December 15, 2017
Pilgrim Theological College, Centre for Theology and Ministry
CURIOUS ABOUT CHRISTIAN WORSHIP?
Searching through my bookshelves to put a bibliography together around the foci that shape ExploringLiturgy.org I was once again struck by how exciting liturgy study can be. There are so many rich and diverse perspectives on so much robust Christian and other worship practice around the world, including here in Australia. But my next thought is that one wouldn’t always know this is the case, and from where I am in Melbourne, it must be said that recommending a visit to a local church or chapel can be dicey (Cones, 2017). Not every Christian place of worship seems to know about the work of the Liturgical Movement, and some seem to have shut off awareness of liturgical revision in either consensus or experimental directions. They do not all seem to have embraced developments in their own tradition let alone good things they might learn from others.
These observations are not only able to be made in my city, of course, just as churches losing touch with and failing to reflect the realities of their local cultures and communities is a wider phenomenon. Bereft of especially young people, they may have become what Melbourne Anglican Gary Bouma calls “geriatric assemblies” (Bouma, 2011: 11). Culturally monochrome, they may exclude difference without even anyone voicing their difficulties with new- or other-ness (Brazal and de Guzman, 2015). Losing verve at contextual mission, and grasp of clues about what liturgical practices that might invite, they may have become frightened about engaging with wider umbrella culture now. Perhaps led in worship by an untrained presider—which as my later comments will suggest, I do not think is necessarily the fault of such presiders—or having only the eucharist left in their liturgical repertoire, or drifting along to monologue preaching, they may be lost somewhere in the past, whether it be mediaeval Salisbury for a Sarum rite mass, the MCG in 1959 for a Billy Graham sermon, or nostalgia for some other remembered or imagined time. In such places, the doors to the sacred may have become “overgrown,” to use an image of Graham Cray’s, though as he also points out, “sadly the exit doors [may be] well used,” with people leaving, in coffins or for other reasons (Cray, 2017: 5).
In other places, some seemingly booming, other dynamics prevail. There may be connection to wider culture, for sure, but less to longstanding and durable liturgical traditions and no great sense of the wealth of resources, quite apart from questions, that might come their way if they went looking in the church’s treasury of prayers and practices.
And it seems fair to say that in a range of different settings, it is not always evident that persons at worship think they are part of enacted, embodied, communal, and symbolic practices—and themselves the primary symbol —of welcome, of personal animation, and of communal formation in the life that matters. And sometimes it can be anyone’s guess what, if any, books on liturgy leaders of liturgy might have been reading. As a teacher of liturgical studies, I am curious.
MY OWN LEARNING IN LITURGICAL STUDIES
My own academic liturgical education began several decades ago now, and I confess that at first I was not very engaged with what was on offer to me. It wasn’t so much the fault of my (in fact, very fine) teachers, as the way in which the discipline tended to be organised, how its concerns were framed, and the limited media in which it look interest. To me, on first encountering it, the discipline seemed backward-looking, as if with a fetish for “the early church.” It seemed highly text-bound, with little feeling for people who may have been in the room to read—let alone pray—texts (apart from maybe the presider—because he had been given special rubrics). It seemed focused on minutiae—this form of words in a line in that prayer—and not what I would later come to appreciate as the basic big ideas through which so many of the details start to fall into place, and even become fascinating. For example, the 101 notions that liturgy (from the Greek words for “work” and “people”) means both “work of the people,” and so requires for authenticity the people’s participation (it is not done to people, least of all as a show) and “work for the people,” and hence is a kind of “public service,” ex-centric, outward-looking, worldly in the sense of turned to the world that, according to Christian faith, God loves so much—these are just the beginning of things that at first I didn’t “get.” Let alone the contention of my own Christian tradition that would become central to my personal convictions that word and sacrament (which I hope to find) at the heart of liturgy are gracious divine self-revelation.
So the study of liturgy seemed to me to be trapped in a past from which it did not speak to the present, was lumbered with texts as if worship was burying heads in books, and seemed to be missing the wood for the trees. It wasn’t until I came to be taught by and to read the work of persons like Ann Loades (e.g, Loades, 2000, 2005), Gordon Lathrop (eg. Lathrop, 1993, 2017), Gail Ramshaw (e.g. Ramshaw 2000, 2017), Don Saliers (e.g. Saliers 1994, 1996), and others, that quite different ways of approaching the discipline dawned on me, and I first began to feel excitement about the subject matter. And I am sure it is also true that it wasn’t until I was a pastor, leading liturgy with people who entrusted me with so much joy and so much sorrow, and I was striving to lead a Christian community in extending its invitation to Christ to the wider community, that the importance of taking care with liturgy really sank in to me.
Nevertheless, over time I have continued to be convinced that—much fine work notwithstanding—liturgical studies sometimes remains too narrow. There is still not always enough attention to practices. It can still be far too text-bound—just as too many congregations do not seem to have realised that prayer book texts are not the liturgy. It can still have too narrow a range of attention largely or only across old-line traditions. It can still not make enough connection with wider cultures in which worship is set, nor with the people with their joys and sorrows who live within those cultures.
These feelings have certainly affected the ways I have tried to teach liturgy. In the first place, in any liturgy classroom in which I preside ritual surveys are always involved, with the set of optics I first noted in James White’s work yet to be bettered as a way to begin: "note: who the people are (age, race, sex), what roles each group plays (including the ordained clergy and choir), what is the architectural setting of the worship, what visual arts are present, how people arrive and leave, what actions happen (such as offering, receiving communion, baptism, etc.), what leadership roles are apparent (usher, reader, presider), who sings and how, the uses of music, the use or not of printed materials, use of the body (hand clapping, hands raised), and how strangers are treated" (White 1998: 442-3).
Secondly, in my teaching and invitation to learning the call for attention to enacted practices keeps recurring. And thirdly, the old-line traditions are esteemed, but so are new ones. One of the lovely things for me about teaching liturgy at the moment (with something no less mixed in most of my past experience of teaching) is that sometimes about a third of my students are Anglicans, about a third Uniting Church, and about a third a mix of various others, but with neo-Pentecostals in good number. More precious again is the cross-cultural mix: in a liturgy class earlier this year, so many nationalities or ethic backgrounds were represented, that less than twenty percent of persons in the room were Australians. In another class, this time comprised more heavily of Anglicans, only one had any long-time familiarity with A Prayer Book for Australia—the closest thing the Australian Anglican church has to anything like a book of prayer in common. A diverse world turns up regularly for class.
So thinking about how I want to encourage wider views of liturgy, and engagement with the wealth of difference, and acknowledging what a wonderful opportunity exists in globalised classrooms, I am glad to be involved in and commend to others the collaborative initiative Exploring Liturgy. It’s five foci: Aboriginal-Christian ritual, worship in diaspora dynamics, emergent worship practices, interfaith and interpath ritual, and neo-Pentecostal liturgy, are certainly swirling out from narrow focus on old-line traditions, even as they will no doubt raise all sorts of good questions to my own thinking about the centrality of word and sacrament. The project also uses mixed media: not just texts, but sound and snippets of cinematography, too; but it is also not just looking at texts (where they exist in the settings we are exploring) but enquiring after various aesthetic and performative aspects of liturgy—and then not just the presider’s but the assembly’s “performance.” The sought mode, tone of voice, as it were, of the project is appreciative enquiry, so if my opening reflections seem to be less than always glowing about some things, let them stand as expressions of concern about what can go on and go wrong in the celebration and study of old-line worship settings, in which sometimes present resistance-to-change surely needs to be chastened, as the missional reflection arising in those churches often clearly attests (Anglican Church of Australia 2006; Fryer 2009; Croft 2012). Also, because I take it to be axiomatic that, as Dolores Williams says, "theologians, in their attempts to talk to and about religious communities, ought to give readers some sense of their autobiographies, [which] can help an audience discern what leads the theologian to do the kind of theology she does" (Williams, 1993: ix) let them also say something about me. I can add that I am a British-Australian citizen; have lived on three continents (though all English-speaking contexts in the global west); am a hybrid Anglican with no interest in belonging to only one of the sometimes bitterly polarised local Anglican (“catholic” versus “evangelical”) factions; am a presbyter in the orders of the Church of England; in the majority in many ways, and am also strongly formed in feminist and postcolonial optics—on which, just a little more later. So while Exploring Liturgy is a crucially collaborative venture, in these reflections, I speak for myself.
In what follows, I sketch some key aspects of how I perceive teaching and learning in liturgical studies at the present time and into the future, to show some current contours of the discipline in which Exploring Liturgy makes its contribution. I draw attention to four dimensions of contemporary study of liturgy:
(i) reframing of history,
(ii) advocacy of the ordo,
(iii) expansion at edges, and
(iv) the fragility of formation.
1. HISTORY REFRAMED
It might at first seem strange to kick-off reflection towards “futures” by reference to the past, but inevitably understanding of history shapes the future. It is important to acknowledge that liturgical studies has undertaken some reassessment of earlier presumptions about the past, particularly with respect to the so-called “early church,” spoken of in the singular. There was, we are now better able to appreciate, no single such thing, but rather plural practices in many communities. What we receive as extant documentation about early churches does not necessarily give us the ability to do much tracking of either common practice or historical development. Paul Bradshaw is an important contributor to liturgical studies’ recent reframing of history, and he depicts the situation of the liturgical historian as one having “little more than a series of dots of various sizes and density on a large sheet of plain paper” (Bradshaw 1992: 56). Unlike earlier generations of such, contemporary liturgical scholars cannot presume that such dots can be joined in “linear or unidirectional” (Bradshaw 1992: 59) ways.
Bradshaw’s influence can be seen widely, and not least on and through his immediate colleagues and students. So for some further implications of his work, here is Maxwell Johnson on early patterns of baptism: "there appears to have been no single common pattern, ritual contents or theological interpretation which suggest themselves as universally normative, apart from some rather obvious things like catechesis, the water bath, and profession of trinitarian faith. Hence, some of what has been viewed as universally normative was but the result of various developments towards liturgical uniformity brought about in the aftermath of Constantine’s imperial ascendency and the various Trinitarian and christological councils of the fourth and fifth centuries" (Johnson 2003: xiv).
Bradshaw, Johnson and other scholars have shown similar dynamics in relation to sacramental and other rites, while others have pointed to the contemporary implications of revised understandings of the early churches. Ruth Meyers, for example, notes Bradshaw’s own work as a liturgical historian “to recognize the pluriformity of early Christian liturgical practice and so to be open to the possibility of a greater diversity of contemporary practice” (Meyers 2004: xvi). Of course, such recognition also opens up different possibilities for the future.
It must be noted that some liturgical scholars—quite apart from some congregants—have struggled to embrace diversity in Christian worship in their own day even as they might admit a much more pixelated understanding of the early Christian era. The official liturgical resources of the churches have sometimes been quite stubborn in holding off learning about diversity, then or now, though mercifully at least “Acts of Uniformity” (to use an Anglican phrase [Jeanes 2012]) less commonly dictate to local assemblies the details of their liturgical expression in particular local cultures, with the prospects of parallel relaxation implied by the current pope, Francis, now a matter of great anticipation among many Roman Catholics—certainly many Roman liturgists who invested in the vision of the Second Vatican Council (Francis 2017; for background, Francis 2014).
No liturgical study can go on at the present time which avoids recent recognition of the diversity in early churches, and without the question of the reframing this invites in our own time. Futures of worship are freed up by reassessment of what were once regarded as narrower precedents from the past. Exploring Liturgy offers clues for enquiry into how history impinges on present day expressions of worship, including how it is being “remixed” (Gay 2011) as much as more heavily reimposed, with the remixing sometimes deftly at work in contemporary settings helping to both puncture and fix the punctures caused by leaning on imagined pasts that have collapsed.
2. ORDO ADVOCATED
Despite such diversity, one of the remarkable achievements of recent ecumenical endeavour has been the widespread adoption of and common commitment to a shared ordo. At heart, this ordo is a patterning of liturgical events in gathering around both word and sacrament before culminating in a missional sending out. It can now be seen in a wide range of prayer books and liturgical resources, sometimes for the first time, and where it already existed, it may now be either in better balance of word and sacrament, or clarified and brought into better focus, uncluttered from secondary elements that might otherwise obscure it. We see a prime example of a clarification in the striking shift from the World Council of Churches’ Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry in 1981 which simply made a long list of elements said to be included in eucharistic celebration, to the WCC’s proposals in 1994’s “Fundamental Pattern” (Best and Heller 1994: 34), in which I note in order to honour him that University of Divinity elder Robert Gribben had a strong hand:
GATHERING of the assembly into the grace, love and koinonia of the triune God
Reading of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments
Proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified and risen as the ground of our hope
(and confessing and singing our faith)
and so interceding for all in need and for unity
(sharing the peace to seal our prayers and prepare for the table)
Giving thanks over bread and cup
Eating and drinking the holy gifts of Christ’s presence
(collecting for all in need)
BEING SENT (DISMISSAL) in mission in the world.
This ordo, obviously, is eucharistic, but its basic shape also patterns services of the word, in which there may well be intentional “eucharistic echoes,” or “opportunities of transformation” (Church of England 2000: x) that invite a closeness to God akin to that which sacramental encounter can open up. And while the patterning of baptismal rites tends to be a little different, this only provides an example of a kind of scavenging of good things across traditions so that strong commonalities emerge—a dynamic that is always going on in liturgical revision. We see a striking example in the Uniting Church in Australia’s rites of “baptism and related services” (Uniting Church in Australia 2005: 17-129) which are a local twist on—nevertheless evidently very strongly indebted to—the Roman Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, perhaps via the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s own appropriation of the Roman material, which is itself collected together from extant fragments of early churches’ baptismal teachings, practices and disciplines.
It is important, though, to recognise that however “found” the ordo is a construct, even as it does indeed involve elements that are able to be mapped back to some practices discernible in some early churches. But consideration of the ordo also requires care that it is not overstated—lest it become a modern day “act of uniformity.” So whereas Paul Bradshaw speaks of feint “dots,” Gordon Lathrop—with Gribben, another key contemporary exponent of this ecumenical ordo—suggests gently that the evidence of history can be pushed a little further but only so far as to say that there is “a core Christian pattern which, in its largest outline, can be explored in early sources” (Lathrop 1993: 35). This “outline,” however, is also able to be followed through the long winding history of Christian worship. In that history, word and sacrament are the central things, albeit with one or the other too often either depleted or aggrandised. Yet word and sacrament, Lathrop says, remain means of “Christ giving himself away in mercy at the heart of the liturgy” (Lathrop 2017: 187), with that conviction distilling why Christian liturgical traditions do well to take up the ordo construct. It is also important to note that this ordo has been amenable to widespread moves away from common texts—and not only between traditions but within them—so that it is a common shape centred on word and sacrament that now lends Christian worship a “family resemblance,” even as words for worship may differ, and as the cultural mores in which word and sacrament are wrapped are different from place to place, generation to generation, community to community (Burns 2014a).
That and how the ordo anchors some basic similarities amidst much diversity is a crucial component of contemporary liturgical study, at least with respect to Christian traditions, who into the future will continue to recognise and celebrate diversity through shared esteem for this outline that unites. Part of what Exploring Liturgy offers is insight into (if and) how the ordo is being advocated and employed in diverse settings.
3. EDGES EXPANDED
While the present diversity of Christian worship is astonishing, Exploring Liturgy is intended to invite attention to various expressions that still remain under-represented in liturgical study. In this, it must be said, they are joining a queue, part of a longer list of things awaiting widespread attention in liturgical scholarship. For example, and much to my own distress, it is remarkable how little impact decades of feminist liturgical work have had on many official church resources for worship (Slee and Burns 2010; Ramshaw 2012; Burns 2014b). And postcolonial approaches are still new (Jagessar and Burns 2011; Carvalhaes 2015; Suna-Koro 2017), and attempts at queering liturgy have only just begun (Garrigan 2009). Each of these approaches—feminist, postcolonial, queer—touches on issues or practice that is still deeply troubling at local level in many churches, quite apart from also often to their hierarchs. Each marks out the space between those churches’ culture and wider ones, even enabling the churches to last out as bastions of sexism, racism, and homophobia.
Having said that, from a Melbourne perspective, it is good to remember that a local feminist group led by Coralie Ling, recognising themselves as “dissident daughters” of the church, gave the name to an important collection of feminist investigations into liturgical diversity at the turn of the millennium (Berger 2001). It is notable too that the researcher behind that project, Teresa Berger, has changed some of her own tactics to encourage what she now calls more “gender sensitivity” in liturgical matters. Her more recent work forcefully shows how female presence in liturgy—including its leadership—has been hidden, suppressed, silenced, and still needs to be “unveiled,” which she begins to do brilliantly in her book, Gender Differences and the Making of Liturgical History (Berger 2011). The shift in her approach from one book to another might be distilled as one from first looking at margins to then paying attention at the centre but to what has often been at the centre all along, unacknowledged. She speaks in her own words about “claiming as many elements as possible from the tradition while at the same time reconfiguring what is authorized as ‘Tradition’” (Berger 2011: 73). There are lessons here for liturgical studies at large, and maybe especially for those who would champion various kinds of important, still-needed, and still-resisted, inclusion.
Exploring Liturgy wants to trouble liturgical studies to look at some things I think have been largely overlooked. Aboriginal Christian ritualising is one, which sits within as it were an open wound of much still-unsolved and unjust history between the First Peoples of this land and those who invaded it, causing damage unwittingly or otherwise. Christianity was colportered by invaders, and the unfolding history of “mission” caused many more scars. Liturgical forms were part of the imposition of other cultures onto peoples of this place, and the “settling” of Australia presents some of the starkest questions arising anywhere on the planet about what “inculturation” might now recover from local cultures, as well as what needs to be confronted, and indeed perhaps relinquished, in the sediment of Christian liturgical practice which landed on these shores (see Pilcher 2012; Taylor and Matton-Johnson 2014 for further discussion). The dearth of recognition of Aboriginal history is one of the weaker things about Australian prayer books, rare fragments notwithstanding such as A Prayer Book for Australia’s thanksgiving (see Burge 1995)—one of very few pieces in that book—and Uniting in Worship 2’s somewhat better representation, though with Acknowledgement of First Peoples still consigned to a section of additional resources, rather than proposed as incumbent on Christian assemblies in what Chris Budden evocatively describes as “invaded space” (Budden 2009a, 2009b). Perhaps we are only now approaching a time where what has been lost can be more squarely faced?
Another focus for Exploring Liturgy is the new forms of Pentecostalism which now burgeon in this country, as well as elsewhere, sometimes in versions exported from Australia. Hillsong is a “brand” that is known across the world (Zchech 2009). Pentecostal traditions have also been brought to this country in recent waves of migration, especially from Africa, as diasporic movement of peoples carries traditions in the Pentecostal stream of Christianity. (Forms of Orthodoxy—Coptic, Greek, Russian and other—provide other significant, different and related, examples.) Some of this Pentecostalism emerged in their homelands out of old-line churches, with the evolution/exodus of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) out of the Anglicanism of its Nigerian origins a case in point, and an important one given the real possibility that the RCCG is the fastest growing church in the world. Oddly, very little of these Pentecostal developments make their way into what still often pass as the “norm” in liturgical studies, but they will in Exploring Liturgy. They are sure to be part of the futures of worship (Gathogo 2016).
4. FORMATION FRAGILE
Whatever exciting things are going on at new edges, coming to light through new “unveiling” in liturgical studies, and being rediscovered as we explore the tradition, a core reason for teaching and learning in the discipline continues to be equipping those who will lead public worship to do their work well. Or so one may hope. But the signs are not always encouraging. For while the explicit curriculum in theological education (that which happens in classrooms) may be good—and across all fields of biblical, historical, systematic and practical theology, with opportunity for all this remaining as valuable as ever—studying theology is no substitute for ministerial formation nor for training for the work of ministry. Study is part of, but only part of, what public ministers need, not least to become orthodox, which as Ken Leech reminds, is less about “being right” than being “consumed by glory” (Leech 1979: 11). Dan Aleshire’s observation is also sage: "People tend to assess the work of ministers and priests in terms of three broad questions. Do they truly love God? Do they relate with care and integrity to human beings? Do they have the knowledge and skills that the job requires? … Not only do people ask them, they tend to ask them in this order. If the answer to the first question is 'no,' people don’t even proceed to the second and third questions" (Aleshire 2008: 33).
But in practice, ministerial formation is easily pushed out of the priorities of centres of theological education, just as practical dimensions of training are often outsourced, so that much of the traditional work of seminaries is lost from some theological schools. The situation is grave when students don't receive anywhere much, let alone robust, training in the actual work of ministry--in identifying and including the gifts of others, winsomeness with word and sacrament, fostering mission-mindedness, inviting openness to renewal, culture-shaping and change. Places where formation and training are sadly lacking can certainly include theological college chapels (see Garrigan and Johnson 2010): in some institutions, with regards to what is learned and taught in liturgy, the space between classroom and chapel can be vast, with jaded chapel worship perhaps fumbling through the pages of a prayer book with a drear no growing parish ever could, or seeking Sarum or some evangelistic rally or other relic, or having foisted on it participants’ best lights but those lights being little more than uneducated preferences. Yet it is the implicit curriculum of chapel that will in the end overwhelm whatever might be done to introduce liturgical renewal, missional learning, or inclusive commitments to the explicit learning forum of classrooms — which, anyway, is never itself enough, as it needs to be integrated (see Burns 2014c, 2015, 2016) with formation and training for ministry.
Further, because of the fragmentation that marks some kinds of theological education in Australia, in which relationships between providers and the churches can be tenuous, sometimes neither church nor theological college takes significant--enough--responsibility for formation and training. It is so easily students’ integration of learning for practice that suffers, their preparation for ministry the casualty that falls into the gap. That is, if a gap is even perceived: in the Anglican Church of Australia, a plain reading of new “minimal standards” for ordination suggests that neither liturgical nor pastoral theology is required for ordination (Anglican Church of Australia 2017)! Whatever accounts for this strange suggestion, it indicates that care through a complex, spiralling, interaction between personal devotion, theological study, the primary theology of communal worship, and growing into pastoral practice is not going to play much part in preparation for standing in persona ecclesaie.
These are some of the factors that interact and may contribute to a certain inward-lookingness among some Australian clergy that researchers have sometimes noted. What Philip Hughes calls the “addictive and self-edifying circle in church life in Australia” seems to attract particular contributions from clergy who have often “settled into a ministry within their congregations [so that] the locus of ministry is in the church rather than in the [wider] world” (Hughes 1993: 89, 58). This contention needs more investigation in my view, with special scrutiny needed of what does and does not go on in theological colleges that might help produce the kind of outcome he suggests.
In light of my comments, it will not be surprising to hear that I do not think ministerial formation is always on the agenda of liturgical studies to the extent that it should be. Engaging with processes of formation will of course need to draw in all the theological disciplines and their shared context in the implicit as well as explicit curricula of learning. But worship is at the heart of the rest, and not only as a forum in which celebratory and proclamatory modes of theological learning may be manifest, but where the mystery of God, the “content” of theology, may yet best be entered. Exploring Liturgy proposes a widening of the range in which public ministers need to be formed, and its circling out in different directions pushes against the narrowing that has sometimes been ascribed to Australian church life, whilst also inviting exploration of many rich means by which divine glory might begin to be glimpsed.
In sketching these notes, I realise that I have only just started to explore the reframing of history, advocacy of the ordo, expansion at edges, and fragility of formation in liturgical studies. But perhaps I have said enough to suggest that Exploring Liturgy can and will enable more learning about each of these and more, as it celebrates God’s presence enlivening, awakening, transfiguring, igniting, nourishing, and uniting devotees and pilgrims, enquirers and skeptics, who will open themselves up to the futures of worship in a diverse world.
Stephen Burns works as Professor of Liturgical and Practical Theology, Trinity College Theological School, University of Divinity. His recent publications include Postcolonial Practice of Ministry: Leadership, Liturgy, and Interfaith Engagement, co-edited with Kwok Pui-lan (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2016).
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