I used to think that every one of “Those Evangelicals” hated liturgy.
You haven’t heard of Those Evangelicals? It’s simple. Those Evangelicals are the shadowy others out there in the world. Whenever I disagree with Those Evangelicals about something, it makes me feel smart and edgy. And Those Evangelicals have an irrational fear of liturgy.
During my cynical days, I spent a lot of time defending liturgical traditions like Episcopalianism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy against the ignorance of Those Evangelicals. I also spent time concocting theories about why they hated it.
Maybe it was their aversion to all things Popish.
Or their war on learning and education.
Or the fact that some liturgists vote Democrat…
As you may have picked up from my blog, I’ve been trying to lose my cynicism. But I still assumed that evangelicals were afraid of liturgy. So it made me nervous when my parents said they were visiting my church in Denver: Wellspring Anglican.
For years I’d been trying to convince my parents that I was no longer a cynical jerk who acted like he was smarter than everyone. Or at least, that I wasn’t as much of a cynical jerk. But would Wellspring, with its vestments and crucifers and communion chalices, undo all my work?
By Anglican standards, Wellspring’s liturgy was middle of the road. But it still had worlds more pomp than anything at my parents’ church. There was a procession at the beginning. The deacon brought the crucifer into the congregation for the gospel reading. People made the sign of the cross. We said long communal prayers. The pastors wore vestments and collars–like Catholics! And to cap it all off, WE USED ACTUAL WINE FOR THE EUCHARIST!
Driving to church that morning, my nervous tics came back. I cracked my knuckles, twisted the hair on the back of my neck, and pictured all the looks of disappointment on my parents’ faces. But shortly into the service, I realized something:
My parents were fine.
Not only did they make it through without storming out in protest–they actually liked it. My mom stopped our pastor in the hall afterward to say how much she appreciated it. On the phone the next week, she talked about how grateful she was for Wellspring.
Why weren’t my liturgy-phobic parents actually afraid of the liturgy?
I should probably add something about Wellspring. It’s not just Anglican: it’s also evangelical. So during the worship, the ceremonies, and the recited prayers, it’s obvious that most of the congregation–and especially the pastors–really believe what they’re saying. And they’re enthusiastic about it.
Wellspring cares about Tradition, but it’s not traditionalistic.
Theologian Jaroslav Pelikan explained this distinction: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” And, I should add, traditionalism gives Tradition a bad name.
My guess is that when lots of Those Evangelicals criticize liturgy, it’s not just anti-Catholic hysteria over recited words and predetermined movement and fancy clothes–they’re criticizing traditionalism. World-weary priests chanting empty phrases before spouting New York Times morality and questioning whether God even exists.
But when the prayers and the music and the signs are in the context of a living Tradition, they might embrace it.
So it turned out the problem wasn’t that Those Evangelicals refused to see my light of reason. The problem was that I assumed the worst about them.
Has anyone else had a similar experience? Am I right in thinking that liturgy aversion is often overblown?
Photo credit: Alison Benbow