Those who put together liturgies are ideologues in some respect, with varying degrees of entrenchment. One thing is constant: as Episcopalians, they believe that the worship experience ought to be well crafted as it is key to faith formation.
Once I was in a cathedral in the Midwest. Same old, same old with incense. Only this time when I turned around to see who was at my back, it was a crucifer leading a group of children. Every child in the parish processed together. My heart lifted. The cross was one from Latin America with a sparkling folk art depiction of the risen Christ surrounded by greenery and celebrating villagers.
The children weren’t singing – those hymnals are heavy for them – the equivalent of an adult carrying an unedited Websters. The hymn was strophic, no refrains or short tunes that could be repeated by hearing.
Still, they were still included as part of the worship community by virtue of this symbolic gesture. As they were led to the front of the cathedral – it was one of the few times I experienced genuine anticipation in a mainline church worship service.
My thought was the children would be led to the altar, to sit in seats of honor where they could listen, sing, maybe even contribute. As Clara Tammany reminds us in her book on baptism, we are only one generation away from extinction.
But when the crucifer got to the end of the aisle, he took a hard right, led the children to a door behind which were the stairs that took them to the children to the basement.
Episcopalians are supposed to put some value on liturgy. Our corporate prayers – symbolic or written on a page – are to have intention that ripples out, changes us ineluctably and surely as water on stone. The symbol and intention of this liturgical bit was one of the most powerful I have ever witnessed. It was a reenactment of The Pied Piper of Hamlin: make the children disappear.
It had thematic integrity, too. At the Eucharist, the children had gone outside, back around the front, and tiptoed in to receive their bit of the meal last. I was changed forever by the symbolism of that liturgy, and I know those children were too.
And all this happened when the Episcopal Church was putting a lot of energy into 20/20. Remember that? The membership was going to double by the year 2020?
I wonder if those children will be taking their young families to an Episcopal church in 2020? More likely, they’ll stay where the Pied Piper led them.