Saturday, 29 August 2015

SACRED LITURGY OR HOCUS POCUS?

There was no way our bunch of ordinands in the Diocese of Johannesburg could attend a residential seminary- most of us had jobs or families to look after. So our theological education was via distance learning underpinned by week-end classes hosted by various parishes. 

These ranged from the 'Little England' in the leafy suburbs to 'township vibrant' with not a tree or flower in sight. 





The suburban churches were invariably built of stone, or face brick. They boasted impressive bell towers, stained glass windows, organs, modern music groups and sound systems. Set in beautiful gardens, their dwindling congregations were predominantly white with a few black faces.  




The packed township churches were mostly large plain structures. Sans organs and sound systems, they had huge choirs. The youth music groups favoured drums, modern and African traditional, and they were as crazy about electronic keyboards as their suburban counterparts were. Nobody checked their watches during the sermon.

Everyone expressed 'New South Africa' love and 'PC speak' was the order of the day. But it wasn't easy going. 

The black families who were easing into the traditionally white suburbs missed the music, the dancing and the choruses they'd grown up with. Too many decided to return to the townships for their Sunday worship and then found it easier to lie in bed instead of travelling the distance. 

One friend shared how it irritated that over tea the white parishioners talked about their dogs as if they were human. 

My white friends were concerned that, as more black families moved into the suburbs, the ancient and modern hymns and Songs of Praise would be overtaken by African choruses. They shuddered at the thought of allowing the Holy Spirit to dictate when a service ended, in case it stretched to two or three hours. 


They complained that the black parishioners weren't prepared to assume leadership roles. The blacks said they were never given the change to express an opinion. 

For those readers in other countries this must all seem very weird. But we South Africans were, and still are, paying the price for legislated segregation. One general election and a democratic government wasn't going to fill the cultural abyss that separated us.  
In fact we ordinands were privileged to experience such diverse forms of Anglican worship. What always amused me was how much higher and hazier the township parishes were when in came to incense, ancient hymns and the size of the altar party. 

I was starting to understand how cocooned I was in my suburban parish so asked to be moved. At that stage it was unthinkable to send a white woman to the townships so I was relocated to a working class, predominantly 'coloured' parish. 

There I would learn about the angst of folk caught in the middle of the new political dispensation. One in which they felt neither white enough nor black enough.




That wasn't the only complication. They were also high and hazy and my Anglican ignorance was laid so bare I nearly got killed. Of course you folk all know that at the end of  the Maundy Thursday service the altar is stripped and the aumbry is left open. I didn't and the prayer book made no mention. So like any good housekeeper I shut the door after the service. 

I'd just reached home when my very tall and volatile rector was hammering on my front door - the epitome of a towering rage. It seemed to escape his notice that I was in a training process and that he was supposed to teach me. I've never seen a man work so hard at resisting the temptation to do physical harm. 

We both recovered but it took a while.

I've just Googled and checked my prayer book - still nada about an open aumbry. Then again so many rituals are absorbed by osmosis if you grow up in the environment. This begs the question: Do the people in the pews understand the significance of the symbolic aspects of our liturgies? Or is it just comforting hocus pocus? 


8 comments:

Peter Nickles said...

No, it's not hocus pocus....well not all of it. One of the really strong and valuable features of Anglican liturgical worship is the focus created by the colour, movement and music. Usually quite well coordinated.
A big problem (in my estimation), is the lack of teaching from the pulpit on things Anglican....how they came about and their scriptural relevance. It seems very few of our collered brethren and sisters deem it sufficiently important.
Thanks, Loraine for a thought -provoking and useful blog.
I look forward to many more to follow.

Mo said...

Love high church, it is so different to our daily lives. That late night Maundy Thursday service with the congregation staying behind and guarding the church one-by-one or in small groups, to be with Jesus in his loneliness: the quiet peace, the knowledge that one is not alone.
The only thing I really don't like about mixing cultures is the habit of black brides arriving roughly an hour late to their wedding services. We used to sit, in Durban's sweltering summer heat, in a stifling church, in cassocks and surplices, just waiting. Our choir volunteered their services, but I suspect they no longer do.

sunflowers and khakibush said...

I believe that the trappings and rituals which typify the Anglican service, detract from the real business of hearing God speak. Peter talks about not enough teaching from the pulpit on things Anglican. I think that there are far too many distractions, which are not helpful in growing the followers of Jesus. Are we trying ti be Christians, or Angicans? Everyone loves the bells being rung during communion, but do they know, that that particular ritual had it's roots in the fact that the people up front where separated from the plebs down below by a rood screen, (not sure of the spelling) and not being able to see what was going on at the top, the bells were rung to communicated to the 2nd class citizens that the real hocus pokus was about to begin.

Loraine Tulleken said...

Good point but I wonder of it hasn't acquired different significance along the line as in incense, which was originally a form of deodorant and the covering of the chalices to keep the flies out?

sunflowers and khakibush said...

Indeed! We tend to take on a whole lot of rubbish over the centuries which is quite meaningless now, but which gives one a nice warm,
fuzzy feeling. It's like the priest who used to warm his hands on the radiator before giving out the communion. After he left and another priest arrived, one of the parishioners said he missed out a bit in the service because he didn't place his hands on the radiator.

Loraine Tulleken said...

The other side of the coin is that if symbols trigger genuine worship we need to be careful not to throw God out with the bathwater.

sunflowers and khakibush said...

:)

Loraine Tulleken said...


Tony Lawrence
9:58am Aug 30
Also, we are so diverse that we have become unrecognisable to one another.
Comment History
Tony Lawrence
9:58am Aug 30
In my job as Provincial Youth Coordinator I get to experience ALL the variations of worship in the Anglican Church across ACSA. Yep, the symbols remain a mystery to be practiced although we know little or nothing about what they really mean. The young people are crying out for clarity and explanation, so that they can start to worship "in spirit and in truth".