30 August 2011

Better early than never?

I grew up at a church that turned its late service contemporary when I was in jr. high. This has proved an interesting experiment in memory for me--it's amazing what I remember from the hymnal, having used it during the years of my life I remember least. Canticles, propers chanted in my father's voice (yup, there was chanting even at a church that went contemporary), multiple verses of hymns . . . somehow all there. Also of note to some may be the fact that LW, that old thing we're all embarrassed about, was my lifeline to the liturgy. I know, I'm supposed to be mad about the Dignus sneaking in where it doesn't belong. But I'm mad about so many other things in life I'm not sure how bad I am for failing to nurture ire at that particular offense. My husband indulges me on this matter. He's a dear.

Everything after the first sentence is beside the point, though. The point is "its late service." The only parishes where I have seen an early contemporary service are those that have so many services some of them run concurrently (so the early contemporary service competes with a traditional service--usually the only traditional service offered). I have NEVER seen a late traditional service.

I know as well as anyone can that most people hauling kids to church will choose a later rising time and more prep time if they have the option. In fact, I do this myself and almost always attend, of my husband's two churches, the parish with a later service. But what the traditional=early equation amounts to is most of the parish's children never hearing the liturgy; never accidentally memorizing it; never learning that if you're somewhere and you hear the liturgy, you're in church; never finding a refuge from the sounds and mannerisms of pop culture. I think often of the kids younger than I was at my church who just never got to notice that things changed during Lent, who never discovered that they didn't need the hymnal for this song, who would be completely lost if they ever blundered into a liturgical church, who never heard their pastor's voice running through their heads sometime during the week--"Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious Lord"--to make up for the sermon they weren't listening to.

I'm sure contemporary proponents would argue that this is merely a matter of practicality and has nothing to do with a desire to influence the piety of the church's children. Let's exercise some largesse about that for now. But I wonder what would happen if a church decided to hold its contemporary service early and its traditional service late.

23 comments:

Reb. Mary said...

Riots.

Katy said...

Maybe as the boomers age and replace the current elderly and they want to 1) avoid noisy children screwing up their hearing aids and 2) have lunch earlier, CoWo and Trad services will switch.

(Cuz, you know, the boomers are the ones who really like the CoWo stuff. Apologies to my parents.)

Rev. David M. Juhl said...

I note that a local LC-MS congregation has a "late" "contemporary" service. Said congregation has a school. 99.99% of the time, if there is anything involving the school children (mostly singing), it happens at the "late" service. I suppose it's for the kids' sake. But I also suppose the "contemporary" service is also "visitor friendly". It's sad that "visitors" there to hear the children sing might leave the service thinking this is the way Lutherans worship.

Untamed Shrew said...

Reb. Mary, right on.

How user-friendly is it when everyone over 70 and under 9 can't follow because of poor eyesight, poor reading skills, etc? How user-friendly is it if a mom or dad can't juggle kids and worship, because there's no way to worship without the 13-page folder?

And how precious is it when my 2-year-old sings the Te Deum? (She's facing the back, of course, and distracting the heck out of everyone behind us, but that's beside the point.)

When my grandmother was nearing death and suffering badly from Alzheimer's, she didn't know my name but knew her liturgy, prayers, creeds, and many hymns by heart. Indeed, the very Word was hidden in her mind and heart; hence, not hidden on her lips. What blessed assurance for us, her family, that there was such concrete evidence of her faith!

MooreMama said...

Am I wierd? We attend the Early Service specifically because it fits handily before naptimes. Church, swing through WalMart while we're still on fresh reserves of patience, then home for naps. :) It's great!

Our church does the same service for both early and late services, but my parents' Episcopal church does a more contemporary version at the early service and traditional at the late service. Combining the attendees, I think that the two churches are similarly attended on any given week, but their early service is maybe attended by 20-ish people, and a packed house for the late service, and ours is pretty evenly split between early and late.

Schlef Baby said...

MooreMama - you aren't crazy. When we have a choice, we too attend the early service to be home in time for naps :)

Katy said...

Early service is ideal for us, too, especially during the Sunday School year. The kids are much more attentive in church (and our AC doesn't work in the van, so the cooler morning is better for everyone in the back during the summer). But it's really hard for mom and dad to get everyone ready before 7am.

Leah said...

I was really sad when I discovered that the kids I was teaching had little knowledge of the liturgy. What was even more intriguing, however, was how many of them yearned for a formal way to speak of their faith. My third graders begged me to teach them the Second Article of the Creed (from Sing the Faith) after I recited portions of it during a religion lesson.

Elizabeth said...

Fabulous post, Rebekah. I have often wondered the same thing.

Without the structure and routine of the liturgy, I wonder if my 19mo would behave as well as she does - esp since she knows when to fold her hands, etc.

Daniel Baker said...

Untamed Shrew,

I appreciate the reference to your grandmother's solid foundation in the Word of God expressed in the Holy Liturgy. It's particularly relevant to me because my grandfather is also starting to have Alzheimer-esque memory issues now in his 87th year. The thing is, even though he's only been attending church with us for about 10 years now (give or take), he has got the liturgy virtually down pact - when we use it, that is. He struggles to find the right pages when we jump through pastor's innovative disposable liturgies (an occurrence on virtually every feast day and special service, or on other days that it suits his tastes).

Back to the original post -

Our congregation replaces the "traditional" (I must use the term loosely in describing our regular 'worship' experience) service with an Alternative Worship form every 5th Sunday of the month. In that regard, "contemporary" worship becomes the only option. Normally, one would be thankful that the "regular" service constitutes the majority of the month, whether early or late, but as I indicated earlier there is no consistency in liturgical practice in those "regular" services either. A sad state of affairs, indeed. I would be happy with a solidly traditional service one hour and a distasteful contemporary service the next. At least there would be a traditional service then.

MooreMama said...

Glad I'm not the only wierdo. :) I was raised in that Other Church that starts with an E and ends with wishy washy doctrine (on the whole, not necessarily at the congregation that I am a daughter of).

I crave the liturgy, the recitation, the knowing all those familiar words before they're said... and slick wooden pews, the sound of a pipe organ, and the smell of inscense are comforting on the same level as someone else's grandma's lap would be.

My 3YO asks for "Our Fa-fer" when she can't sleep. It makes me happy, and I think I would cry (or find another church) if ours went to a "contemporary" service.





not that there's anything wrong with contemorary services, I guess. for other people.... ;)

MooreMama said...

^^ She's NOT three yet. I can't believe that slipped out.

:(

Mark Brown said...

When I was young we went to early (7:45 AM) which meant as often as not Matins (O come let us sing...I can still hear the drone.) And I was just asked by the majority of mothers to move Sunday school before worship due to nap times. So it is not universal, but your pattern stands as typical.

What I have been wondering is: if the liturgical minded were consigned to 7:45 AM why they don't ask for 7 PM and go with Vespers/Evening Prayer/Compline. Those are the most beautiful in the book. Yes, the communion every week folks would be upset. And it would "split the congregation" as the evening folks might never see the morning. But really, instead of arguing over turf, what opportunities does it offer? Namely to put the best liturgical foot forward and it probably wouldn't be long before the evening liturgical would be know as the light, welcoming and beautiful one as it didn't bear the heat of the day.

Frances said...

For whatever it's worth (if anything), my parent's church has an early contemporary service and a traditional liturgical late service. As with lots of other mommas here, we always prefer the early service time, due to naps. This schedule completely weirds my father out. After a lifetime of being an 'early service' person, he's now attending the 10:30 service.

Rebekah said...

I actually used to do early when we were at a liturgical church and I had just one, an early riser. After that, we were at a church where it wasn't "worship styles" that switched timeslots but the Mass and the service of the Word. So I had to chase the Mass around every week. Naptime was a major casualty of that situation. (I also might be more inclined to do an earlier service if I weren't getting everyone there by myself.)

Katy, the Boomers may have started it, but I have to say I know a lot of people my age who are really, really into church that looks like it came out of the same think tank as Applebee's.

Daniel Baker, the not-actually-liturgical service is a huge problem, and it can only be hugely exacerbated by a new generation of pastors who have grown up in entirely non-liturgical Lutheran churches (ie all those kids just a few years behind me at my home church). They honestly do not know what the liturgy is, and they sure as heck don't learn it at at least one of the seminaries.

Mark Brown, the evening option is interesting but I'd probably be pretty crabby if my Sunday mornings got completely coopted. What do you even do on Sunday morning if you don't go to church? :D

Frances, that is definitely the first I've heard of an early-contemporary/late-traditional setup!

Liz said...

I grew up in a same-setting-every Sunday church (with no contemporary version), and I can still sing every word of it when we return there to visit family - and I wish that I could've found a church anywhere else that we've lived that will use the same setting every week. Our current church's (restrained and liturgical) contemporary service is Saturday night (at 6?!, what kind of time is that,both two early and too late), and the two Sunday services are both traditional (though we alternate settings all the time and don't have Communion every week), so we go to whichever Sunday service we can get ourselves and the baby to without doing too much damage to his napping. The only problem is that my Catholic husband can't understand why there are "only" three services and what this whole Sunday School thing is about.

Andrew said...

I grew up Orthodox and for a while I could not abide people that could not stand for 3 hours at a time. :)



That being said, I am a Lutheran school teacher and father now and we make every attempt to be at the liturgical service, I can't say traditional without visions of walkers with tennis balls on them.

...except summer when we drop to one and do not get a choice.

Katy said...

Rebekah, neither my husband nor I grew up Lutheran, so outside of church, all of our generally Evangelical peers roll their eyes at any ELCA/Baptist/LCMS/PCA, etc., etc., attempt at the Contempory Worship. They are split between not going to church at all, going to the nearest mega church to find a mate, or "infiltrating" a fuddy-duddy "conservative church" and transforming it (to their image...). Sometimes I got the impression, from life-long Lutheran "youth" I met in college that it wasn't so much they liked the CoWo, but that the disliked the liturgy.

To be fair, most of the folks our age probably transferred to the nearest LCMS Applebees Church when our pastor was called (a few months before we joined), and so we never met them. It is interesting to note that those who have stayed have parents and other extended family also attending our church.

Our Divine Service and Matins alternate times each week. When we lived in the same town as our church, we made it to DS each week. Now we are an hour a way, and we have 3 more kids, and my husband often plays the organ for both services.

Pr. Brown, I would really like my kids to be as familiar with Vespers as Matins. Our pastor always has Advent and Lent midweek Vespers, but I am still dependent on the hymnal.

Andrew, you know you can come and go at will. You don't have to stay the whole three hours :)

Rebekah said...

>>but that the disliked the liturgy.

True, and sad. Although the ones whose interest was in getting onstage themselves to sing and harangue seemed pretty pleased with their work.

Elizabeth said...

Regarding those who dislike the liturgy...
I can't speak for everyone, but I myself went through a phase where I didn't appreciate the liturgy (well, I also had a pietistic legalist stage, but that was slightly separate). I wonder if many of those same children/people who didn't like the liturgy would appreciate it more if they had stuck with it through a few more maturing seasons/years...

Rebekah said...

Elizabeth, I was also severely infected with both of those ailments. It's hard not to be in certain environments . . . like the late service. :/

Wing It Mom said...

This whole conversation is very interesting to me. I have to admit, the biggest thing to rock my home congregation was when a Pastor decided to change up the alternating page 5 and 15 with a once-a-month pg 32. Lol, after a year or so, people got used to it and even enjoyed it.

Adam Born said...

Wow! These are the exact conversations and questions that we've had at my church since the contemporary service started. What would happen if the services would be switched?

Unfortunately, those who regularly attend the early service would likely find another church to attend, and those in the late service wouldn't comment one way or the other. In the end, the church would just lose good members because the liturgy they've grown to love and cherish would have been taken from them. Ah, well, it's not to be, I'm sure.

Thank you for the post!