September 15, 1999

Ancient Celtic liturgy makes a comeback
___By Rob Marus
___& Marshall Allen

___Associated Baptist Press
___LYNCHBURG, Va. (ABP)--With the explosive growth of contemporary worship in the past two decades, some Christians might think they've seen the last of liturgical worship.
___Think again.
Cross___Not so long ago, liturgical worship--a set ritual for public worship --was considered anathema by many evangelicals, who come mostly from worship traditions centered on evangelism. Many equate liturgical worship with the rituals of Roman Catholics and other sacramental traditions, which Protestants left behind at the Reformation.
___Rediscovering liturgy has worked for Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. In fact, a new liturgical service there is growing faster than the church's popular contemporary service.
___When he first came to Rivermont five years ago, Senior Pastor Jim Baucom led the church to move from a traditional, revivalist style of worship to a more "high-energy," contemporary service. That brought a dramatic turnaround and new growth in the 105-year-old congregation, which had seen a long period of decline.
___But it also left some holes.
___"A lot of the folks who have come in have been left with a hunger for a more contemplative worship experience," Baucom said. "In particular, the Gen-Xers who have come into the church have asked for something very traditional, and they don't mean Second-Great-Awakening Baptist. They mean ancient."
___Baucom and his staff studied ancient worship methods and patterns that would fit Baptist theology and tradition. That didn't take them back to Catholic or Orthodox liturgies but to ancient Celtic forms of worship.
___Rivermont started a Celtic service that includes readings from ancient Irish, Scottish and Welsh poetry, plus Celtic-themed songs that date back as far as the fifth century (such as the classic "Be Thou My Vision").
___"It's a very mystical, mysterious and contemplative type of worship experience," Baucom explained.
___Candles light the sanctuary, and the ministers wear robes patterned after the vestments of ancient monks and friars. Bagpipes and violins replace drums and electric guitars. No contemporary worship choruses are sung.
___Now at the end of its first year, about 150 people are attending the Celtic service, while about 350 attend the contemporary "celebration" service. Both are growing.
___One of the most unusual aspects of the two services is the type of worshipers they tend to attract, Baucom said. While the contemporary service is filled with baby boomers, they are all but absent in the Celtic service. It attracts mostly Gen-Xers, with a healthy minority of the church's older members included.
___"I would call it a crowd of the premoderns and the postmoderns," Baucom said.
___Another interesting marriage emerging among the new liturgicals is between charismatics and Episcopalians.
___In the early 1990s, the lay leadership and pastoral staff of Hosanna Fellowship, an independent charismatic church near Kansas City, embarked on a study of church history. It led them to incorporate more liturgical elements into their worship services--robes for ministers, a divided chancel (with pulpit on one side and lectern on the other) and communion every Sunday.
___Now known as the Cathedral of Christ the King, the Olathe, Kan., congregation became part of the Charismatic Episcopal Church--a new denomination founded in 1992.
___From three churches in 1992, the Charismatic Episcopal Church has grown to more than 600. It follows a very traditional Anglican worship order, the same that congregations of the Episcopal Church and Church of England have followed for centuries.
___The ministers--called "vicars" and "rectors"--wear robes and stoles and burn incense in worship services. But these Episcopalians add earnest worship songs, hand-raising and even episodes of speaking in tongues to the services.
___John Sweeney, 33, was among those who led the liturgical shift at Christ the King. Sweeney, a priest-in-residence at the church, says he found both his early Baptist background and his later charismatic involvement less than satisfying.
___In becoming liturgical, he said, "we felt that sense of comfort in that we were joining something that had been going on for 2,000 years. Joining back in historic faith and worship gives you a sense of rootedness--the sense that things don't change."
___Randy Sly, 50, archbishop of the denomination's Eastern Province, said many of its members come from evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal backgrounds but embrace the Episcopal tradition because they are seeking more structure, tradition and stability.
___"The Greek word for liturgy--'letourgeia'--literally means 'the work of the people,'" Sly explained. "We have a real desire for people to be participants in worship and not spectators."
___But don't expect young adults to flock back to existing liturgical churches, warns Paul Basden, author of "The Worship Maze." Liturgy is coming back, he agreed, "but it's not coming back in the same form."
___Churches that attract young adults will have to make room for their unique worship expressions, particularly their music, said Basden, a pastor in Birmingham, Ala.
___"Some traditional pastors will smile and say, 'Give it long enough and the contemporary worship services will return to their liturgical roots.' But when they return, they will change liturgical churches dramatically."


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