My dear friends in Christ,
Last Sunday, I announced that we’d be making an adjustment to weekly practice: namely, that instead of alternating between using Rite I for both services one week and using Rite II for both services the next week, for the next little bit we’ll be using Rite I consistently for the 8:30 service and Rite II consistently for the 10:30 service. At the time, I did not provide any additional information about this change, so I’d like to correct that omission now and let y’all know “what’s up.”
The decision to make this change had come from our brand new Worship Support Ministry Team, which had just met the previous Thursday. I wanted to update folks on the activities of this new ministry team as quickly as possible, partly to keep everyone informed, but also because we’ve been working hard to put together all of the various ministry teams I pitched the parish back in January at our Annual Meeting. So I wanted y’all to know about the progress we’re making towards getting these new ministry teams up and running. Worship Support had a productive and engaging initial meeting, and I think the work of this team will be good for us in both the short and the long term.
Unfortunately, the docket for Pentecost Sunday was already overfilled not only with announcements, but with music and liturgy and a sermon that probably went on a little too long as it was, and a very important pause to recognize the gifts and extraordinary contributions of Matt K. and Carol J. to our music ministry and to the overall quality of our worship, as we’ve worked to recover from the worst of the pandemic shutdown. I didn’t go into any detail about the liturgical change because I was trying desperately to get everything in that needed to be gotten in ~ it was already a long service, and I didn't perceive that there was time for an in-depth explanation for the change, beyond mentioning that what we had been doing (alternating between both rites) was "experimental" from the beginning, and that there was an established practice of different rites for each service on Sunday, going back to before I got here.
So, that raises the questions: why make this change? What’s the reasoning behind it? And is Fr. Christopher trying to blame the new ministry team, in case the change is unpopular? :p
Well, no, to that last. To be clear, the responsibility and ultimately the blame for any aspect of our liturgy and worship must fall on me and me alone. According to the canons of the diocese (and of TEC), the rector or priest-in-charge is the “chief liturgist of the parish” and is the arbiter and overseer of all worship services within the parish. But even more to the point, I was the one who suggested the ministry team consider making this change.
So much for blame; what about the thought process behind the change?
There are several reasons for now experimenting (and this next phase will be every bit as experimental as alternating rites has been) with different rites for different services. For one, I have received some complaints about using Rite I at 10:30 ... and about using Rite II at 8:30. It's quite symmetrical, actually: as soon as I made the previous change, I immediately got complaints. As soon as I made this change, I immediately got complaints.
And that’s perfectly okay in both cases, by the way! It’s the nature of living in community together with each other. In both cases, I have to say, the complaints have come from folks who care deeply and passionately not only about their own experiences in worshipping at All Saints, but also and I think even more so about the overall life and health and vitality of this parish (and The Episcopal Church on the whole). For my part, I find it deeply inspiring to see so many people taking their faith lives, and the faith of their church, so very seriously. I hope y'all really hear me when I say that, because I mean it with the utmost sincerity.
So, yes, I've had complaints in both directions, both founded on solid, valid arguments & rationales.
But that's not the only, or even the primary, reason for experimenting now with discrete rites for each service. One other reason is a concern about accessibility for newcomers who walk in off the street, largely without prior experience with liturgical worship at all, much less the long and rich heritage of the Anglican tradition. Even in the comparatively short time we've been reopened for in-person worship, we've actually had a number of visitors of just such backgrounds (or lack thereof), for whom this whole way of doing things is very new and strange, even in Rite II. Add in the beautiful but less-immediately-accessible language of Rite I, and the learning curve becomes steeper. Most of these visitors (though notably not all) have visited the 10:30 service.
There have also been logistical concerns to arise from our experiment with alternating rites. It's made for more work during the already busy week, in terms of preparing bulletins for each service, because of having to shuffle back & forth between different templates every single week. Concerns have also been raised about the length of the 10:30 service, when Rite I liturgy is combined with service music, anthems, and hymns. (I'll add on a personal note that doing two Rite I services back to back does take more stamina on the part of the Celebrant than I'd anticipated, but that was *not* a factor in this decision! Just something I've noticed.)
All that said, please let me offer all of you what I hope will be some assurances...
First, as I said on Sunday and as I've said frequently in this letter, this change is just as experimental/temporary as the previous change was. We, collectively, are learning what works, and what works best, for us as a worshipping community. And I am still very much learning & getting to know this community, having lost nearly 2.5 years of time that I'd otherwise have spent doing just that. So, in my mind at least, nothing is etched in stone at this point. Any change we make must be made and held lightly, seen as experimental, and understood to be subject to further change subsequently. In other words, this change (no change, really) is "for all time"; rather, it is "for the time being."
Second, I still want to integrate the two services more fully ~ or rather, the two communities that organize themselves around the two service times. My sense is that, before Covid, All Saints had been, in this regard, like many other Episcopal parishes, with two pretty distinct worshipping communities (the Early Folks and the Later Folks), with not a whole lot of overlap or cross-pollination happening between the two Sunday services. Getting these two groups to integrate a bit more with each other was one of the reasons for alternating rites week to week, to begin with. I’d be very curious to hear from y’all as to whether, and to what degree if at all, that has happened over the past several months.
Third, I'm open to the idea of using Rite I for both services during specific seasons; I understand that that has been a practice here in times past. While I am reticent to use it for Lent and Advent (I'm aware that that's been done here before, and it's not an uncommon practice in our denomination), I am open to experimenting with that, too. I say I'm reticent only because I don't believe that Rite I is inherently "more penitential" than Rite II ~ I think that's a misreading of both rites, actually. (Yes, Rite I has the Prayer of Humble Access, but just look at all that stuff about sin and the need for a Redeemer in Prayers A, B, and C.) But again, I remain open to experimentation. Let's see what works, "boots on the ground," yes?
Fourth, I have some more or less ambitious notions about what we might eventually be able to do with our Sunday mornings, especially if we do find ways to invite more new folks into our parish community. I would love, down the road, for instance, to have two full-blown, full-choir, fully-sung services each Sunday ~ one Rite I and one Rite II ~ and not have the Rite I service be relegated to a small, spoken service always. I think the opportunities that doing so would open up for us would be truly astonishing. I have some notions about those opportunities and possibilities, but I’ll save them for later columns … I don’t want anyone to get too worried just yet! :)
Fifth, as I hope I've made clear with the above, Rite I is NOT going away or being removed from the liturgical practice of All Saints! Not on my watch.
Lastly, I want all of you to know that the full range of Episcopal worship is dearly important to me, and it always will be. We are the inheritors of a glorious tradition, and I want to ensure that All Saints offers everybody as many ways to connect and engage with, and to experience first hand, our sacred tradition as possible.
Yours always in Christ,
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