Friday, August 12, 2011

Liturgical Renewal as one dish on the Table

One useful way to describe the liturgical orientation of the various denominations might be to place them on a spectrum running from those whose use of editio typica is mandated by their tradition through those who have published liturgical texts the use of which is effectively optional and on to those whose tradition is actively hostile to the use of written forms of prayer. In the current issue of Liturgy, Karen Westerfield Tucker discusses the uncertainty attendant upon residing in the middle of that spectrum.

Her historical survey of worship in North American Methodist, states that from the 1990s until the present day, those who plan and lead worship in the churches of the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition have had available to them

a virtual smorgasbord of liturgical options—and local congregations happily sampled one or more. Although the authorized worship books of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Canada showed the direct influence of the liturgical renewal movement, and many congregations utilized texts from those books in full or in part, Methodists also continued to exercise the long-standing option not to use the official materials. For some congregations, Sunday morning worship changed very little from what it was in the 1950s. In some of these places and in others, the music-driven and informal contemporary and praise and worship styles started to take hold and usually appeared as an alternative to the traditional service held at the main worship hour. These contemporary services were principally designed to appeal to the unchurched by offering something contrary to the usual expectations of church: they were informal, used few churchly accoutrements, focused on an engaging and relevant message, and employed music drawn from styles popular to the target constituency. It is ironic that, given the identifier contemporary, this style of worship, for Methodists, was far more traditional, for in fact it resembled conceptually the worship practices of the early Methodist movement.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of a polity which provides denominationally sanctioned liturgical texts to its congregations, but simultaneously leaves the choice of whether or not to use those texts up to the judgment of the local congregation?

North American Methodism's Engagement with Liturgical Renewal, Liturgy, 26:4, 62

Karen Westerfield Tucker is professor of worship at Boston University School of Theology and President of Societas Liturgica. She is the author of many books, most recently American Methodist Worship (Religion in America).

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