Worship Styles: An Idiot Falls Into a Trap

A few weeks ago, I sat in Bexley Hall’s Tuesday night Eucharist and listened, for the second week in a row, to the old old Rite I liturgy out of the Book of Common Prayer. I mentally objected, citing my conviction that worship should be in the language of the people (just because something is in English doesn’t mean it’s in the language of the people), and sat, bored, as all of the old motions were paraded around Gloria Dei amid an unusually choking cloud of incense.

“This is why I prefer Lutheran worship,” I thought to myself, “this is the second week in a row that we’ve done the old Rite I, and honestly, I’m already bored with…” And I stopped.

Now, my Anglican friends, this is the point where you can stop being offended, because at that very moment, the cage door fell into place, and I found myself caught in a trap marked  “IDIOT–Please Insert Foot Into Mouth At This Time.”

I got to thinking about the different worship styles in our joint community.

Worship at Trinity Lutheran Seminary is fairly rigid. Monday is Morning Prayer, Tuesday Responsive Prayer, Wednesday Eucharist and Thursday is Taize. The pattern rarely deviates from this outline. Even on Wednesdays, we use many of the musical liturgies found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, but the structure of the liturgy (and indeed, most of the words) is exactly the same between all ten liturgies.

So why did it bother me that we did Rite I two weeks in a row? The answer is, of course, that I like Lutheran worship more than I like Anglican worship (I am Lutheran after all), and that I don’t really care for Rite I.

Kinda made me feel like an idiot. But it also got me thinking about how our worship experiences influence us. I grew up in a Swedish Lutheran church that did things a certain way. We had what I called the “happy liturgy” and the “sad liturgy” (and the “happy psalm tone” and the “sad psalm tone”). We’ve used wine and grape juice concurrently since forever. Pastors, assisting ministers, acolytes and crucifers wear albs, and every service has all of them (and there was QUITE the fight when we had to stop calling them “deacons” and start calling them “assisting ministers”). The communion bread was finished off after church by the kids. It was an odd mix of low church and high church attitudes. It’s natural, then, that I am drawn more toward worship that fits what I remember.

(Incidentally, this applies to other scenarios as well. Walking to the Peking Dynasty Chinese restaurant with Debbie, I was taking a look at all of the different housing styles along the street. At one house, I said, “Ah, now this house is a house I could live in.” Debbie burst into laughter, and when I asked what was so funny, she explained the house looked just like my parents’ house in Chicago. She was right, of course–that house could have transplanted into Hegewisch and fit in perfectly.)

But are there time when I want to break out and experiment. I am part of the planning teams setting up worship for the upcoming Lenten season, and we’re going to be trying to different themes. As if to chastise me for my earlier lack of wisdom and faith, this past week’s Anglican Eucharist used a wonderful Scottish liturgy filled with American folk tunes that I adored.

Variety in traditions keeps things interesting–even when I encounter a variety I don’t like. Once I escaped from the trap of my own idiocy, I remembered that.

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Author: Pastor Ken

Ken Ranos serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

4 thoughts on “Worship Styles: An Idiot Falls Into a Trap”

  1. Your observation is interesting. I’ve always found Rite I to be more Lutheran than ELW. After all many of the architects of the first Prayer Book were Lutheran or crypto-Lutheran. It may have something to do with my LCMS background that the more formal language is not a turn off. It’s also interesting that when the Lutherans were looking for an English translation of the Divine Liturgy they turned to the Prayer Book as much of the Liturgy had been set aside as too Roman in the Nineteenth Century.

    You may want to visit an LCMS church. They won’t commune you, but seeing a traditional confessional, service may help to inform your ideas of just what a Lutheran service may look like. But be careful there are praise bands in the LCMS too. You wouldn’t get a traditional Lutheran service at one of those churches. I think the closest to you is Bethlehem1240 S Maple Ave, Fairborn Ohio. I’d also suggest you find a copy of The Conduct of the Service. You can find it here: http://emmanuelpress.us/our-books/the-conduct-of-the-service/ It’s the best Liturgical resource for Lutherans around. It presents in great detail a fantastic step by step explanation or the rubrics for the Lutheran Liturgy.

    I also found your objection to the incense interesting. In my German Lutheran LCMS church of my childhood we NEVER had incense, crossing our selves, or genuflecting during the Creed. That was all too Roman. It wasn’t until I went to an ELCA more Swedish church that I first experienced all of that as Lutheran. I now worship in an Anglo-Catholic congregation where all of the smells and bells are there every Sunday and Feast Day.

    I do think that Luther wanted to maintain the catholic liturgy, but remove things in error, however, that which was considered adiaphora was permissible and churches could keep local customs and remain Lutheran. When it comes to the language of the people I do think that the German Mass of Martin Luther was an attempt to draw in people who were not educated, familiarize them with the Mass and just what is happening so that they may be lead to the Latin Mass as the ordinary.

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  2. I have given up long ago (for similar reasons as you state) trying to define what is the best worship. Perhaps better the question is, “What is the best worship for the community and believer?” Just as we learn differently (“multiple intelligences”), I think varied worship helps varied people grow in communion with Christ and his church.

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    1. Good observation. An example I can think of is a nearby church that has a contemporary worship service. They don’t really know why they have it–it’s just sorta there because someone thought it would be a good idea. It wasn’t necessarily right for the community, but nobody thought about it.

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