Friday, July 14, 2006

True Diversity in Worship

As a postscript to my last essay about diversity in worship, I was pondering how so-called "diversity" in non-traditional worship practices is elitist and actually fosters the opposite of diversity.

What is typically considered "diversity" in worship is actually very uniform: a large screen, "praise" songs with a "praise" band (usually reflecting a pop or soft rock musical style), and an ethos of informality. This tends to attract a certain "attractive" demographic - younger adults, perhaps those with young children - a demographic that typically has money and is not afraid to spend it. Furthermore, music is very culturally and racially divisive. A church that makes use of R&B and hip-hop is going to draw an overwhelmingly black "audience," whereas those that focus on sentimental pop ballads and rock and roll are likely to attract whites.

Even the ubiquitous advertisements I receive in the mail for the latest "relevant" new churches with carefully designed layouts typically feature a stereotypical family of well-groomed smiling white people with perfect teeth and model hair. They often have a couple of perfect-looking children dressed immaculately in Oshkosh or L.L.Bean. Of course, there will be an occasional token non-white, but as long as they look the part and behave themselves, I'm sure they can get in.

There is a disturbing artificial and sterile "gated-community" feel to these marketing campaigns - and keep in mind that nothing, absolutely nothing, in marketing is accidental or coincidental.

And so all of this lip-service to "diversity" is really nothing of the sort. Peel away the layers of hypocrisy and you'll find a desire to go after a demographic of growth - both in numbers and in money. College students are transient and broke - so they don't go after them. The elderly are on fixed incomes and are not procreating (and besides, they are a drain on resources when they require the pastor's time visiting them at the hospital) - so why show the elderly in marketing materials? Do they really want poor people in their churches? Besides, people want to be around good-looking, attractive people, so why not hire models to pose for their oversized postcards?

My own congregation is the bane of many local congregations and pastors who can't believe we still cling to tradition. Some folks outside of my congregation have complained behind my back (never to my face) because I wear a cassock to and from Divine Services. Our congregation is considered backward and a stick in the mud because we don't have contemporary worship and don't participate in the Ablaze!(tm) "initiative," "movement," or whatever is the au courant politically-correct term for this slick marketing campaign. Area traditionalist pastors are sometimes maligned as "blackshirts."

But let's consider diversity - real diversity, not the artificial lip-service kind.

On any given Sunday (or Wednesday), I will preach to my beloved flock and hand out the body and blood of our dear blessed Lord to all sorts of people. In no particular order at the communion rail, I commune Cajuns, Germans, blacks, whites, former Roman Catholics, former Baptists, high school girls and boys, elderly men and women, people suffering with degenerative diseases, people who are in the prime of their athletic lives, wealthy business owners, people on welfare, white collar workers, blue collar workers, fat people, skinny people, Democrats, Republicans, those who can read Latin and Greek, and those who can barely read English. Babies of every shape and size are broght to the rail to be blessed. I have communed the tattooed, those with studs in their tongues, those with spiked hair - as well as those clad in three-piece suits and ankle-length skirts.

Those who come to Salem for Word and Sacrament include intact families, widows and wiodowers, divorced and remarried people, children who have been adopted, people who have lost all of their worldly possessions in Hurricane Katrina, mixed-race people, people who are overweight, people who are tall, folks who have cancer, and those who never get sick.

As we confess in our liturgy itself, we are also in the presence of persons unseen, the Church Triumphant who now worship eternally in the throneroom of the Lamb, the angels and archangels who are always present before the Lord, the glorious company of the apostles, the white robed army of martyrs, the Church of all times and places that join us in the Divine Service. The advocates of contemporary worship and pop music in the church seem to forget that these people are also present, and their opinions ought to matter as much as ours. Chesterton spoke of tradition as a "democracy of the dead." If we truly believe those who have died in the faith are still with us, we ought not foist "our" music on them, but lean in the direction of tradition. If you think about it this way, tradition is a confession of the resurrection as well as the transcendence of the church beyond the culture of the present moment with its fickle tastes and ever-mutable styles.

Furthermore, our parishioners listen to all sorts of music: country, rap, heavy metal, easy listening, hip hop, pop, rock and roll, jazz, classical, and everything in between. Some are baseball fans, fishermen, cooks, competitive runners, those who cheer for the Saints, and those who don't. Some are into cars, boats, motorcycles, bicycles, and some like to walk everywhere. There is an endless array of personalities in our parish: the gregarious and friendly, the cranky and sullen, those equipped with beaming smiles, as well as those who appear to be always in a state of melancholy. Some are gifted musically, and others cannot carry a tune in a bucket. Some carry oxygen tanks, some hobble along on canes and walkers, and others must be communed in the pew due to their convalescence.

And yet in spite of this true diversity, we come together as the Body of Christ. We confess our sins and are absolved. We sing the praises to God together - not in opera or rap, not in soft-rock or heavy metal - but in the same way the Church has always worship, a style and culture that unites rather than divides, that transcends earthly styles instead of choosing one over the other:in traditional hymns and chants. We take the Lord's Supper together whether we eat Chinese food, soul food, Cajun food, or junk food at home. And we pray for one another - old, young, rich, poor, black, white, in sickness and in health.

I could not imagine how boring it would be to minister in a "biker church" or a "cowboy church" or a "contemporary worship church" rooted in conformity and uniformity that denies the true diversity and catholicity of the Body of Christ! Adopting themes or styles rooted in hobbies or the pop culture talks the talk of diversity, but doesn't walk the walk. In the end, the Church Growth Movement and those who see the Gospel as a product to be sold like underarm deodorant or dish soap miss out on the true diversity that comes with an adherence to churchly tradition.

In their zeal to scientifically pinpoint the most advantageous demographic group for the betterment of their "growing organization," they squeeze all the array of spontaneous humanity out of the body of Christ. There is a true joy to see sinner/saints from every walk of life, age, and ethnic background unite around the Word and Sacraments. In fact, it is a foretaste of the great wedding banquet described in the Book of Revelation in which St. John writes:

"I looked and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'"


joannmski said...

Father Hollywood, those are very great points you make. I hate the "relevant" church movement, and it is so true, they are trying to be "relevant" to the nicest, whitest, richest demographic possible. All the saints do not have beautiful toothy smiles.

Whey Lay said...

Another good one. I imagine the response would be that CGer's are just wanting to use the biggest net for the local catch. In other words, if your church is in suburbia, do the beatiful people thing, have a predominatly hispanic local, throw in a latina praise band. No matter how it's sliced though it smells like big business mass marketing, and it really does deny the continued worship of saints gone to glory. We must remember that the mega-churches and popular "free" churches are not just crowded because they have cool music, their message is also significantly different than what we confess. Varying from emotionalism to Law driven, it is also what the culture likes to hear, and neither may it be the Gospel. Ultimately I feel this is where our synod's "alternate style" worshipers wish to end up.
I could go on but won't, thanks for helping to clarify some of my thoughts on this subject these last few posts.
joannmski, thats the coolest picture I've seen yet.

Kelly Klages said...

Good post. This reminds me of something that's been very much on my mind recently, and that's when a church divides up its services to try to appeal to different interest groups (i.e. "traditional" vs. "contemporary"). What happens is the old people are shifted off into a little huddle in the small service, and the rest of the hipper family crowd swells out the large service. What a terrible enforcement of segregation!!!

Mike Green said...

The church where my wife and I were married offers traditional and contemporary services. Holy Communion is not offered at traditional services. What do you think that says to the "old people [who] are shifted off into a little huddle"?

stagiare said...

Thank you for a thought provoking post.

I find comfort in the idea that the body of Christ is made up of all types of individuals. My contention w/ the trend of demographic segmentation is that it does not reflect the true family of believers. But neither do I hate another church body nor spike them with invectives.

The Lutheran tradition is rich in Godly reverence and that I embrace boldly and love dearly.

The true church is one that is inter generational and crosses all socio/economic categories. You have stated with eloquence and love.

God bless your ministry.