Members of Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission, which played a central role in bringing a deeper emphasis on baptism to the Book of Common Prayer (1979), met in Waukegan, Illinois, June 27-29 for “Stirring the Waters: Reclaiming the Missional, Subversive Character of Baptism,” a conference five years in the making.
Keynote speaker Benjamin M. Stewart, assistant professor of worship at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, believes the next great liturgical change will occur at gravesides.
“Up until now, funerals have largely escaped the natural movements that have taken place in many other parts of the service,” he said. “I support working with clergy to make this a more joyful ceremony.”
The Rev. Ruth Meyers of Church Divinity School of the Pacific, chairwoman of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, called for using more contemporary, understandable language, perhaps for the Apostles’ Creed. She said that only proposals for same-sex blessings have drawn greater criticism than the idea of an alternate version of the Apostles’ Creed.
“I am not proposing elimination of the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed, but we also need a new means of helping people hear and express their Christian belief in a contemporary and understandable language,” she said. “This is a tacit acknowledgement that no single prayer or statement can convey the entirety of the Christian faith.”
The ideal time to teach the faith is during preparation for baptism, said the Rev. Jay Koyle, president of the ALPM and the Diocese of Algoma’s congregational development officer. In his address, “The Rite Stuff: Stirring the Waters Before Baptism,” Koyle compared liturgy to line dancing, noting that both require mastery of a few steps before you can begin to add creative flourishes and embellishments.
“I believe in creativity in worship but not creativity for its own sake,” he said. “Liturgy should have ties to older texts. We are not seeking to throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
The church has failed to take full advantage of the 1979 prayer book’s increased emphasis on baptism, said the Rev. Louis Weil, a professor emeritus of Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Consistent with themes he developed more thoroughly in Liturgical Sense: The Logic of Rite (Seabury), Weil believes theological understanding is grounded in liturgical understanding: “I have constantly affirmed that whatever ritual pattern they choose to use, [priests] should know what they are doing and why they are doing it.”
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee, Bishop of Chicago, described several personal moments during the past 20 years when he understood the importance of baptism.
“About 20 years ago I attended a conference in San Francisco called ‘Catechumenate.’ It attempted to discern the early Church’s emphasis on baptism,” he said. “I was set on fire and since then it has not gone out.”
Baptism is unique in its ability to transcend. “It is not a structure, program, or organization,” the bishop said. “It is a rite, a mysterious way of making life real.
“I do not think that the way we celebrate baptism should be in a minimalist way,” he said. “We need fonts in which we can drown, something that symbolizes the new life we receive from this washing. That is really what is most important.”
Image by Anna Howard/Daily Ikon