A Pilgrim’s Progress: Towards Liturgy

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Anglo-Catholic blog Covenant has posted a non-denominational pastor’s reflection on using the Book of Common Prayer and his engagement with liturgical worship in general.

I deeply relate with author Austin Gohn’s encounter with the catholic liturgy. While my experience was different from Gohn’s, I distinctly remember in high school when I encountered the Lutheran Book of Worship, the fruit of the same movement that produced the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I remember my confusion at when to stand, when to sit, and when to kneel (more familiar to me than Gohn, but not entirely comfortable). I remember my dis-ease at seeing Lutherans drinking from a common cup; I was, at that time, firmly in the intinction camp. I remember the patience required as I tried to juggle the “green book,” With One Voice, the bulletin (complete with insert), and the Bible. (As I wrote in my own reflection on the Liturgy of the Hours, learning the liturgy takes practice. It calls out for a community to guide newcomers through the turning of many pages.)

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Memorial Chapel, Ft. Leavenworth, KS

And I remember feeling torn. On the one hand, most of my friends were at the contemporary “General Protestant” service at the Main Post Chapel, and I was more inclined to bang my head along with a guitar riff than chant a psalm. But I also remember the pull of the liturgy, of strange words like canticle and weird garments like the chasuble, the beauty of the chapel’s liturgical architecture. Something about the catholic liturgy burrowed into my mind and grabbed at my very soul.

When the time came to attend seminary and decide whether or not I really belonged in the UMC, I tried out a few Lutheran parishes and spent some time worshiping with my Anglican classmates. And yes, I stood when I should have knelt and a sat when I should have stood; I made the sign of the cross at the wrong times. ( I still do, but luckily most of my parishioners don’t seem to notice.) But that pull was still there, despite the foreign nature of these ancient rites.

And if it were only a vague “pull,” I could have stayed there, as one looking to the liturgy as an interesting aid to worship but nothing more than a tool.

What did me in? Why did I jump ship from the United Methodist Church to the “high church” end of the Lutheran tradition? It was the study of worship. When you dig in to the history of Christian worship, you begin to see the sharp idiosyncrasies and the subtle similarities as well as the minute differences and the obvious similtudes, and you begin to see the way the Holy Spirit has worked in the Church, uniting us into one Body while allowing for independent expressions. And here, I simply could not resist the Spirit’s call to unity.

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