Pittsburgh churches

Liturgical hungry Christian youth exchange altar calls for communion rails

(RNS) – Each service at the gathering place cathedral begins with a procession filled with cruciferous and gospel incense, followed by the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the hymn. black national, before the Reverend Emilio Alvarez, dressed in all his clothes, leads the congregation through the collection, the readings of the Scriptures and, after the sermon, the Eucharist.

From the ritual smoke to the sharing of bread, the experience would seem totally foreign to most Pentecostals in the cradle. “For the first 15 minutes, you would think you were in a Roman Catholic church,” Alvarez told RNS. “But when I get up to preach, you’d swear we’re Baptists.”

Alvarez Church is one of about two dozen of the Union of Charismatic Orthodox Churches, a 5-year-old group of mostly black Pentecostal churches in the northeast and Australia dedicated to reclaiming the classical spirituality and theology of the mothers and fathers of the early church. They are also part of a larger trend in which “low” or “free” church Christians, raised in contemporary church services with praise bands and dim lights, seek “high church” traditions. filled with sacramental rituals and ancient liturgy.

Chris Green grew up attending an independent Pentecostal church in rural Oklahoma that was “conservative in every way possible.”

“The service was about this altar call,” Green said. “It became something I felt very manipulated – like we were trying to make every service make sense by generating some kind of energy that would create intense joy or sorrow. … It was completely hollow.

Winfield Bevins. Courtesy photo

Today Green, 43, is ordained in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, a network of churches that celebrate the Eucharist much more regularly than the Pentecostal congregations of his youth. Green is also a canon theologian for CEEC and was recently a professor of theology at Southwestern University in Lakeland, Florida. As a member of the Order of Saint Anthony, a lay order in Tulsa, Okla., he prays daily the morning and evening “services” of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

Green is typical of the liturgical researchers Winfield Bevins wrote about in his 2019 book “Ever Ancient, Ever New”. Bevins, a North Carolina pastor affiliated with Asbury Theological Seminary, conducted an ethnographic study of 200 young adults who had recently started worshiping in a formal liturgical style. He calls what is happening a “new great awakening” and a “movement of spiritual renewal that brings people back to old traditions.”

“It starts with a dissatisfaction with the state of the modern church, whether liberal or conservative,” Bevins told Religion News Service in a recent interview. “Some leave the church and you get the non-religious rise. However, there is this growing number who have decided, rather than leaving the church, that they want to go back to the roots and by going back to the roots they are experiencing a spiritual renewal.

Bevins said the trend dates back to the mid-1980s, when Robert Webber was one of the first to draw attention to her in his 1985 book “Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail” and that the membership of Thomas Oden early Christian writings inspired evangelical interest in “paleo-orthodoxy”. In the 2000s, “Beyond Smells and Bells” by Mark Galli drew on Webber’s work in exploring why many Christians found the liturgy attractive.

Academics Richard Flory and Melinda Denton, authors of the 2020 book Back-Pocket God: Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Emerging Adults, warn that the movement has been unduly amplified by books such as those by Bevins and Galli, and that the most important trend is that young Christians are completely leaving religion. In a study of 3,000 young adults who participated in a nationwide study of youth and religion over the decade beginning in 20o2, they found that only 5% of evangelicals ended up moving to a main denomination – Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists and Episcopalians – whose rites generally involve the recitation of creeds and fixed prayers.

At the same time, Flory and Denton found that a third of young people in mainstream denominations had spent time as evangelicals in their teens.

Photo by Ben White / Unsplash / Creative Commons

Greg McCollum, a 24-year-old living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, found himself more satisfied with the relatively calm liturgy of the Episcopal Church than with the evangelical worship in which he grew up. Like Green, he felt alienated by services built around individual passion. . “I had friends who were very emotionally involved in these worship services in a way that never really touched me,” McCollum said. “In a way, I felt like I was doing something wrong if I wasn’t emotionally agitated. “

“More traditional churches seem fresher to me,” McCollum said.

McCollum also found a congregation that matched his attitudes towards sexuality and gender. “In my experience, the Episcopal Church has been by far the most welcoming of LGBTQ Christians.”

Indeed, openness to mainstream Christianity may be of greater appeal to some than high religious services. Rachel Held Evans is a notable example, as described in her book “Searching for Sunday”.

“I didn’t say, oh, I need to find a church with robes,” said Rhea Williams, a young professional in Washington, DC, who grew up Pentecostal and now attends a progressive Baptist church that incorporates elements of high church in its worship. .

“I was looking for an affirming church, a church that did not abuse the Bible and was shaped by non-white theology.”

However, some who have moved from the lower church experience to higher church traditions are not as comfortable with the liberal social views of the main churches or feel that the lack of emphasis on Traditional Christian doctrines such as hell or the infallibility of the Scriptures is a step too far. Instead, they built new spiritual homes in emerging high church denominations that employ ritualistic “smells and bells” while accommodating traditional doctrinal positions.

In this way, the movement towards the liturgy is proof of the ever-changing nature of American religion. Just as the Church of Alvarez incorporates black hymns into its official service, Americans are finding ways to incorporate the charismatic or Holy Spirit-guided spirituality of Pentecostalism – the post-war phenomenon that is now the force. most dominant Christian in the world – in older forms.

Worshipers participate in a cathedral service at Gathering Place in Rochester, New York. Courtesy photo

Chris Green’s CEEC, founded in the early 1990s, fuses charismatic spirituality with the anchoring of evangelism in Scripture and Anglicanism’s sacramental vision of connecting with God.

But it also responds to a deeper need. The contemplative language and formal structure of the Anglican liturgy, according to Reverend Ed Gungor, bishop of CEEC, has the capacity to support those who suffer from grief or spiritual depression, which evangelical worship, despite its emotion, often does. not.

“There’s something about saying a creed that’s not sexy and it’s not exciting, and yet at the same time it creates space for the parts of our lives that aren’t so sexy or wonderful. “said Gungor. “This kind of worship can take the pain and disappointment, the heartache and heartache, instead of making you feel like you have to do your best and your heart has to be totally engaged.”

For decades of the last century, many Americans, freed from the stained glass windows and archaic hymns of their childhood religions, went in search of churches that felt more authentic and suited to their suburban way of life. They landed in “applicant-friendly” churches with an indoor concert vibe and lavish campuses with cafes and gymnasiums.

Tish Harrison Warren. Courtesy photo

But seeking churches, Reverend Tish Harrison Warren said, can sometimes foster superficial discipleship whose roots “are not deep enough to withstand the drying effects of modernity and skepticism, the suffering we all experience in life. and also, our conflicts around faith, race and meaning.

Harrison Warren, who grew up a Baptist, is now a priest at a church in Pittsburgh affiliated with the Anglican Church of North America, a group of about 900 churches that have split from the Episcopal Church over doctrinal issues. The traditional liturgy, she said, provides grounding by connecting to the way Christians have worshiped for thousands of years. It’s also, she observed, just beautiful.

The emphasis on ancient rites seems above all to allow for a more ecumenical Christianity, which emphasizes the importance of ecclesiastical beliefs while loosely holding other doctrines.

“For me, there was not a great theological decision that entered into the passage (to the formal liturgy). It took a richer, more solid expression of the Christian faith to be a part of it, ”said Katelyn Beaty, an author and editor who grew up in the Evangelical Church and currently attends an Episcopal Church.

Rites based on the ancient history of the church can also dissolve the differences that divide Americans inside and outside the church. Beaty described an Episcopal Church she attended in Chicago: “Our priest emphasized the basics and repeatedly said that all our divisions crumble at the foot of the cross. There were strong theological and political differences represented in the congregation, but the people there had chosen to stay together as one body. … If the church falls perfectly into the same political divisions, then is the church really that different from the world?

This article has been corrected. Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misinterpreted the work of Richard Flory and Melinda Denton and overestimated the percentage of Evangelical Youth in the National Youth and Religion Study who went to the main Protestant denominations. We regret the mistakes.

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