Sunday, November 30, 2008

Yes, Young People Do Like Traditional Liturgy

Thus says Luiz Coelho in an article of the same name posted at "The Daily Episcopalian" over at Episcopal Cafe. A young adult (in his late 20s), Coelho challenges the idea that the way to attract young people into the Church is by incorporating aspects of popular culture (rock bands, acoustic music, etc.) and by making the liturgy more informal. Instead, he contends that more of today's young people are attracted to traditional forms of liturgical worship and he offers some reasons for why this might be the case.

Here's an excerpt from his essay:

I can still remember quite vividly the Saturday before the end of the Lambeth Conference, where I served as a steward. We were invited to a special plenary session at which bishops and their spouses had the opportunity to talk to some of us concerning why we, as young people, still wanted to be members of the Church (In fact, my estimate is that around half of us are following the ordination path and most of the others are actively involved in some sort of Church ministry). It is no secret that churches in general (especially in Western societies) are increasingly losing members of young age, and I could understand that for many of those bishops, it was very vital to hear the voice of the those young women and men who seemed to be so proud of their faith. Maybe what they had to say would help them rescue the unchurched and provide stable growth to their dioceses.

We had, unfortunately, very little time, and only four stewards (out of almost sixty) were chosen to speak for us. They did a good job, but some points, in my opinion, were not touched at all. And since I am in my late twenties, and can still be considered a young adult, I think it would be a good idea to push this conversation forward and foster a discussion on one of the aspects I see young adults articulating more and more interested in: traditional liturgy. And, I fear, many of our bishops have not realized the incredible potential behind this single fact.

The Lambeth Stewards' Program helped me catch a glimpse of Anglican Youth worldwide. We came from many different countries, backgrounds and social statuses, and we comprised two main generational groups (18-25 and 25-35). However, I noticed that many of us shared a very distinct appreciation for traditional liturgy. Moreover, a disproportional percentage among us -if compared with the amount of parishes compatible with such worldviews- were especially fond of Anglo-Catholic liturgy and ancient Church Music. Yes, I know many probably think we were just “Church nerds”, but these numbers match somehow the data I had before from Episcopal/Anglican youth both in Brazil and in the USA.

What I perceive more and more is that a sizable amount (and in some environments, the majority) of us prefers “old-fashioned” liturgy, and it is not rare to find youth discussing the beauty of an east-facing Mass, the dignifying simplicity of Anglican chant or the pity that Festal Evensong is almost unheard of nowadays. It may also come as a surprise for some to learn that such an interest in traditional liturgical matters is not necessarily attached to conservatism. In fact, among young adults it usually holds hands with an inclusive and socially liberal, yet credal, theology. Even in the few cases where I have ran into theologically conservative and liturgically traditionalist young Anglicans, they have seemed to me to be much more charitable to divergent ideas and more apt to accepting diversity, or even a peaceful co-existence in different Churches, or Church bodies.

One reason behind the popularity of this “movement” among young people is simple, and Derek Olsen beautifully opened the discussion here. I would add a second thought, though; many young Anglicans are attracted to traditional liturgical forms because they offer stability. We have been born in a fast-paced world, and in a short period of time have seen the rise and fall of countries, regimes, technologies, musical styles, fashion trends and even Church movements. At the same time, most of the cultural norms our mothers and fathers fought to liberalize do not apply to us anymore, and only God knows how they are going to be within some years. The world is freer, and it is changing so fast that sometimes it seems to be in a free-fall. The Church, to many of us, is the last glimpse of stability that exists in this post-modern society, and the certainty that its language has managed to be the same for all these years is a key factor for two reasons (among several):

- First, it puts us in an (even more) special relationship with the Communion of Saints, who throughout the ages have used the same responses, anthems and hymns to worship the Triune God;

- Second, because it is a wonderful metaphor of God's unchanging love and care for humankind. No matter what happens – hunger, fear, war, depression or loneliness – the Church, our safe refuge, will be there with a very familiar and easily recognizable embrace expressed in its magnificent and Christ-centered liturgy.

Read it all.


AnglicanAlone said...

As a currently young person raised in the Episcopal Church with a high school/college background in other evangelical denominations, I second the love (and need) for traditional liturgy.

When I look for a church, I look for liturgy, sound (orthodox) teaching, and rich music from mixed cultures and time periods. Sharing the traditions of the early church, allowing time of reverence and reflection, does wonders for my spiritual life. Coming back to the foundations of theology week after week grounds me, and following the nuances of the faith as expressed in liturgy educates me.

The liturgy, just as it is, has so much to teach and add to the lives of my evangelical friends who are unfamiliar with it. When they visit my church, they're intrigued, enticed, but ultimately they do not stay because music done up of strictly 18th, 19th and early 20th century hymns does not speak to their experience.

Music supporting the liturgy should be familiar to help newcomers feel comfortable, be traditional to help long-time attendees feel comfortable, and be ancient to help us all join with the historical saints and remember the roots of our faith. Any church that does not incorporate a little of each is lacking in some richness of community and experience.

Bryan Owen said...

Well said, AnglicanAlone! Thanks for posting.

wcbpolish said...

Agreed- young people like liturgy. I was raised Baptist, my fiancee was raised Methodist. As we sought a church for our soon-to-be family, one of the items on our list was liturgy.
I really hoped to find a church in the Continuing Anglican tradition, but there weren't any hear where we will be living.
We avoided the the Episcopal Church because neither of us feels that women ordination is biblical (I feel so more strongly than she does), and we are both appalled at the thought of the church condoning homosexual unions and ordinations.
We ended up in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, and thus far we are pleased.
As a former Baptist, I am shocked at how much I enjoy the liturgy. Likely much of that sentiment comes from my time in Alaska where I went to the only available church- Roman Catholic. It just feels more reverent. All my Baptist friends are horrified that I am OK with the "Evil Traditions of Men."