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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fw: "Here's something us high church folks don't get"

"Updating church?"
by Dr Conrad Gempf
(8 September 2006, 11:50 AM)

Here's something us high church folks don't get. Are you going to say that it was right for ministers to dress in polyester suits when those were the rage in the 50s?

I think for low church folks, worship and church are about people expressing their feelings for God. Were that the way it was supposed to be, then it would be right for services to reflect the people involved. The whole thing revolves around them: the people as addressing God, but still -- the people.

For high church folks, worship and church are about coming into God's presence and giving him his due in ways appropriate for him. It's not simply about bringing eternity and the universal church down to my level, but about seeing my life lifted up to join with eternity and the Church Through the Ages. In such a case you want something that reminds you of Otherness, something that is not necessarily in complete cahoots with contemporary culture.

Sometimes postmoderns seem to think that 'old-fashioned' church was a relic of 1950s culture. As if our churches need to be updated because ordinary people on the street stopped going around in robes and chanting responsively on buses sometime in the 1980s. Part of the point was that it was not our culture, that it was counter-cultural. Priests dressed in robes rather than dressing as themselves to deflect attention from themselves; from personalities. The priests are not up there because of who they are, but because of the role they were given to play in representing/summarising the congregation before God and representing God to the congregation (depending on which way they're facing at the front, as it happens).

The congregation expressing itself toward God is still part of a high church church life. Arguably it's more pronounced, if anything, since during hymns the congregation are the performers with only an accompanyist who is hidden off stage, rather than functioning largely as an audience and background vocal choir for a set of performers who are centre stage, backs turned away from the altar. In a low church setting, though, your 'time of worship' is the singing. In a high church setting, you interrupt the serious business of worship to take time out to express how you feel about it through singing.

The more that you believe that worship is simply about unplugged self-expression of love for God by people of a particular culture, the more it would be hypocritical for you to rail against cheesy American tele-evangelists. Those polyester suits and gleaming gold cross lapel badges are the stone-washed jeans and bling of their subculture, their unnaturally white toothpaste smiles are the equivalent of piercings. And for them television and tents are the equivalent of the podcast section of the iTunes Music Store and the festival/conference speaking circuit.

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