Have you ever wondered:
Why is the sky dark at night?
Why is water wet?
Why do cats always land on their feet while buttered toast always lands on the buttered side down?
Why do we worship in our native tongue rather than in Latin?
About the sky, water, cats, and toast, I don’t really know. But about worship, especially in the Episcopal Church, here is some fascinating stuff:
In the old days, Christian worship was in Latin. So was the Bible. Because hardly anyone spoke or read Latin, most people left Christianity to the experts to tell them what to believe and what to do.
Then, as you may know, in the sixteenth century, a monk named Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” on the doors to a church and thus began a movement that we now know as the Reformation.
Most of us have never read those 95 theses or anything else that Luther wrote, but we are descendants and heirs of his movement. Because from there, various other theologians and clergy wanting to reform the Church made momentous changes that are still with us today. Among them are two that happened in the English Church: the translation of the Bible into English, and the publication of a Book of Common Prayer and the institution of worship “in the language understanded of the people,” so also in English.
Much of the Bible in English was the work of William Tyndale. His phrases are masterly! You would recognize them right away: my brother’s keeper, knock and it shall be opened unto you, a moment in time, let there be light, the powers that be, and so many others. He would have made a great dinner companion if he weren’t chased all over Europe for his illegal English Bible and then finally strangled and burned at the stake. He said once that he desired that “a ploughboy should be able to know God on his own” without having to rely on the highly-educated experts who, it should be noted, were not always without an agenda in their own opinions about God’s Word.
And then there was worship. For our worship in English—and indeed for our Book of Common Prayer—we owe it to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who in the sixteenth century under King Henry VIII wrote the first Prayer Book “in a language understanded of the people.” Unfortunately he too was eventually burned at the stake for the heresy of making worship accessible to everyday folk—like us. (Side note: Cranmer was a godparent of Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn and later Queen of England! Our favorite heretic!)
Those were pivotal steps in the Reformation in England. The movement towards a more accessible worship and Bible meant that Christian doctrine, theology, and practice were no longer “owned” by the highly educated scholars and clergy. The danger, as those persons saw so clearly, was that any old ploughboy would not only be able to read and interpret the Bible on his own, but would also be able to recognize when those highly educated scholars and clergy got the interpretations wrong, whether intentionally or not. This accessibility then led the way to the involvement of lay persons in the church. That’s why it is so important that we recognize lay persons as “ministers of the Church” (Catechism, p. 855 BCP)
That was the Reformation. It’s important today because I believe that we are undergoing a second Reformation, made urgent by the blow to church practices caused by the pandemic. How can we practice Christian worship when we can’t go to church on Sundays in a gathered assembly? What does “church” mean without Sunday worship inside the church building?
It means that we move more urgently toward embracing a church outside the walls of the building, toward offering worship, Christian formation, and even outreach remotely using the tools of technology to our advantage. It means that we learn to live stream our Sunday services so that those who are homebound, whether through illness, injury, or concern for health, can still be part of the St. Barnabas worship experience. It means that church doesn’t necessarily happen only on Sunday mornings, because we can offer educational classes online on Wednesday evenings and also prerecorded, for example, to accommodate contemporary families’ busy schedules.
These are huge changes, and we are still working out the kinks. But these changes will usher in a whole new Church that is not only “in a language understanded of the people” but also in a manner and medium accessible to the people, wherever they may be. Members in Florida, India, or the Moon? Absolutely! That’s why I wanted to call this time of change our Reformation 2.0, but I was told that nobody knows the original Reformation 1.0 was.
Well, now you know, at least a smidgen of it. It was a fascinating time, and so is our time today! I just trust that, unlike the original Reformers, I won’t get burned at the stake for desiring it.
Nor will the members of St. Barnabas’s Strategic Planning and Organizational Development team (SPOD, in your inimitable way with acronyms). They are the ones who took off with the concept of enlarging the church, and who will be offering up various ideas to bring St. Barnabas more into the 21st century and into people’s daily life, wherever they may be. These are exciting times for St. Barnabas indeed!
I would love to hear your reactions and thoughts! Please respond at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s have a conversation!