The second phase of Bethany's three-year plan was entitled, "Liturgical Dialog". Building on first phase, "The Drama of Liturgy", we proceeded quite logically to exploring the speaking parts that the pastors, assisting liturgists (ordained or lay), and the congregation have in the Divine Service. We wanted to invite people into more active participation in the 'conversation' of worship, which is nothing less than the eternal conversation about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This conversation is the subject of true worship (Luke 9:31b), and is the story the Church is called to proclaim (Is. 12:4).
During this time, we taught the meaning and purposes of various congregational responses in the liturgy. Many of these responses had been cut from the service in the 80's and 90's out of a zeal to reduce the length of worship services. (Indeed, I was shocked that the first time I was introduced to Bethany, the non-communion service that morning lasted only 42 minutes!). This was done ostensibly because of parking problems at the previous site, necessitating a need for more 'exchange time' in the parking lot. So we told people that, having been at our new campus for over three years, there was no need to deny ourselves of the rich opportunities the liturgy provides us for rehearsing godly language on our lips. So we restored saying 'Thanks be to God" after the readings, the acclamations before and after the Gospel, the congregational cadences at the ends of each petition in the Prayer of the Church ("Lord, have mercy" or "Hear our prayer"), and other dialogs.
Most of the folk either liked or had no objections to these changes. After all, they are in the hymnal! And the older crowd appreciated singing 'Amen' after doxological hymn stanzas and after the concluding stanzas of some hymns that are especially prayerful. Sure, some wanted an Amen after every hymn, but we explained that hymns are often proclamation and catechesis, and so we'd let the text and context determine whether or not the organist would cue an Amen. A couple of people objected to becoming "too catholic" at this point, and we did lose three families during this time over the new worship direction, but overall most people liked recovering things that had been taken out of the service and also appreciated the teaching we were doing.
One prominent member in the congregation did object, though, to the prayer cadences. He pointed to Jesus' admonition against "vain repetitions" (Matthew 6:7) and argued that people really weren't praying when they would respond to a pastor's bid by saying "Lord, have mercy" but rather were just being mindlessly conditioned. His position was that truly pious thing to do was for everyone to listen to the pastor pray at length, and then whisper a quiet "Amen" if they wished. I attempted to show him from Scripture that Jesus was talking about the babbling of the Gentiles, who thought that by their efforts to repeat what they thought to be god-pleasing words was somehow meritorious before God. I agreed that the context of this passage would seem to include the "showy" practices of the hypocrites in the synagogue, but I doubt I was ever to get him to see that the problem was not the repeating of a versicle, but rather the vanity of an ungodly heart. This gentleman did not leave the congregation over this, but eventually decided that we were too liberal (!) and is now worshipping elsewhere.
We also began at this time to rehearse another dialog provided for in liturgical worship: that of a psalm refrain or antiphon. Psalms were already being done this way on occasion at Bethany, but we decided that congregational refrains were overall a good thing to do on most Sundays because they contextualize the psalm and also help the congregation learn and meditate on God's Word. As the old Latin proverb says: Repetitio est mater studorium. And what better way to let the Word dwell in you richly that a little music to accompany that repetition, right? Isn't this how we all learned our ABC's? And so during this time we also taught what Paul has to say about "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" in two of the few passages the New Testament has to say about worship (Eph. 3:15; Col. 3:16). We encouraged people to invest themselves more in the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in the liturgy, and also to sing them at home as well. The psalm refrains have proven to be very popular, and I commend them as a first step for any parish seeking worship renewal.
This phase of the plan ended in May of 2001, the end of my first full academic year at Bethany. It was a good choir season for both the senior and the children's choirs, and I used the talent of the choirs and some of our instrumental groups to ornament and enliven the psalms and canticles of the liturgy. In the years before I came to Bethany, most of the music - especially the instrumental music - was "special music' played as preludes or meditations. Sure there were hymn concertati on festival Sundays, but the choir mostly sang texts of various devotional qualities as a prelude to the service or as music during distribution, and most of the handbell and brass music was not hymn-tuned based. So there was a considerable shift in the direction of the music itself at this time, to highlight the new direction we were going as we had handbell choirs ornament the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei and play hymn introductions and descants, instrumental soloists play Voluntaries based on the Hymn of the Day and add descants to psalm refrains, and began using choral settings of the proper Verse of the Day.
Personally, I didn't think this was so radical. In fact, I still don't. We were just being Lutheran. Indeed, we were just reclaiming a basic liturgical spirituality that has characterized orthodox Christianity since its inception: the practice of magnifying the Word of God by singing it, that it may dwell in us richly. But some would find this "new way" to be "cold" and "too formal" and "stale". They wanted worship that would "move" them.
Summer was upon us, and so things would remain quiet for a few months, but in the fall these voices would begin to influence some members of the Ministry Council and also bend the ear of one of our pastors. Though all but one council member supported the plan in the beginning, and all the pastors and program staff participated in its development and promotion, some would view any amount of dissent or disagreement as a failure of the plan.
I learned in the beginning that some would view any actual teaching about liturgy as a problem in the first place. I now began to learn that some of those who advocated teaching above all else would conclude that if any fellow brother or sister in Christ were to reject the teaching and therefore be 'unhappy' with what we were doing, we should therefore stop doing whatever it is they would object to until such time as the teaching might convince them. And yet the teaching never would convince them - either because they objected to the very concept of instruction in worship in the first place or because they simply would reject either all or part of the many practices and customs which characterize Lutheran piety.
Take Courage, Brothers, In the Lord - This text was written to the glory of God on the occasion of The Rev. Dr. Harold L. Senkbeil's 45th anniversary in the Office of the Holy Ministry, celebra...
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