Blowin' smoke in Kansas

195px-Priest_or_seminarian_with_censor They sing! They chant! They swing (the thurible)!

For years there's been a move among some in the emergent and evangelical churches, conservative churches reaching out to the young, and some mainline congregations to adapt and retool (if that's not too irreverent) ancient liturgical practices in a way that reaches contemporary congregants. (See the late Dr. Robert Webber's work on this topic.)

And, of course, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and some Anglican congregations have been worshipping according to the liturgical practices of the early church for centuries, if not millenia.

So the idea of services grounded in traditions isn't news. But what rituals a church adapts, and the doctrinal reasons behind it, could make for a fascinating article. Unfortunately, the topic gets the oh-wow, "When Harry Met Sally" treatment in an article a few weeks ago on the website.

When introducing a new service these days, most churches seem to go the rock 'n' roll route -- something new to bring in a younger crowd.

To say that Trinity Episcopal Church went in another direction might be a bit of an understatement.

When the church decided to add a new service in fall 2006, instead of looking forward, it looked back.

Way back. As in the fourth century.

The result is a unique celebration of Christianity referred to as the Solemn High Mass. A mystical meeting of old traditions in a setting where blue jeans and T-shirts are appropriate, the Sunday night service features incense, music and what the church, 1011 Vt., refers to as all of the "major propers" including the Kyrie Eleison, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Credo, the Sanctus and Benedictus and the Agnus Dei, which are chanted.

What exactly did the church draw from the fourth century? From the liturgy of St. James? Of the Apostles? Other extant liturgical traditions? From ones used by the Orthodox? Or the Roman Catholic Church? Perhaps I'm being picky. But there's nothing in this article to indicates what separates this service from any other high church, smells and bells liturgy in other Episcopal Churches.

Read some of the interesting comments here in the Episcopal Cafe. One of the commenters picks up on a mistake in the pictures. The priest isn't waving lit incense sticks at the congregations -- he's using holy water to asperge (cleanse) them. Does Trinity have a choral or a chorale tradition?

The story closes with a rather quote from interim rector Ronald Pogue in which he comments on an "emerging global cultural shifts" impellling growing interests in ancient/meditative liturgies.

What on earth is he talking about? There's potential news here -- why is this service is drawing crowds among college students? Why did the Episcopal move in this direction? Does this church have a historic relationship with the University? What's bringing in people from Kansas City? Do the newcomers get involved in church life?

Yes, this is a local article. But residents don't learn much new -- and what they do learn isn't neccesarily correct. The writer passed up an opportunity to educate her readers about what's sparking interest in traditional liturgies among the young a victory of "old-style" over substance.

Picture of thurifer from Wikimedia Commons

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