See Young adult mission journal 1 for Justin’s previous reflection.
Perhaps the most well-known emerging-style Episcopal community in the United States is Thad’s in Santa Monica, CA. Known for its rootsy worship music, creative outreach, and relaxed SoCal vibe, this self-styled “mission station” has become a model for emerging ministries since it first starting meeting in an L.A. jazz club almost ten years ago.
During my senior year in seminary, Thad’s founder Rev. Jimmy Bartz visited Yale Divinity School and offered the Episcopal community there an opportunity to experience a Thad’s worship service. As my classmates gathered for dinner later that night, one question kept arising:
Is this Anglicanism?
The tone of the Thad’s worship was set by the band, a country rock outfit that played folk hymns and old-time gospel numbers as well as secular music. After a reading from the Gospel, Rev. Bartz climbed onto a tall stool and offered a brief teaching.
He then encouraged the reluctant congregation to engage in an open discussion of the Scripture. While many of my classmates participated, others appeared to be nervously searching their memories for the applicable Book of Common Prayer rubrics. We said prayers, passed the peace, and then the band played a Merle Haggard tune to close the service.
As a fan of the Louvin Brothers, wearing boots to church, and not sitting still for long stretches, I really enjoyed the service.
At the same time, however, I understood the concerns of my classmates who wondered how it fit within our worship tradition. If this objection seems trivial, try constructing a robust definition of Anglicanism outside of our tradition of common worship.
Now stop trying. It’s a trick question.
As more churches and dioceses experiment with emerging-style ministries, we are all going to have to ask ourselves to what degree these ministries should be expressions of our Anglican tradition. After all, if we follow Thad’s example and let go of the prayer book, the hymnal, and the creeds we may slowly begin to resemble our nondenominational brethren in content as well as in form.
However, if we don’t learn to re-imagine “church” in new ways, we may be effectively giving up on those for whom the traditional model is an impediment. This predicament reminds me of the scene in Star Trek VI in which Captain Kirk is unable to answer a former Klingon adversary who asks if he would be willing to give up Starfleet for the sake of peace.
What can we give up before we can no longer recognize ourselves?
I confess that I have yet to answer these questions for my own fledgling young adult ministry. I recognize that the Sunday morning communal worship model is not working for most young people, and yet I also think Millennials have a greater affinity for tradition than we assume.
While I would like the shape of my new ministry and its worship life to be largely determined by the participants, I certainly don’t want it to become another beta-tested offering for our consumer culture.
Emerging and traditional church leaders alike must learn to separate those aspects of the Anglican tradition that have a cultural and sentimental value from those that truly represent a unique and indispensable expression of the Christian faith.
While I believe Anglicanism represents a singular theological voice best understood and expressed through its pattern of common worship, I also believe we have only begun to explore the ways that tradition might be expressed.
Justin Gabbard is the Canon Missioner for Young Adults in the Diocese of Lexington. He will periodically write about his journey within the Diocese of Lexington to start a new young adult ministry from scratch. He can be reached at his home in Covington, KY, at firstname.lastname@example.org. See Young adult mission journal 1 for Justin’s previous reflection.