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Mystery and Awe
The Living Church Foundation ^ | 8/18/2005 | David Kalvelage

Posted on 08/18/2005 7:52:48 AM PDT by sionnsar

In a column published by RISEN, the newspaper of the Diocese of Rhode Island, the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, bishop of that diocese, raises some concerns. I think she may be on to something. Bishop Wolf writes that the Taizé Community in France offers something that may be lacking in the Episcopal Church — silence in its worship. Bishop Wolf visited that ecumenical community, participated in its worship, and was impressed.

“Outside the church large signs announce ‘silence’ in many different languages,” she wrote. “Indeed, the church is silent, even when thousands of people are seated together. A building becomes sacred space because of the silence of the people within it, the intensity of the prayer that is offered, and the care taken to honor God with a building that reflects mystery and awe.”

When is the last time you experienced mystery and awe in your liturgy?

The bishop observed that when the community gathers for worship, following singing, psalms, scripture and prayers, there is a period of silence for about 10 minutes during which worshipers may be involved in personal prayer or reflection.

If you’re like me, you probably appreciate some moments of silence during the liturgy. The rubrics in the prayer book allow for times of quiet, and I find them to be valuable periods of reflection — after the readings of scripture, in Form II of the Prayers of the People, and immediately before the confession. In some places, silence is observed following the sermon, and I’ve experienced it following communion. Some churches still have silence before the liturgy begins, while others need an announcement to remind worshipers that it’s time to settle down. We don’t get enough silence these days. At a time when centering prayer is popular and contemplative prayer is still being used, some silence during our liturgies could be effective.

In remarking on the lack of silence during worship, Bishop Wolf mentions “the Peace becoming a time for chatter and excessive greeting, and the announcements taking almost as long as the sermon.” I couldn’t agree more. In the 25 or so years I’ve been experiencing the Peace, I am able to recall remarks to me at that point such as that I’ve lost weight, how did I get that cut on my forehead?, that was an unusual tie I was wearing, that I don’t usually sit in that spot, where was my wife that morning?, and even “what’s the matter with your Cubs?”

We’ve all visited places where the Peace is chaotic. In some churches, every person has to exchange the Peace with every other person present, even if there are 400 people there. In others, there isn’t a thought given to what the Peace is about, or why it’s exchanged. It’s become a time to wander about, perhaps slip off to the men’s room, go take a look at that new baby in the back pew. I know someone who uses the opportunity to duck outside for a cigarette. Heck, we might as well serve coffee, too. The Peace is intended to be a form of greeting, but in some places it’s out of control.

As for the announcements, there’s no need for more ranting. They seem to be at their worst in churches that see to it that every person receives a bulletin upon entering. Isn’t that where announcements belong — in a bulletin? I have visited churches where countless numbers of people stood up and made announcements, bringing Bishop Wolf’s concern to life.

All this is said recognizing that there is, of course, no right way to celebrate the liturgy. My preferences do not make it right and neither do yours. Most of us have our own ideas how the Eucharist ought to be celebrated, and some of us are not concerned. Decently and in good order with periods of silence and an orderly Peace sounds about right.

David Kalvelage, executive editor

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 08/18/2005 7:53:31 AM PDT by sionnsar
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