April 21, 2016

Worship Committee?

At St. George’s, we have a worship committee. Actually, it’s in our by-laws, so I suppose it’s a capital ‘W’ – Worship Committee. Perhaps that’s not so strange, considering all the various things we’ve turned into committees over these many years – we have been very busy perfecting the fool-proof institution called church.

For the most part, however, it’s a committee that never meets, at least not consistently with an eye toward some goal or focus. They’ve met sporadically, here and there, and I’ve even called for meetings in the past when I’ve had something I needed to wonder about, aloud. While we were going through the early stages of transition in our music ministry, I asked the vestry to endorse a broadly representative group I helped assembled. Together with them, we came up with the name ‘Music & Arts Exploratory Group,’ intentionally avoiding the word ‘committee’ because a ‘group’, as such, can do its work well and with intentionality and then, in its own time, disband organically.

If for nothing else, I’m troubled by having something encoded in our by-laws, something established in our (allegedly) common self-understanding that we simply don’t do. Why have a worship committee at all?

To show my true colors, here, it’s my view that the Canons of the Episcopal Church don’t envision anything resembling worship committees. Worship is the very lifeblood of who we are as Christian people and, more so, the church is careful in passing along the deposit of faith. Local variants always exist, of course, and always have existed, but the Canons don’t seem to grant equal measure to those particular expressions. To that end, the Canons are expressly clear about who has oversight of worship and music: in music, it’s the “Member of the Clergy” (who “shall seek assistance from persons skilled in music”), Canon II.5*; for worship life, in general, it’s “Rectors and Priests-in-Charge, …subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer,” Canon III.9.6(a)(1)** In order to uphold what we believe is distinct and life-giving about the mission of the Body of Christ, namely that we exist, first, to offer “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” to God, there must be sound doctrine and, on that basis, clearly articulated practices of worship. This is not a matter for the local congregation; this is the mission of the church universal.

That said, however, (and before I get accused of sounding like my interest is in preserving the hierarchy!) I believe that the church is encouraging all of us to get quickly beyond questions of power and decision making authority and, instead, focus on what we should be doing on the local level, in each of our congregations and communities of faith. If we can’t, ultimately, re-write Eucharistic prayers and come up with our own orders of worship, we should be regularly reflecting upon how and in what ways our worship life makes us more engaged, more thoughtful, more justice-oriented, more receptive, more curious women and men; more like disciples of Jesus, and less like curators of this precious institution. Together in our congregations and communities of faith we should be digging more deeply into our walk with Jesus, and how we are trying and succeeding and, sometimes, trying and failing to be disciples of Jesus. Removing the question of who decides what about worship frees us up to do this vastly more important work.

Our music director and I were talking about this the other day. “What if we had a quarterly ‘Tea with the Rector and Music Director’?” she wondered aloud, a suggestion that perhaps we might not only remove from our By-Laws the Worship Committee but also, and primarily, replace it with something more engaging, something more formational, instead. I’m sure in those tea-time conversations we’ll get around to talking about so-and-so’s favorite hymn and what such-and-such doesn’t like about the service, but it’ll be in the larger context of a small group of disciples gathering to pray our lives and wonder about what God is doing in this world through us. That sounds like a much better alternative than a Worship Committee, frankly.

I wonder how many congregations have worship committees? How many worship committees meet regularly and with intentionality, and what, in particular, is their focus and function? How many congregations are already moving ahead with some more formational gatherings, instead of committees?

A curious clergyperson and congregation in our church would love to know. 

*CANON II.5:Of the Music of the Church. It shall be the duty of every Member of the Clergy to see that music is used as an offering for the glory of God and as a help to the people in their worship in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer and as authorized by the rubrics or by the General Convention of this Church. To this end the Member of the Clergy shall have final authority in the administration of matters pertaining to music. In fulfilling this responsibility the Member of the Clergy shall seek assistance from persons skilled in music. Together they shall see that music is appropriate to the context in which it is used. 

* *CANON III.9.6(a)(1) The Rector or Priest-in-Charge shall have full authority and responsibility for the conduct of the worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the Parish, subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution and Canons of this Church, and the pastoral direction of the Bishop.

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