Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news."

I was amused by a recent article in one of the many local newspapers [offhand I don't remember which one] about a church in the county in which the congregation has been given direction by the pastor to dress casually during the summer. Who knew clergy still controlled such things?

I also noted that their stated worship formula for the season is to offer more music and less liturgy, but with more prayer. In some liminal way, this reminded me of an advertisement for an improved pork sausage that stated that the product had "a little less spice, a little more sage, but with the same great taste". That never made much sense to me, either.

Once I got over my surprise that anyone actually thought that the denomination in question could have any less liturgy than it did before, I was puzzled by what the notion of liturgy must be for people who are urged to pray "more". After all, liturgy is merely a framework that enhances and brings focus to our sense of prayer. To have less liturgy but more prayer seems contradictory. Then again, it seems unusual for a congregation in the 21st century to have to be told not only to dress casually, but to pray openly and [Good Lord!] extemporaneously. People of faith hardly need the invitation of or permission from ecclesial authority to communicate with God. That was all changed in the 1st Century.

I've always found that the formula for a healthy parish is to have more music and more liturgy. Prayer of all sorts just seems to follow from that point. Folks can decide on their own how they want to dress. Feel free to pray the way you want, too.

The other thing that amused me is that a newspaper, any newspaper, would dedicate two columns to a story about superficial changes in a church's practice. I suppose this could have been a radical story forty years ago, but seems a rather blase page-filler nowadays. Then again, maybe the church is across the street from the newspaper's offices and it's an easy thing to put together by a vacation-decimated staff or a summer intern. Still, it would have been a much more interesting article had it been about what must be the very last church in the general area to have formally dressed worshipers and constrained prayers.

By the way, if you want to appreciate casual dress, check out the footwear of our choir members as they process. It's an eclectic representation, to say the least.

[The above quotation is from A.J. Liebling, who wrote for The New Yorker for over thirty years.]