Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Blogging the GOEs, Question 4: Liturgy and Church Music: Does this alb make my butt look big?

Crusty did a couple of stints as an interim, and one of the things he found most enjoyable about being an interim was the ability to make changes without any concern about consequences.  Crusty once served as interim at a two-point, yoked ELCA congregation in an undisclosed, very rural location that was undergoing deeply rooted and systemic conflict.  The pastor once removed had left the ELCA, moved 100 yards away, and opened up a new church, taking 2/3rds of the congregation(s) with him.  He then promptly retired and left town six months later.  The previous pastor had been on a contract, and at the conclusion of the contract both of the congregations had to decide whether to call the person as a settled pastor, not on a contract but open-ended.  One
Actual photo of Crusty talking with bishop.
congregation did.  The other didn't.  That's when the assistant to the bishop called Crusty.  Despite the character that COD plays here, in real life, Crusty's actually pretty calm and strives for non-anxious presence, which is why, COD guesses, the ELCA bishop asked him to step in. "What do you want me to prioritize?" Crusty asked.  "Remind the two congregations they need each other," the bishop said, "because they're blaming the dysfunction on the other instead of dealing with it and now want end the yoked arrangement they've had for 100 years."  "OK, anything else?" COD asked. "Yes," the bishop said, "gently bring them into the 20th century.  They're living in denial in a Garrison Keillor fantasy, they only stopped using Norwegian in the 1970s, only started using the Lutheran Book of Worship, which came out in 1978, in the 1990s."  Since this was a half-time interim, and the bishop had already laid out two massive things that needed to be done, COD didn't ask any more questions of the bishop, since, as Jules Winfield once said, "If my answers frighten you, then you should cease asking scary questions."

First Sunday on the job, Crusty noticed the altar in one of the congregations was up against the wall, so COD celebrated facing the altar, back to the people.  Now Crusty knows there's all sorts of deep theological reasons for facing the people versus facing the table, has heard all of the of pros and cons, but the reality is, when Crusty does this, he can only think about one thing: "Does this alb make my
Bringing liturgical booty back! Tell all you lowchurch suckahs that! No, COD just playin'.
butt look big?" Afterwards, Crusty was talking with one of the old ladies on the altar guild, helping clean up.  He said, "You know, this is the only ELCA congregation where I've seen an altar up against the wall, it's fairly unusual these days."  Crusty had assumed this was some stone table that was built into the wall when the church was constructed a century ago.  "Oh, we only started doing that when Pastor X came," said the little old lady, referring to the pastor who had formed the breakaway congregation across the street.  "He only wanted to celebrate communion once a month, he thought preaching the word and reading the Bible was more important, so he just pushed the communion table up against the wall so it would be out of the way. We got tired of moving it back and forth so we ended up just leaving it there."  Crusty walked over and tapped the altar, covered in a white cloth and hangings -- it wasn't stone at all, it was a threadbare wooden table. "What did Pastor Y [the pastor who followed Pastor X] say about it?" Crusty asked. "She didn't mention it at all, come to think of it," altar guild lady said.

Crusty thought then and there: this is where we begin to deal with both issues identified by the bishop.  For the bishop's first goal,  moving the altar out would be a way to begin to get this congregation to move on from Pastor X, whose decision it had been to move it and marginalize the celebration of communion, and who had been gone for three years.  For the second, Crusty resolved to start slowly by beginning to celebrate communion every other week and pull the congregations  into the liturgical mainstream of the ELCA.

COD lifted up the table and moved it quite easily back from the wall.  He stepped back and asked the altar guild lady, "What do you think?  Do you think anyone will be upset about this?"

"Why would they be upset about where it was for 95 years before it got moved?" she replied, matter-of-factly.

COD went home and told CODW his plan.  She asked about possible reaction from the congregation, despite what altar guild lady had said.  "What are they going to do, fire me?  Let them, I've got a day job and they just fired your last pastor," COD replied. 

Next Sunday, nobody said a thing.

Crusty was reminded of this incident as he read through the Liturgics and Church Music question.

Set 4: Liturgics and Church Music
In the summer of 2015 you are hired to serve as vicar of two yoked mission congregations. The diocese plans that in two years these two congregations will be merged into one. You have been charged with preparing the congregations for the merger.

The missions are within twenty miles of each other, each with a steady average Sunday attendance of 30. One congregation is accustomed to a Prayer Book Rite II Eucharist and has volunteer song leaders, a guitarist, and a pianist. The second parish is accustomed to texts from Enriching Our Worship and has a part-time paid organist. All of the musicians are competent.

Liturgical planning and execution always need to build on a foundation of liturgical and sacramental theology.

In an essay of 1,000 words, develop a liturgy plan for your first Advent season with the intent of moving toward a single worship pattern, anticipating the merger. Giving a rationale for your choices and explaining the liturgical and theological reasons, present your choices for liturgy and music. Include specific selections in three areas. Choose one from the following: hymnody, service music, Eucharistic prayers and other variable texts; and choose one from the following: actions, non- verbal behaviors, and spatial arrangements. The third choice can come from either list.

You're making this hard on me, #GOE2015: like Inigo Montoye was in the revenge business so long he didn't know what to do with himself when it was over, Crusty does know what to do with this year's GOE.  For the fourth straight time, Crusty likes this question (though, as usual, has some quibbles).

--For one, it again deals with a real issue facing the church: issues of church consolidation, closure, and revitalization are ones that we are facing now and will increasingly face moving forward.  That's just the reality, for a number of reasons.  COD has said previously on this blog that decisions we make in the next 10 years will help determine if we close or consolidate from 25% up to 50% or more of our churches. Crusty isn't particularly in despair about this, we need to see it as opportunity to recalibrate how we do ministry.  The church does this every millennium or so, the house churches of Dura Europos eventually gave way to gothic cathedrals. 

--COD likes this because it takes something the church must address and frames it around what is often one of the more hot-button aspects in a congregation, namely, liturgy.  COD has often seen issues around liturgy come up in conversations around church consolidation, especially if that conversation involves ecumenical partners, since every congregation thinks its liturgy is normal and/or normative, and informs a sense of identity and place.  COD loved nothing more when supplying at congregation and asking how they handle the logistics of celebration and distribution of communion. "Oh, pretty straightforward," is always the reply, when, in fact, there are often dozens of slightly different ways this happens.  To give just one example, COD was once elevating the host for the fraction anthem, about to break it, when suddenly the organist kicked in and the choir sang a verse from a hymn, which they did every week none of which was in the bulletin or had been disclosed to him. 

--COD enjoys that the setting is Advent, which somehow seems appropriate for beginning this two-year journey with these two congregations.

Crusty has some concerns about a couple of aspects of the setup:

--There needs to be a little more about context, mainly:  Do these congregations know about the plan for merger?  Are you being asked to introduce the whole concept, or begin the process?  For Crusty this is simply crucial and would fundamentally shape any liturgy plan.  Let's hope the readers are OK with how students may incorporate their own interpretation of this aspect, since it is absent in the setup.

--COD is pleased that the musicians are "competent," but feels the need to note they are not the only factor that comes in with liturgical planning.  He would have liked some element to the setup that mentioned how lay leadership was involved in worship planning, or whether these were congregations that looked to the priest to do all the planning.  That's kind of assumed here, since it's not mentioned and you're the one asked to come up with a liturgy plan, including potentially picking hymns and service music, but it's not something COD necessarily thinks should be assumed about smaller congregations.  Crusty served as interim in a different small congregation where the organist would never presume to let the pastor choose any hymns (not saying that's a good thing, mind you, but that was the context into which COD stepped).

--Crusty is always wary of being asked to describe how he would do things that are pretty vague, as he opined on in the liturgy question a few years back.  Crusty in this case would always lean towards the specific -- spatial arrangements, he knows what that is -- rather than trying to parse the difference between an action and a non-verbal behavior.  The last thing Crusty wants is for a reader to say, "The student described an action which is really a non-verbal behavior," when there's no standard for what is what.  [A friend of COD was told by a GOE reader in a comment, "The person indicates very little awareness of youth ministry," when that person was working as a youth minister and the whole matters was only a small part of the answer.  A GOE reader told Crusty he "Seems to show little understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy," when Crusty lived in Russia for six months and attended an Orthodox Church.  This is not an unfounded concern, COD has major issues with the times, admittedly not common, that readers extrapolate from very small samples.] What's the difference between a non-verbal action and a non-verbal behavior?  Rather than take the risk Crusty would stick with choosing spatial arrangements, please.

--Perhaps more importantly, there's not even lip service here in saying *how* any liturgical changes would be communicated to the congregations.  Given the situation where he served as interim, COD made the conscious choice to move the altar one his own authority because of the particular context.  However, all the other liturgical changes -- celebrating the Eucharist twice as often, introducing hymns and service music from the new ELCA worship book, to name two -- were done in consultation with lay leadership and musicians.  Crusty knows there's a lot to be done in 1,000 words, but perhaps there could have been some trimming back on the liturgical plan (maybe only pick two instead of three things?) to allow for some mention of how this worship plan would be unveiled.  "Liturgical planning and execution always need to build on a foundation of liturgical and sacramental theology," to be sure, but liturgical planning and execution also doesn't happen in a vacuum.

Overall, this question receives the "meh" ranking: while Crusty likes the way it incorporates liturgy as part of a broader conversation around congregational revitalization, there are some issues in the setup that prevent it from receiving the coveted "axios!" rating.  Now don't get me wrong, intertubez:  "Meh" is a good ranking!  It means there's a lot that's good, just that a couple of things hold it back from receiving "Axios!"  There will be no grade inflation on this blog, perhaps the last place in the
I think you'd make a great Dread Pirate Crusty.
world where there isn't.  The context of why it receives a "meh" ranking is important, just like the context for when Massachusetts people say "Pissah" is important.  As a native, bilingual speaker, COD can identify about a dozen different meanings for Pissah.  There are lots of different "meh" ranking, and in this context, "Meh" means this is a pretty good question.  Plus COD always tries to provide helpful feedback in what would give the question an "Axios!" rating.

Overall, COD continues to be pleased by the overall direction of #GOE2015.  If I can't be in the revenge business, maybe I could become the Dread Pirate Crusty, like Inigo did.


  1. The question does not seem to take into account that clergy in small congregations are really seen as disposable "chaplains" who have only as much authority as matriarchs/patriarchs allow them to have. As COD knows, congregational size helps determine the ability of Interims (and chaplains!) to affect any kind of change.

    1. OK, that is one awesome nom de plume, Fr Interim. Crusty salutes you. And yes, you note additional tension between the contextual setup and what the question is asking the student to do; and congregational size is a factor, though by no means a completely determinative one.

  2. Are clergy now "hired" rather than "called?" The context of two congregations 20 miles apart being asked to merge is unrealistic. The previous question is, "Bishop which community do you propose to abandon? In Western NC we have two Episcopal congregations now served by an ELCA pastor. They are about 20 miles apart but have very different contexts. Their liturgical cultures and architecture, etc. are very different, and I expect they will continue to work as two separate congregations sharing a part time pastor.

    I agree with Fr. Interim. My inclination would be to say to the bishop, "If you want to close one or both of these congregations, you get to do it, and I'll be with the people fighting you tooth an nail."

  3. As a lifer as an interim -- there are many variations on answers to this question. I agree about merging congregations 20 miles apart-- may seem a short distance for the bishop but usually worlds apart for the congregations.

  4. The yoked congregation I was serving had congregations five miles apart (town and country). AND there was another, two-point yoked ELCA congregation in the next town (ten miles away). Four congregations with a ten-square-mile radius, and all four had some astonishing similarities and some equally astonishing differences.


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