When Everything Old is New Again
Updated: Jun 25
It has been interesting to follow how the COVID has impacted worship in our parishes. In some places, the clergy have adopted the Eastward facing position at the altar so as not to breathe at the congregation; others have replaced the Eucharist with Morning Prayer; and the Passing of the Peace is universally banned.
Let us think back fifty years to the time of Trial Rites and remember the parishes torn apart, the friendships destroyed, the families divided, over moving the altars away from the wall, the replacement of Morning Prayer with the Eucharist, and the introduction of the Peace.
What culminated in the 1979 BCP was more than about updating a few “thee’s and thou’s”; it was a cultural revolution, which is why it was so controversial.
Much opposition wasn’t motivated by literary nostalgia for Cranmer’s poetic prose, but by concern over denominational identity. What was the point of being Episcopalian if not only our worship, but our entire way of “doing church” was going to look like “everybody else”?
That was also a time when parishes fought over such issues as supporting (let alone housing) food pantries (Communism!). Healing services, with laying-on-of-hands, were one small step from Pentecostal. And weekly Eucharist was positively Papist, especially in Vatican 2 language.
In the intervening decades, an entirely new generation has arisen. Most Episcopalians today are not from historically Episcopalian households. They have no memory of church as it was, or the attitudes which formed it.
Therefore, as with removing our shoes at airports, or wearing masks in stores, it will be interesting to see how many crisis-related changes stay with the church in the years to come.