Let's pick one and stop going back and forth

Change is hard. Most of the time, I don’t much like it.

Like this coming Sunday, when we switch to Daylight Savings Time. This is my least favorite Sunday of the year. Every cell in my body feels the loss of that hour of sleep, and no promise that I’ll get it back sometime in November takes the edge off the resentment I feel. Worse, I know that it will take me a whole week to fully acclimate to this new time change. I’ll go around all week feeling sleep-deprived. The older I get, the harder it is to adapt to changes that probably wouldn’t bother me at all if I were younger.

I just wish we’d pick one time and stick with it, and stop going back and forth.

But the imminent time change isn’t the only back-and-forth change that’s been on my mind lately. There’s another one that’s been on my mind – and in my heart and in my prayers – since soon after I arrived at St. James almost a year and a half ago. It involves our worship service and how we switch back and forth between Rite I and Rite II every week.

I understand the reasons for this. I know that, long before I came here, we had two Sunday morning services, and that Rite I was used at the early service and Rite II at the later service. Our parish leadership judged – wisely, I think – that a church as small as ours ought not be splitting itself in two. Better to have one combined service than to offer two smaller services, neither of which is large enough to really reach the critical mass needed for sustainability.

To accommodate the preferences of both groups, we opted to alternate between the beauty of the traditional language of Rite I and the more expansive and inclusive language of Rite II. That way, nobody got to keep everything they were comfortable with, but nobody was forced to give up everything either. That was a well-meaning and pastorally sound compromise.

But it was not a good strategy for growth. And from a liturgical perspective, it is cumbersome to keep switching back and forth.

I love Rite I and its beautiful language. But that’s because I’ve heard it for much of my life. For years, I served as an acolyte at the 7:30 a.m. service at St. John’s Cathedral, at which Rite I was said weekly. The language became second nature to me. I can recite it from memory. I even know what most of it means!

But I fear that many people do not. People who didn’t grow up in the church – or even those who did, but who came of age sometime after the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer – don’t speak that language anymore. The meaning of the phrases, though undeniably beautiful, is unclear to them. The words don’t easily roll off the tongue.

When visitors come on Rite I Sundays, they may be charmed, viewing us as a quaint throwback to a bygone time. But I fear it’s more likely they find the language confusing and off-putting, and, rightly or wrongly, it signals to them that we are church stuck in the past, unwilling to move forward.

Is that who we are? I don’t think it is.

Thus, at our vestry retreat in late February, we made the decision that, beginning with Easter, we will cease alternating between Rite I and Rite II, and will use Rite II or the supplemental liturgical materials from Enriching Our Worship on most Sundays.

During Lent, however, we will go back to using Rite I exclusively. That is the Lenten practice of many churches, and there are sound spiritual reasons for doing so. In addition, we will plan regular “Throwback Sunday” services, at which we will intentionally lift up and honor some facet of our history. These, too, will be appropriate times to use Rite I. But it won’t be every other Sunday.

I am mindful of the disappointment this will cause some of you. That’s why this was such a difficult decision, and not something the vestry undertook lightly. The only alternative we could see was to go back to two services. And maybe one day in the not too distant future, when we are bigger, that will be a viable option. But for now, we don’t feel we can launch a second service without doing damage to the principle service. So for now we’re sticking to one service at 9 a.m.

I welcome your conversation around this. I welcome your suggestions for ways to make our liturgy more beautiful and more meaningful – for newcomers, for cradle Episcopalians, for everyone who walks through our doors. I even welcome you to call me just to vent your frustration or disagreement.

What I don’t want you to do is simmer in silence or feel your desires are unheard. Please know that every one of you is important to me, and I would tailor our service to suit each of you if I could. I can’t do that, but what I can do is hear each of you, cherish each of you, and honor each of you. And to humbly beseech our heavenly Father so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.