a function of distance. Perhaps the most serious issue is the change of time zones, which requires a bit of care in choosing flights and adjustment in sleep. Without wanting to sound insensitive, I suggest that geography is the least important criterion for scheduling future meetings. There is some truth to the maxim from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”
Second, is there a potential downside in remaining associated with a particular worship conference as host to the AR&LW? On May 11, 2004, the Dallas Morning News ran an article titled, “Less Traveled Road” having to do with strategic decisions made by Dell computers regarding its computer video chips. The article quotes Michael Dell: “We said, ‘Would we rather design the 21st video chip and make ours better than all the other 20, or would we be better off having guys who could evaluate all 20 and pick the best one?’ That’s the route we took.”
I suggest there is wisdom in this strategy. Rather than AR&LW seeking to create its own worship conference, or exercising a more democratic practice of choosing a different host worship conference with which to associate from year to year, our needs will best be served by accepting the hospitality of that worship event which most clearly enables and encourages the work of the AR&LW. At the current moment, there is no worship conference with the depth of scholarship, commitment to faithful praxis, ecumenical breadth and richness of embodied worship as our present host, the Institute for Liturgy and Worship at Seattle University. There is no need to apologize for selecting a particular conference from the many fine events as the one most suitable for advancing the Association’s goals and vision. Which brings me to the third objection.
What consideration should be given if the judgment is made that the conference worship is “too ritual?” Opinions depend upon each one’s frame of reference and experience. Personal comfort with ritual practice has emerged as an important criterion that needs to be re-examined in and of itself. Yet, there is a more substantial concern for the AR&LW to deal with, especially as it begins its new life and mission. The concern has to do with the pedagogical intent of conference worship in general. If the association’s purpose is to support a practice of worship that is Trinitarian, ecumenical, incarnational and sacramental, why would we not choose to join hands with the worship conference that most nearly bears witness—in plenary and liturgy—to that which is proposed in the constitution of this association?
We must always act pastorally with persons who have only just begun a journey of liturgical formation and who might be attracted to this association. Furthermore, this pastoral sensitivity must proclaim God’s freedom from liturgical tyranny. We must refuse any suggestion that a particular worship conference offers “the right way” to do the liturgy or “the pure form” to which we must all aspire lest we compromise faithfulness to God. All cultural compulsions towards perfectionism must be rejected, especially as they relate to worship. Faithful incarnation of the liturgy is never about cloning the liturgy we have experienced on the mountaintop at some conference. On the other hand, in the liturgy we are called to enact the fullness of the gospel in all its transcultural, cross-cultural, counter-cultural and contextual dimensions and to do so with beauty, imagination, excellence and grace.
Thanks be to God that this Seattle Institute, the first home of the AR&LW, offers vision and inspiration for authentic local contextualization. As one fortunate to have attended since its inception, I have found with many others that our host conference here in Seattle invites and challenges its participants to experience and contemplate faithful liturgy that is fully incarnational. It is offered, not as a model of what should be practiced everywhere by everyone, but as an example of what it means to practice liturgy that is fully embodied, inclusive of the senses, and faithful to the full, active, conscious participation by all in the assembly. Far from replicating at home our conference experience, we are provided a context for deep reflection concerning how the gospel might be liturgically enacted in each one’s own tradition and local assembly.
So here we are—we of the liturgical diaspora—now gathered through the strength of those who have gone before us, now filled with conviction that we have been called to offer the church, reformed and catholic, a living witness sorely needed in our day.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
David B. Batchelder is pastor of West Plano Presbyterian Church, Plano, Texas.
He is author of All Through the Day, All Through the Year:
Family Prayers and Celebrations
(Augsburg Books, 2000)
and a member of the steering committee of
the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship.
This paper was originally published in Liturgy: Journal of the Liturgical Conference, 20.2 (2005) ISSN 0458-063X