"Get rid of the virgin" and other ways to save your church

BB NOTE: “Last Protestant Dinasour” has written “Twenty Ways To Destroy Your Church” – no, that’s not what it’s called. The essay is actually called “Twenty Basics of Welcoming Liturgy.” I was going to offer commentary, but I think the steps speak for themselves. In fact, I think we all should work at memorizing some of the passages for later reflection. And this is written by a progressive – progressing to what I’m not sure. My one suggestion, following these steps, is that the Recessional should be “It’s A Small World After All.”

MONDAY 10/15 UPDATE: Christopher Johnson provides his own unique (and frankly hilarious) commentary here. Note: Put your chai down before reading.

Here’s a sampling:

4. Open communion! When our central spiritual act of communion with God and each other becomes a symbol of exclusion and conditionality we substitute the spirit of bureaucracy and institutional control for the spirit of Christ who welcomes all to the table. I strongly recommend Kathy Tanner’s article in the Anglican Theological Review on this topic. In my experience people often do not respond to the invitation but it means the world to them as they transition from a church experience that felt judging or worse. Communion is not primarily an act of discipleship, it is primarily an offer of unbreakable relationship from God to which people are free to respond.

6. Avoid Anglican Chant unless the choir is singing it without congregational participation. There are tons of wonderful antiphonal settings! Stop using hymns for Gospel processions – use repeating Alleluia’s or simple songs. You are making the service way too long. Try to use up beat music at communion as if we are CELEBRATING our redemption. Pick singable hymns. As I heard someone say (Charles Fulton?), 99.9% of people are not listening to organ music in their cars every day.

7. Worship must be held to one hour in length MAX. If you add something, cut something.

8. You cannot give a too warm welcome. I heard Gene Robinson do it last night when he led worship and boy was he great. He made it crystal clear worship was for everyone in the room regardless of faith tradition. He was warm, personable, funny, loose and sincere … really put me at ease and brought the whole group together. Meet him and you will understand why he is a Bishop.

9. Cut extraneous crap! Here are some suggestions – THE GLORIA (ack, ick,) this is praise? no, this is impenetrable dogma set to [expletive deleted] music – The COLLECT FOR PURITY – Doxology and Prayers at the presentation – the concluding collect at the end of the prayers of the people. Cut down the number of PSALM verses used. Psalms are incredibly deep, a little bit goes along way. Use 6 verse max at a time. Let me sit and contemplate.

10. Speaking of cutting – either shorten or get rid of readings. We expect way to much of our people in terms of scriptural consumption. My last highly educated congregation told me that they were still thinking about the Hebrew Bible reading through all the other readings and that there is just no way to comprehend that much material. I strongly suggest alternating Hebrew Bible and Epistle from Sunday to Sunday so there is one reading with the Gospel. Overly long readings can be easily cut down by smart editors to highlight the best bits. Listening to Paul’s long salutations is about as useless as it gets.

BB NOTE: Perhaps this will do the trick?


11. Stop using the Prayers of the People from the Book of Common Prayer. YAWN! First, they put me to sleep. Second, the fact that we pray for clergy and hierarchy and government first is a horrible remnant of establishment and clericalism. Third, they break up any thematic development in the service – they don’t relate to sermon or scripture. I strongly suggest using the publication Prayers for the Christian People (lectionary based prayers), or having talented church member write them. Also, while I am at it, can we please stop praying for the ‘virgin’ Mary? The Greek means ‘young woman,’ and she wasn’t a virgin. Virgins don’t have babies. How about we pray for ‘adolescent Mary mother of Jesus.’ Why is that not enough? Finally, when you invite prayers give lots of time – don’t be afraid of silence.

12. A great thing about using full bulletins is we can mix and match from other resources. Other confessions and absolutions are particularly effective at waking people up! And BTW, where do we invite people to confess what they did well this past week?

14. I personally like to rewrite the current Eucharist prayers which are really way to wordy, dogmatic etc. Most telling, they universally focus on atonement theory and as such they excise most retelling of Jesus’ jubilee ministry. Why did Jesus die, because of who he was and what he did! Our current prayers make it seem like an abstract ‘plan of salvation’ which I think is sick.

16. Communion hymns generally fail. In the midst of this mystical moment the last thing I want to do is open a hymnal or have a loud anthem blaring at me. Taize or other repetitive simple stuff, or gentle instrumental music, or chant works great. There is a Jewish tradition of melodic singing without words that I love too – called Ningun (sp?). I had a bunch of kids strumming “My Sweat Lord” (George Harrison/Charelles) one Sunday during communion and tons of folks joined in because they already new it by heart. krishna, krishna!

BB NOTE: Could not resist.


17. A good sermon is no longer than 12 minutes, has one theme and main point and is delivered with energy, humor, sincerity, real emotion and in simple common language. Folks want to learn, they want to be moved, they want to be inspired and they want something to take home that will help them function. Folks I have served have also liked to be challenged to think in new ways. Spare me a display of your VAST learning, banish your Solemn tonalities and your use of ‘you,’ and your veiled implications that clergy are more enlightened than the congregation. Please share personal stories, real struggles, confusion, doubt. Please share the Good News.

19. I have totally banished the use of “celebrant” or “presider” or “deacon” to describe worship leaders. We simply say “one” and “all.” “One” is the leader of the moment and “all” respond. Elegant! Descriptive, Accurate, Leveling.

20. If you have a talented musician have him or her set the words to other fun tunes like Ode to Joy during Easter season for example. Suddenly, the creed is an energetic moment in the liturgy and the WLP versions are inclusive. If you have to say it – Jesus became ‘human’ which is the point of the phrase so lets be accurate! Get rid of ‘virgin’! And if I had my druthers, I would change all the male pronouns to ‘you.’ Let’s address our affirmation of faith directly to God and avoid assuming that the second person of the trinity was male before the incarnation, after the ascension and will be when she or he comes again. I am fine with he for the historical bits, Jesus was a historical figure who was male. The New Zealand affirmation of faith is also excellent, if like me, Greek philosophy isn’t at the center of your faith.

Read it all here.

LATER: Here’s an excellent Processional that we thought would fit right in:


A Tip of the Tinfoil to AB.