Monday, October 31, 2011

A case for the Daily Office - on Sundays

In the midst of the Diocese of Connecticut considering a resolution to allow Communion without Baptism, Fr. Robert Hendrickson of Christ Church offers another reflection on using the Daily Office of Morning Prayer as a service to reach out to the unchurched. His reflection is entitled Morning Prayer with Hymns and Anthems: A Catholic Case for the Office on Sunday at 11:00.

In the United States, there is a history of using Morning Prayer as the main service on Sundays. This dates back to a little scuffle we had with England called the Revolutionary War. Prior to the Revolution, the Church of England had a prominent place in the faith life of the colonies and was the established church in Virginia, Maryland, New York, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

The clergy of the Church of England at this time were required to take two oaths at their ordination: the Oath of Conformity and the Oath of Supremacy. The Oath of Conformity was the oath swearing that you will conform to the "Doctrine, Discipline and Worship" of the Church of England. The same oath is required of clergy today - in my case, just substitute "the Episcopal Church" for the "Church of England" and you have it. The Oath of Supremacy is one which was required - key is "was required" as it no longer is. The Oath of Supremacy was the oath taken by a cleric which declared the sovreign (king or queen) as the head of the Church (rather than the Pope). At the time of the Revolution, both oaths were required.

But this presented a problem when the Revolutionary War happened as supporting the War was not only treason in the eyes of the British, but for a cleric it was a violation of an ordination vow. As such, at the end of the War, many Anglican priests left the newly formed United States and returned to England. This left the American Anglicans with a multidemensional crisis on their hands:
  • How can the Church be the "Church of England" now that we've broken away from England?
  • What do we call this thing since it can't be the "Church of England" anymore?
  • The Church lost its established position and thus its income from church taxes
  • Most of the clergy left which meant empty pulpits, no one available to consecrate the bread and wine for Communion on Sundays, and no bishops (who were all in England anyway) to confirm or ordain
  • No way to ordain priests or deacons since they all had to take the Oath of Supremacy and could no longer do so
Part of the solution to the weekly worship crisis was to implement Morning Prayer as the principle worship of Sundays. Morning Prayer could be led by lay persons - you didn't need a priest for this!

While the issue of consecrating bishops resolved itself by 1785, there continued to be a priest shortage in the colonies for some time, hence Morning Prayer became established as a normative practice in the United States.

With the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the service of Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) was reestablished as the principle worship for Sunday mornings. This brought the Episcopal Church closer to the practices of other Anglican churches throughout the world who never did use Morning Prayer as the principle service for Sundays.

A serious concern as we enter an age of greater secularization is how to welcome unchurched people to worship with us. Some have argued that Holy Communion should be given to everyone, regardless of whether or not they are baptized. While I don't want to see us return to Morning Prayer as the principle service, using one of the Daily Offices as a Sunday worship offering might just be a way to use our traditions in a new way and welcome all.

Friday, October 28, 2011

No, Jesus doesn't really care about your feelings

Now that I have your attention, you may be thinking, "What do you mean Jesus doesn't care about my feelings? Jesus was all about love and acceptance. Of course he cares about our feelings."

Well ... I hate to burst your bubble ... but no, he doesn't. They are not his primary concern.

I started a bit of a firestorm on Facebook last week when I linked to a blog post entitled "On Being Made and Ever Re-Made: Of Baptism and Communion" by Fr. Robert Hendrickson of Christ Episcopal Church in New Haven, CT. In it Fr. Hendrickson argues against giving Communion to unbaptized persons - a conversation currently happening within the Episcopal Church. Those who argue for communing the unbaptized base their position that Jesus welcomed everybody and that we need to emulate his "radical hospitality." Fr. Hendrickson argues (and I concur) that offering the sacrament to the unbaptized is, in essence, putting the cart before the horse as baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the Body of Christ and Communion is the sacrament of ongoing transformation as we live into our baptismal covenant and grow into the full stature of Christ. I highly recommend you read his posting as he articulates this position most eloquently.

So why the firestorm on Facebook? Well, some of my dear friends from church believe strongly in communing the unbaptized. One friend posted that communing the unbaptized went beyond "radical hospitality." She posted:
Jesus wants us to reflect his Love to one another and anything that is exclusionary, an "us and you" type of mind set does not do that. If I go into a church and am not "allowed" to take communion because I have not been baptized, I am automatically going to feel inferior, unaccepted, and different. I don't think that is what Christ is about and I think Jesus would NOT be happy.
She clearly articulated a position which is being discussed in the church and several others shared similar feelings in their posts too. While I do not agree with communing the unbaptized, I deeply respect their concern about welcoming those outside the Church and share their concern about how we best do it. We are living in time of greater secularization and we need to be welcoming unchurched people into our communities and inviting them to know Jesus Christ. We are wrestling with being inclusive without losing our identity as Christians. We agree that Jesus wants us to show love for one another without exception. But is having a boundary the same as being unloving?

In our culture, we seem to think of being "loving" is being "nice." Any parent who is doing their job of parenting knows that there are times when the most loving thing you can do is let your kid take their lumps in life - it's called "tough love" and it's the hardest thing a parent ever has to do.  Love is "strong as death" (Song of Songs 8:6).

Love clearly is more than a feeling - it is a willful commitment to another and a commitment to an intimate relationship which ideally seeks the best for the other person. Not that feelings aren't involved in a love relationship, but feelings are only a part of what it means to love.

My friend's post had many feeling words in it: "inferior," "unaccepted," "different," and "Jesus would NOT be happy." (I confess I am an NT on the Myers-Briggs which doesn't make me the most "feely" kind of person - so she is one of my treasured friends who helps me with this.) Her passion for welcoming the stranger and her Christian faith are strong. Her post made me think more deeply about whether or not Jesus really cares much about our feelings.  If Jesus were primarily concerned about feelings, would he have ...

  • Called the Pharisees a "brood of vipers"? (Matthew 3:7, 12:34, 23:33; Luke 3:7)
  • Told Peter "Get behind me Satan"? (Matthew 16:23, Mark 8:33)
  • Repeatedly called the scribes and Pharisees "hypocrites"? (citations too numerous to mention)
  • Said to the crowd "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?" (Matthew 17:17, Mark 9:19, Luke 9:41)
  • Taken a bull whip to the money changers in the Temple?
  • Let the rich young man just walk away without an offer to renegotiate the terms of "sell everything you have and give it to the poor, then follow me"? (Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22)
If Jesus' ultimate concern was about other people's feelings, then he had a strange way of showing it!

I don't believe Jesus cares much about our feelings, or our thoughts for that matter, as an ultimate concern. He does, however, care about our right relationship with God and others - and certainly feelings can be a part of that, but they aren't the end goal. To stop with feelings or thoughts would be to sell us short and I don't think Christ wants to sell us short. His ultimate concern is with our conversion, repentance and renewal. And conversion, repentance and renewal don't always feel good.

The scriptures tell us that for the oppressed and abused, Jesus gave them back their dignity and restored them to the fullness of their humanity. Whether that was healing the lepers, restoring sight to the blind, giving hearing to the deaf, or raising the dead, Jesus lifted up those who were marginalized and abused by society. He restored them to their rightful status as God's children. This probably felt very good to those who had been downtrodden. However, the scriptures also tell us that Jesus used harsh words (and sometimes actions) on those who were resistant to his message - he even laid into his disciples on occasion! I'm sure this didn't feel very good. Sometimes the truth hurts. But Jesus was more interested in the truth than he was about whether he had hurt the feelings of those he confronted.

So I'm sorry to be the one to burst your bubble. Jesus really doesn't care about your feelings as something of ultimate worth. He cares about something far more lasting and important - your very life.