Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Envisioning" Shiner Bock Evangelism

I always appreciate droll absurdities and irony. That is why I particularly enjoy the Religion section each week in our Saturday newspaper.

This week’s offering included a story on the big Episcopalian church downtown. No doubt many wonderful people attend there. Maybe I am too cynical, but the church always struck me as the place Methodists moved up to once the money was made and the lifestyle on auto-pilot.

The article notes that the church has grown 10% during the last two years, with 1,500 members, “800 of which are active and 400 who are regular attendees.” I don’t understand that statement at all, but I will let it pass. Of the 400, the assistant rector notes that 200 attend Sunday School every week.

One year ago, the church initiated an “Epiphany Envisioning Service.” (For the record, if my church ever made regular use of the word “envisioning,” I would know all is lost.) At that time, the church explained the
concept thusly:

Envisioning is a contemporary service that features modern Christian worship music, (lead by musicians playing guitar, violin and bongo drums), a shorter somewhat simpler liturgy, (currently one borrowed from the Church of Kenya), and a greater focus on the homily or the teaching.

Violins and bongo drums, you say?

Apparently, all this envisioning has been a roaring success, as noted in this week’s article.

This is not a service for the parishioners, it’s a service for their neighbors and coworkers…The Epiphany Eucharist is the church’s version of a contemporary service. The priests opt for a collar instead of robes and the music includes more modern songs, such as ‘Mighty to Save,’ ‘In Christ Alone,’ and ‘Christ is Risen.’ Still, attendees confess creeds every Sunday and take bread and real wine from a communal chalice…

Perhaps anticipating snarky reactions such as mine, the assistant rector was quick to note:

It’s important for us that the liturgy not be dumbed-down…We love the liturgy so much, we want to share it. It’s not a rock concert at all. It’s a service where folks who might be uncomfortable in the nave (the more traditional service) can be exposed to the liturgy. Ultimately the point of the Epiphany Eucharist service is to acclimate those who haven’t grown up in the tradition.

But here is where the assistant rector really goes off the rails, in my opinion. He compares the
Epiphany Envisioning Eucharist Service to a “bridge beer,” concluding there’s a good chance they’ll like something about it. This service is like a Shiner for someone who drinks Bud Light. This is how we introduce Bible Belt evangelicals to church history.

For those of you on the wrong side of the Red River, the word Shiner denotes the product of our cherished and independent Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. I resent the defamation of an iconic symbol of Texas to make a point about some artsy-fartsy Episcopalian envisioning silliness. I say envision all you want, just leave Shiner Bock out of it.

The article continues to tell of the assistant rector’s project.

Most of the service’s attendees are younger…he tailors his sermons to fit that audience. But the people who attend the two types of services aren’t as different as one might think. "The things I
talk about also play well in the nave," he said. "For example, I could talk about cutting, but maybe there’s a 75-year-old grandmother whose granddaughter struggles with that. I think the 75-year-olds today are much different than they were 20 years ago, because of the Internet. It’s an exciting time to do ministry.”

How very, very relevant. Someone help me out here—is that regular pulpit fare these days?

The best thing about the article, however, is the attached picture (sadly not available)--much the same view as above, only with people. The assistant rector is up front, liturgizing, and a young 30-something in the back row of chairs attracted my attention. He is casual, legs-crossed, looking intently--down at the text message he is sending on his iPhone. Clearly, more bongo drums are called for.


Clint said...

I agree! Use bongos if you must, but Shiner is above such things...

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

So the granddaughter might struggle with "cutting"? This grandmother doesn't even know what that is, in this context! Something to preach?


John said...

My sentiments exactly.

Becky said...

Cutting refers to people who practice self-harm due to mental illness (severe depression and anxiety, borderline personality disorder, etc). That being said, I agree that it is an odd topic to bring up in a sermon.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Oh, that kind of cutting. Thank you, Becky.

If the Gospel were all about improving your circumstances here on earth, then to preach about cutting would make perfect sense. ("You, too, can have a successful life, courtesy of Jesus Christ!")

John said...

I knew what it meant, but to chose that as subject of sermon just illustrates how hard they are straining to be hip, current, relevant, cutting-edge, timely, emerging--or whatever the current buzzword happens to be. And by so doing they became just one more product of our times, and give up any claims towards timelessness, it seems to me.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Well put.

Lotar said...

Kids were cutting when I was in high school back in the 90s. So it's not really "cutting edge," if that is what they're shooting for. It is oddly specific for a sermon.

John said...

Yeah, seems like I heard about it back in the 90s too. Like you say, it is oddly specific, and a little weird to make whatever point he was trying to make.

Eurasleep said...

What they really need is more cowbell!