Thursday, January 29, 2015

¿Que es común?

Episcopalians like to say that what unites us is our worship. That is, while other Protestant and Reformation era groups were drawing up Confessions and Creeds, we were drawing up a prayer book.

And while some of this is probably better rhetoric than history (we did, after all create the 39 Articles, even if they never had the same pride of place as other confessions), it is pretty good rhetoric. It certainly describes a significant part of the heart of Anglican Christianity.

But rather than saying we are united by worship instead of confession, I think it is perhaps a bit more accurate to say we are united by agreeing to disagree about worship—and still worship together. This is why the Book of Common Prayer and the rubrics are so essential to the Anglican tradition, they articulate the boundaries that we, as a community, have agreed upon when it comes to our corporate worship. They do this so that our worship, no matter the style or flavor, can always be common, can always be shared. They do this so our worship can be común.

And yet, one of the tricky things about multicultural ministry—particularly multicultural worship—is that you realize other cultures see lines in different places than you do.

Tonight, I joined the seminarians for Evening Prayer, as I have most nights I've been here. We gathered in their small chapel (capilla), which is really a converted classroom. Someone lit the lights on the altar and the officiating seminarian handed out a trip-fold with the words to some Spanish-language psalms on it.

So far, this is pretty common. We actually have an official hymnal for Spanish-language worship. Trouble is, it's rather difficult to buy (see Amazon). If you try to search for it at Church Publishing or Cokesbury, it doesn't even list as existing. Instead, both direct you to a "words only" edition, without music.

This is not helpful.

At Nuevo Amanecer last year, we used an overhead projector. Most Spanish-language Episcopal services I've attended either simply list the words in the bulletin (no music) or they use one of the older (also words only) collections of Spanish-language praise and worship songs.

So, like I said, being handed a sheet of paper with Spanish words on it to sing is not new to me, even if it is frustrating as a musician. But, I'm used to it. It didn't phase me. I was still ready to say Evening Prayer with my new friends.

However, what we proceeded to do was then sing several songs, do a small portion of Evening Prayer (phos hilaron, psalm, Scripture readings, and canticles), sing several more songs, and then have an extended time—about 15 minutes—of extemporaneous prayer. We closed with the grace.

The singing was without instruments (because there were none there to be played). It was profound and heartfelt, a few hands up in the air, some swaying to the singing. The prayers were clearly from the heart. They were more like the evangelical prayers of my youth (full of reputation and short phrases, which actually made them easier to translate in my mind).

It just didn't feel... Episcopal. It felt like someone took Evening Prayer, chopped off a few pieces, and then put it in a blender with an entirely different praise & worship service, one that has a totally different aim and purpose than Evening Prayer.

In short, it didn't feel like we really did either Evening Prayer or an evangelical/pentecostal praise & worship service with ample time for free intercessions.

This raises, I think, one of the great questions every Episcopal church will have to face as we approach an increasing tide of Latino people in our communities and a worship that is very... English. It is one of the great questions we will have to wrestle with as heirs to a tradition that has rather strenuously insisted upon a certain form an structure to worship.

How do we worship as Episcopal Christians in a way that is authentic to the culture from which the worship comes?

This raises important questions. Is my desire that Evening Prayer follow the rubrics, that it contain an opening versicle and response, the Phos Hilaron, a psalm and canticles, followed by the creed and then the prayers, only then with an open time for "an office hymn" and other prayers... is that fussy English-ness? Or, is the structure of Evening Prayer inherent to Episcopal worship, no matter the culture in which it is practiced?

When I was at Nueveo Amanecer, I often felt like the services of Holy Eucharist paid little attention to the rubrics for how Eucharist is intended to be celebrated. Praise songs were thrown in liberally without attention to the fact that our BCP is actually very clear about when hymns may and may not be inserted. Is that because the rubrics are untranslatable to another culture?

Are more low-church, evangelical, and almost pentecostal approaches to worship inherent in Latino culture, are they the only way in which Episcopal liturgy can be celebrated and be authentic to the Latino community? Or, do these approaches instead reflect the great success that Pentecostalism has had in sinking into Latin American culture—including Roman Catholics?

¿Que es común?

What is common?

I suppose I couldn't expect every day here to be filled with deeply moving experiences of grace. I suppose there had to be days of wrestling as well, days of hard questions, days when I, as a priest, look myself hard in the mirror and ask what it truly means to be an Episcopal priest—who is also Anglo, who specifically and intentionally left evangelicalism—what it will mean for me to lead a community in Latino worship.

Not will I do this—I am firmly convicted that God has called me and my community to give this a shot. We can't just ignore the over $10,000 that UTO invested in this. We must try.

But what will that try look like?

What does it mean to be Episcopal AND Latino AND to be authentic to both, ser auténtico para ambos?

I don't know the answer. No sé la respuesta.

But at least now I think I know the question.

Pero al menos ahora sé la pregunta.

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