Why so few free church liturgists attend SLS conference

Right this is the first of two short pieces in spired by attending this conference. I was the only URC person there, although there were a couple of Methodists, a solitary Pentecostalist and an American Reformed Pastor. Apart from that everyone was either high church Anglican or Roman Catholic. At one point someone said that they wished that more “Free Church liturgical theologians would come as those that do are interesting.” Well here is my reason why such people don’t come.

Firstly the discourse of the conference is totally against them coming. They define themselves as “liturgical” and free churches as “non-liturgical”. Now why would someone defined by a liturgical conference as “non-liturgical” come to it? They are wanting Non-liturgical liturgical theologians to attend. Sorry that is like asking for hot cold water or is oxymoronic. If they want free church liturgists and liturgical theologians they need to make a space for them.

Secondly our liturgists and liturgical theologians are very different from theirs. The prime task of them is to write the liturgy and they do it week in and week out. They are not primarily critics of liturgy and by that I mean those who bring their mental faculties to the task of analysing how liturgy is produced. They are primarily artisans producing liturgy week in week out. It would never occur to them that you might invite in later a poet, or musician to the creation of liturgy as if there is some secondary function they could add. The skills they bring are part and parcel of the task of creating liturgy.

Let me outline what skill a great liturgists needs in free church tradition:

  • The poets sense of words
  • The dramatists sense of flow and drama, and the liturgy as something performed
  • The musicians sense of the role of music
  • The theologians knowledge of doctrine
  • A religious sense of the pattern and shape of prayer through life
  • A sating in the Biblical text, sometimes seen with elderly Presbyterians with the Psalms where not only can they summon verses to memory at will, but their language is shaped by it.
  • A biblical scholars sensitivity to the meaning and interpretations of the text.
  • A Sociologists awareness of how people participate and comprehend the liturgy and the role it plays in religious formation.
  • A critques understanding of the tradition of liturgy

At the moment only about four of these functions are acknowledged in the conference. Where were the workshops where people brought examples of their own work and worked on improving it? Where were the discussions on what people understood of the liturgy and took with them? Where was the collection of folk liturgy, the prayers of the everyday people? If the Society for Liturical Studies, wants to include those from the Free churches in England it is going to have to make a space and begin to understand that valuable though the historical and critical study of Liturgy is, it is not the sole concern of an active working liturgist, at least not when there is Sundays Worship to prepare and you cannot just pick up the book and read it.

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One thought on “Why so few free church liturgists attend SLS conference”

  1. As someone whose liturgical background is Roman and Anglican with also appreciation and experience of African-American worship, and as one who is interested in liturgy, I think your post is excellent.

    Malik (from SoF)

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