Thursday, January 11, 2007
The Liturgy, the People, and New Hymnals
One of the top ten most risky things a pastor can do in his ministry is to introduce a new hymnal. The advent of Lutheran Worship (LW), unfortunately, raised the stakes on that risk when it ignored the fact that significant change in the church's liturgy is usually resisted by the faithful. My church uses LW and I am at peace with it. As as pastor I have used it since at least the early 90's. The church I am at presently introduced it in the mid-80's. One would think that any trauma experienced over the introduction nigh near 20 years or more ago would have long faded. But not so. Memories run deep. Echoes of these memories surfaced recently as we talked at my church about the newest hymnal, Lutheran Service Book (LSB).
One aspect of LSB that appeals to me is that they reversed the trend of significant change. Now I'm not a stodgy resistant- to- change-at-any-cost kind of pastor. But I have noticed in a very practical way a truth the church has always understood: the liturgy (and its hymns) have historically been the least resistive to change and represent the primary theology of the people.
Considering the onslaught of contemporary worship (CW) on the church, especially in the last 20 years, it is surprising to be able to say this. Many people today are conditioned to expect change and even believe it is necessary to survive. Yet on the other hand there is also a deep need for consistency. As everything else in the world changes, many Christians, I believe, want the church to be at least one place in their life they can look to and know that it will remain the same. We need stability in the midst of change. We need to know that some things are a "given." And there is comfort in the familiar. Just look at your own personal rituals and how you maintain them to give yourself stability.
I am not enough of a prophet to predict exactly what the impact of CW will be on the church in the long run. However, part of me senses that it will run its course for some and they will turn again to the stability of a consistent liturgy. From what I've read and seen, it would appear that such a phenomenon may already be occurring among younger generations who do not share the rebellion of the Baby Boomers, the tsunami movement of rejection of all their parents held dear.
In the end, even if they do not consciously think about it, people need and want to keep the liturgy and song they know. It's the voice of their faith, past and future. We are probably going to eventually get the new LSB. But we are going slowly. Not because this hymnal is hard to learn, but because of the damage done 20 years ago when LW ripped the rug out from under the church. I'm pleased the the Commission on Worship did not do this again. They must have known.