Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Do They Want?

If there is an experience in life that will teach you the meaning of original sin, [church] finance chairman is that role.
That's what Terry Mattingly, religion reporter and chief honcho of GetReligion, says in a 2006 speech reprinted here. Based on his own tenure as the finance chair at a Baptist congregation many years ago, he continues:
What I discovered through that experience is that there is no connection whatsoever between how much a family gives to the church and how much money that family makes. Instead, I found that the key connection is faithfulness in worship. If you attend the Sunday night service at a typical Baptist church and look around at the 40 people there in comparison to the 200 or 300 in attendance on Sunday morning, you will find that about 80 percent of the church's giving is accounted for in that group.
This is great stuff, but the speech gets better. Mattingly, a Baptist PK who has converted to Orthodoxy, is speaking to other Orthodox believers on the question of "What Do the Converts Want?" He observes that the small group of passionate, faithful believers is something familiar to Orthodox parishes as well. This proves to be the center of his proposal, which is that what converts to Orthodoxy want is "a winsome, living faith," which he characterizes this way:
The converts also want good preaching .... Emotions are OK. Movement is OK. Beauty is OK. Humility before God is OK. And more than anything else, participation in worship is more than OK -- it is essential.
Which is not to say that they want the sort of sideshow offered them by much of Protestantism, particularly of the Jumbotron variety. Mattingly claims that most of the converts to Orthodoxy come from the world of "evangelicalism," as that word is customarily used in America.

He's surely correct, although the convert we know best came from Romanism via Lutheranism; the many hundreds of Orthodox believers we know these days are, of course, cradle Orthodox -- a somewhat different crowd, although not as different as you might think. Frankly, the people we know here who are tired of the Orthodoxy they have grown up with are generally looking for the same things Mattingly mentions: faith, preaching, participation. So are almost all the converts we have ever met, from anything and too anything.

The speech is great reading for anybody with an interest in how churches grow. It may be especially interesting to Lutherans, many of whom are only a couple of generations removed from the immigrant experience. Many of the things Mattingly talks about -- assimilation, in various senses; why children stray from their ancestral faith -- are questions that Lutheran pastors talked about intensively a century ago, and even more recently than that.

Mattingly's prescription also provides some useful perspective on the past half-century of liturgical thought among Western churches. He is surely describing "full, active participation" in the sense that Vatican II intended it. But he is manifestly not describing the vision of ritual that emerged from the 1960s and 70s; the converts of whom Mattingly spoke have deliberately and despite considerable difficulty chosen a church in which that vision has no place.

This is especially important to liturgically-oriented Protestants. In recent years, Rome has taken a number of steps back from the abyss -- most notably the new English translation of the missal. It has recognized that participation does not mean dumbing down or require pandering. But Lutheran and (even) Anglican liturgiology seem to be continuing in the post-1965 direction, seeking ever more "accessible" forms of worship -- and creating a profusion of language and rituals which echo tradition without embodying it. More on this some other time, perhaps.

Mattingly sums the liturgical case up nicely:

The American converts are not looking for some kind of post-Vatican II, carved-down liturgical experience. They have that all around them. They are not trying to cut the service down another 15 to 20 minutes so that more young people will hang around -- as if that would work. Speaking as a journalist, I can tell you that the lively, growing Roman parishes are not the ones that have cut the Mass down to 45 minutes.

You see, the people who want to worship, want to worship.

One of the trends in American journalism is to try to create newspapers for people who don’t read. This seems to me to be somewhat contradictory. Similarly, there are many churches that are creating worship services for people who do not want to go to worship services. The Orthodox converts are not interested in those churches.

And why, indeed, would anybody be interested in those churches?


Anonymous said...

What is a "Baptist PK"?

Father Anonymous said...

PK is a generic nickname for the child of a clergy member ("preacher's kid"). Mattingly's father was a Baptist minister.