In the past few years I have been at very inconsistent time in my life. Living in two different provinces and bouncing around various jobs in between studies has caused me to move far beyond the consitencies of my upbringing. One of the biggest challenges for me had been finding a church to attend during my Manitoba months. I spent my entire life in one Christian tradition attending larger and larger churches where emphasis on really great music worship grew to greater and greater importance along with the size of the church. When I left my 800+ member home church in Northern Alberta I firmly believed that good music worship was an integral part of my church experience, I wanted another church that had an eight member band and all the equipment to go with it. I spent a year and a half church hopping around Southern MB between low-german speaking Mennonite churches to non-denominational (and somehow still mennonite?) churches, and nothing fit. I talked a friend into taking me to the city with him where I was shocked when I walked into a tiny Anglican church in the middle of Winnipeg and felt more uncomfortable and more welcomed than I had anywhere before.
I am a piano teacher, musical theatre lover, actor, and pretty much all things art lover, and yet I fell in love with a simple church and extraordinarily humble worship practice. I discovered that I did not in fact care too much how well we could replicate Hillsong’s newest hit, I actually found myself leaning quite the opposite. I find modern worship songs to be romanticized, overemphasized, or just ridiculously repetitive, and I’m not the only one who feels this way! More and more the youth of the church have begun to criticize how we do “worship” in our churches (see Blimey Cow’s How to Write a Worship Song). What is it that is changing how we feel about church worship? My early teens to twenty seemed to have been boom years for the mega youth conferences and big, building worship songs. But now I often hear Christians around me saying how we have moved into a “secular” a age and the smooth, indie-rock that has gone with it. Is it the secular world that is affecting worship practices within the church?
Alexander Schmemann defines secularism as being something that is incapable of communicating with the divine, a foil to worship. Worship is people seeking to communicate with God, traditionally through rites and sacraments intending to bridge the gap between humanity and God. So if we are living in a secular age, there is less of a general understanding that humans seeks community with God. It is true that Christianity does not maintain the same standard of faith it may have had at one time, but I have no doubt that the innate human need to worship has not changed, we just change the objects of our praise.
This is the problem modern people face: there is a general shift away from belief in an omnipresent Creator God and no change in the natural human necesssity to worship something, anything, and I think this is Schmemann’s point. Secularism means inability to communicate with God because it can’t acknowledge that kind of divine presence. Secularism fills the void with many things and beings that can receive our undivided attention without ever reaching the point of true worship. Because worship expects a response, and a secular worldview just can’t reciprocate.
In his essay Worship in a Secular Age Schmemann goes so far as to challenge the legitimacy of continuing liturgical practices by arguing that now in a secular age, theses rites are not bridging the gap between Christians and non-believers but rather widenening it, staving off potential believers. Litiurgical piety does not communicate with the divine and is therefore secular. As a person relatively new to liturgical practice I find it difficult to fully agree with Schmemann here because corporate and personal worship are both important in community with Christ, and I’m not ready to condem any particular practice over another. But we do get stuck in trends. I do think litirugical traditions have the advantage of acknowledging more kinds of worship though because in my Christian and Missionary Alliance upbringing, anything that was not “worship music” related was completely absent.
The idea of worship is something I am still toying with. Do I sing along with “Oceans” when my church band plays it (see Stop Singing “Oceans“)? Can I actually make my yoga practice a time to communicate with God? I would like to think so but there are people in my life who disagree. So I guess I’ll just have to keep working it out, and I hope you do too.