Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Don't "Challenge the Culture"

By way of The Living Church we have this bit of advice from a missive by John Martiner, the just-retired rector of Christ Church, Christiana Hundred, Del.:
Finally, a rector must challenge the culture. OK, this is a hard one to understand. Everyone wants a rector who “understands us.” On the other hand, a rector who just fits in and blesses the status quo, in my opinion, is not doing the job.
On my worst days, I think, "Only a priest could write such nonsense." Every new rector comes in, and thinks, "boy, is there a lot about this parish I need to whip into shape." In spite of the supposed power of altar guilds, it seems to me that any reasonably determined priest can overcome it; and the rest of the congregation is pretty much powerless, except that the priest is willing to listen. It is not a situation that is conducive to clerical humility, and a rector who believes that shaking things up is of itself a good thing is predestined to be largely a destructive force.

Tradition is anamnesis, and anamnesis is central to Christian worship. While tradition cannot be above criticism, where tradition is held to be an impediment, connection with the past is eroded. Continual agitation is, in the end, essentially destructive; what is torn out and tossed away is not so easily recreated when the next rector finds it wanted. I despise and detest the dishonest language of opposing "traditional" with "contemporary" when talking about liturgy, and when I hear a "change" sermon, I wonder what the rector is planning to break this time. A change is good, or it is bad, and only in its own right; an attitude that values Change is an attitude that opposes stability. It is often said that growth requires change, but even a tree that sends up shoots each time it is cut down will eventually succumb out of exhaustion. In truth, it is not growth that requires change, but change which arises out of growth; change that is not growth is often enough change which growth must overcome.

One of the things I have found relaxing about having supply priests is that they, as a rule, accept that they don't have to be disruptive. I remember back in the days when I was acolyte master speaking with one of them before the service and having him tell me to direct him as to how things were done. It would be a better church if more rectors had the same attitude.