Now THAT’S grassroots liturgy



The video of Jill’s and Kevin’s wedding processional went viral just a few days ago. Nearly 7 million views on YouTube; 35,000 comments; countless hyperlinks posted on Facebook.


The only controversy is the choice of artist – Chris Brown.  Without that,  the comments are universally ecstatic. People around the world are taken by the couple’s original expression of  joy, love, and delightful goofiness.  A sense of humor probably being one of the foundations of successful relationships. It ought to be reflected in liturgy.

It reminds us that selig means both blessed and silly.  It is an example of how irreverence can be more reverent than canned piety. Not articulated in the YouTube posts is how this is one couple’s public liturgical statement on how their union will be supported in the community of friends.  Had this been left in the hands of  liturgical experts it would have been one more wedding procession to Purcell on the organ.  Meaningless, without soul or spirit.

Good on the Lutheran pastor who let them run with this one.  Good on the organist who wasn’t an idealog about what was appropriate in “his” church.

Most liturgical dance reminds people of this scene from The Music Man.
Most liturgical dance reminds people of this scene from The Music Man.

…next post…some thoughts on liturgical dance.

Episcopal Church & Celebrity Culture: The other guys do it better…and it’s wrong


After the Sunday morning Eucharist, Katherine Jefferts-Schori recesses down the aisle to a round of applause.  No one is quite sure whether the applause is for her or the two former Presiding Bishops that recess with her. Over one-third of the Convention Center’s worship space has empty seats.  The applause decays as the three of them turn left and go past the powder blue “Refreshments” sign.  

The clapping was the most rousing moment in the service.  The sermon was more explanation than inspiration.  Katharine’s tonal speech pattern tends to produce sleep-friendly delta waves. 

Even if the sermonizing had been so motivational in content and delivery we all walked out committed to mission  instead of blinking our eyes in the Southern California sun wondering where we could get some decent huevos rancheros , Katharine’s exit down the cement floor of the worship space,  is not momentous enough to warrant applause.  Not the equivalent of Elvis has left the building.  The central event was the Eucharist and celebrating sacrifice and community despite the fact that for General Convention 2009 it was shorn of community Bible study.

Church Publishing’s booth has Katherine’s picture all over it and I suppose there are those who buy her books simply because they are her books.  Outside of this small circle of Episcopalians, very few buy books based on the cover art of a woman posing in front of a plane.  That is unless the woman is wearing a bikini.  Anne LaMott sold many books, and in the early days, her readers could only imagine what she looked like.  Anne rose through the ranks based on her writing, broadcasts, and witty, irreverent theology. I’d go on a mission trip with Annie any day, but think twice about a walk to the grocery store with this lady who’s like the kid in the back of the class with her hand up to answer every question.

The former Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, showed up at his last Episcopal Youth Event in Kentucky behaving like a Mick Jagger without the music.  He made a dramatized entrance into the worship space waving and smiling as he hung from the back of a golf cart; big belt buckle and tee shirt tucked in to reveal that he had been to the gym a lot for a guy his age.  You’d think the position of PB wouldn’t give him that much time with his personal trainer.  Unless he felt he needed to get in shape for this appearance at EYE the way a movie star trains for an action flick.  No…couldn’t be…..

Despite the announcement “And now…The Presiding Bishop!” the teens were asking each other “Who is this guy?”  (Interpretation: Who is this old guy?)  It’s been described by those who worked at The Episcopal Church center, that for a number of weeks there was on display a dressmaker’s dummy with a dress on it given to Frank’s wife during a trip to Africa.  People who entered the building saw this homage to someone who happened to be married to a bishop before seeing the chapel, security guard, the map of the Anglican Communion,  before the books on religion.  A dress.

The Presiding Bishop was originally a bishop who presided at meetings, a bishop with diocesan responsibilities but who was willing to impose Roberts Rules of Order.  A historian can better interpret at what point the position got its own salary, staff, and Manhattan penthouse.

A tactician can plan for a future of The Episcopal Church that doesn’t run on the fumes of former grandeur. 

There are the others who play on the class C Mount Olympus of The Episcopal Church, but a bit farther down the slope.  Despite the small audience, they seem quite content to build modest careers by performing or doing workshops just for Episcopalians with stars in their eyes.

Chris Hedges, in a piece on Michael Jackson and the cult of celebrity says: 

The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain. It is designed to drain us emotionally, confuse us about our identity, make us blame ourselves for our predicament, condition us to chase illusions of fame and happiness and keep us from fighting back. 

The CANA crowd has taken the TEC’s cult of family celebrity and run with it to their advantage.  The leadership of TEC gets their knickers in a twist when David Virtue produces his fever-dream-driven screed because there is such a confusion between personality and content. 

(TEC focuses on poster boys and poster girls rather than content. Virtue drains those who buy into this fiction by attacking the poster boys and girls. He successfully confuses the handful – unfortunately those who are in leadership positions – to mistakenly think the identity of the TEC is bound up in people like Gene “I’m ready for my closeup Mr. DeMille” Robinson.  Then everyone on both sides blames the wrong things for the declining membership of The Episcopal Church,  and those at home don’t fight back because they don’t know what’s going on.  They are huddled together waiting for the next blow in a reality that does not involve ABCs, PBs, CANAs, or GCs. )

What’s important in the world is what The Episcopal Church does, not who is doing it.  And let’s face it – we can never be as photogenic as the ones who do this on an international level. 

As we’ve observed with Joe the Plumber,  nothing good comes when you push for that 16th minute of fame.

No one knows who Virtue is either.  So treat him for what he is – a fart in the wind.  Don’t let the s.o.b.s distract you – The Episcopal Church is shrinking because of what happens on the ground level, in small parishes. They’re the canaries in the coal mines and as they go so will the larger parishes with more resources. 

For the sake of the future of The Episcopal Church, and to give those of us watching out there hope, make this General Convention about the work, about empowering the laity, about repairing the chasm that exists between resolutions and what happens in small parishes. 

They’re dying, you know.  Many don’t  have a photo of Katharine Jefferts-Schori in the narthex – they don’t know who she is.  Church is that family that hangs on together on Sunday mornings. They think the only thing happening in Anaheim is Disney. In many cases, these good people have to endure dreary inane  liturgy to make it to the fellowship.

 Hope gets lost when the core of the worship is lost in distractions and projection and needless applause.

The Episcopal Church can be both wise and compassionate


Two days into the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. The blogs are humming, Episcopal News Service is putting out the word that everything is rainbows and unicorns as a talking point counter offensive to the six-month-old rumor that the triennium might look more like a game of Risk than Candyland.

One thing is certain, budgets will be cut.

It is a bit surprising that The Episcopal Church was as behind the curve in foreseeing this as the rest of the country. First, there should have been no idealogical investment in capitalism at the corporate, cancerous stage. This is against everything Christianity and nearly every other religion stand for. But even if The Episcopal Church was trying to brand itself as a better appointed club to join on Sunday mornings, the graffiti on the wall about the collapse of the economic world was sprayed there within the first year of the new millennium. The legal fees brought about by the off-brand of The Episcopal Church (The AMIA/CANA is like RC Cola to TEC’s Coke) ought to have resulted in some measure of prudence. Those junkets to Hawaii and The Rainbow Room for the pension fund should have stopped years ago.

But that was then, and now that the floodgates have opened, the sandbags are getting loaded off the trucks.

In the past year, there has been an ugly trend in dioceses and parishes. This Episcopalian has hopes that it will come to an end in Anaheim during budget deliberations at General Convention. The trend is to make expendable the staff members and programs that connect directly with faith formation and education.

Is this not at the heart of what The Episcopal Church can offer ? Dovetailed with healthy, integrated, and responsive worship it is the sole niche of The Church. Nowhere else is this found in the general culture. Yet the first staff members to be cut are those working in education. And no one is picking up the slack – the embrace of the formation of faith in all generations is not addressed by sermons alone.

This is an astonishingly devoted part of the church population. These are our working theologians who make more of a difference in history than any primate. They don’t deserve this. One wonders that because they have been willing to work for less than musicians, clergy, even secretaries that diocesan and parish leadership are willing to gamble on their dedication.

Could these cuts be so cynical in their origin? Cut the salaries – they’ll keep coming back and we’ll get free programs.

For those who are reading this while at General Convention, check out the NAECED booth and Discovery Center. Meet only some of the people who are keeping The Episcopal Church alive and doing it on a shoestring, with little recognition, gently doing the work of prophetic nurturers year after year. The leadership has the door closed, but still the faithful keep knocking. They do it although they are rarely recognized publicly, provide materials from their own homes, rarely get funds for development and education unless they are wearing collars. They do it out of love and a deep knowledge that this is the only thing that matters.

These are the people who persist despite rigid rectors’ worries about practices that are “popular”, or who should be “catered to” first.

This is a spiritual issue. An issue addressed in Holy Scripture: Sow in faith, not in fear. The Episcopal Church can survive without organs, capital campaigns, even an ample supply of clergy. But it will not survive unless it provides a solid home for faith for all generations.


This just in: Why the web changes everything

Everyone attending General Convention in Anaheim needs to not just go to a seminar on the emergent church but start strategizing on how The Episcopal Church can be the emergent church.…Why%20the%20Read%20Write%20Web%20Changes%20Everything

Missing from this entry: How the web is changing organized religion and a 2020 vision for The Epsicopal Church. (No, not that risible double the membership goal from the late 90s. )  Is that because organized religion is making itself irrelevant, or because our leadership is too busy addressing out-dated issues to hunker down and do more immediate work?

Contained in the hyperlink above is a roadmap for the leadership about to gather in Anaheim.

General Convention: Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music Part 3

It would give Episcopalians hope if the silliness stopped.


For example: the hoo ha about Hannah’s Hopes –Rachel’s Tears. Apparently unique enough to warrant an insert from Episcopal News Service to be released to parishes around the county.  Is this not simply confession and healing prayer?

The hierarchy needs to follow it’s own rule book, the 1979 BCP, empowering the laity to do the work of prayer and caring.  Do we really need in print the blessing of a pregnant woman?  More significantly, why take away the impulse for women to care for each other? This is an offshoot of the misguided attempt to codify liturgies for menstruation and menopause.  TMI, thank you.

It is part of the syndrome of denial.  No matter how loud and frequent the requests, parishes can never get Bible studies up and running. These small groups of prayerful study, are the places where faith communities can explore the events in their lives in the context of prayer.  So, to give the illusion of progress, the Standing Commission flies around the country, meeting around six times during the course of three years, and produces lame duck liturgies.

How about enriching our worship by opening up the gates of church communication instead of deliberating in your aeries? Is it truly necessary to kill some more trees in order to give guidelines for praying the hours?  We do not need any expert advice in praying the hours when there are centuries of practices available via mouse click.  What we need is to actually do the practice – not take time away from prayer by reading about prayer.  When most Episcopalians don’t know there are intentional orders in the church, it might be more effective to get dioceses coordinated and have the monks, nuns, and spiritual directors in the Episcopal Church to go to parishes and practice the hours.

More silliness: The World Music directive.

Parishes with global thinking music directors are already doing it, and the ones who feel their primary mission is to run a museum will never do it. Your public school music educators have been offering world music in their curricula for 10 years or more. Draw on that pool of knowledge.

Here’s a World Music mandate that’s practical: demand every diocese get copies of Lambeth Praise for each parish. The bishops spent enough diocesan money on the trip, there ought to be something to show for it as a resource.  The cost for one session at Lambeth for a couple of bishops should cover every church in the country.

My bishop went to Lambeth and we didn’t even get a lousy hymnal – let alone a tee shirt.

What business is The Episcopal Church in?  Is it as a liturgy and paper producer? A police squad? Political party? Brand name?  A bureacracy and hierarchy?


We are all priests.  We are all theologians. Listen to the people in the street.  We’ve got a lot to say, sing, and pray. Obstinate persistence in trickle down implementation and theology will have more of us leave.  Our time is too valuable to waste watching another meaningless Sunday morning show.  And our teens are out the door anyway after confirmation.  Why hasten their flight with some liturgy acknowledging the onset of menses?


Thinking about the leadership of The Episcopal Church is too depressing to even offer hope.  It assesses its network of telegraph wires, improving Morse Code manuals while Mr. Bell is setting up what will become ATT.