The Active Worship of the People (pp 24-25, 28-30 )

From chapter 2, “The Active Worship of the People.”
“The Episcopal Church, while it gives large opportunity for quiet and searching meditation, emphasizes the active type of worship. The Church feels that the people need the opportunity of expressing their repentance, their gratitude, their faith, their praises. Nothing drives an idea or emotion inward so effectively as to express it outwardly… To utter your faith, to give it words, drives it into your soul. To express it is to bring an emotion, a spiritual state, into the light, so that its roots may grow with the energy absorbed from without.” [explained the Rector]
“That’s true,” asserted the Doctor, “but how does it apply to your service?”
“You need only follow the service to see that it provides for the outward expression of every religious emotion of the worshippers. They are not a group of people gathered to hear, an audience, but a group of people gathered to participate, a congregation. They, and not the minister, perform the act of worship. He is but the leader, the director. The worship ranges through every need of the soul, and for each need there is some corresponding expression.
“For this reason, our people stand during certain parts of the service. Standing is the natural attitude during praise. We sit during instruction and kneel for prayer. To sit during an entire service is to allow the passive side of one’s nature to predominate. But worship is an active participation in the expressive acts of the service. The attitude of the body reinforces and stimulates that attitude of the mind. The people participate in worship. They are not a body of listeners.”
“It is like the difference between singing in a great chorus and merely hearing a solo,” added the Judge… [pp 24-25]
“Then it isn’t enough that people just go to church,” said the Doctor. “They aught to be” – here he hesitated for a word – “they aught to be involved in it.”
“Exactly,” affirmed the Major, “that’s the word. Many go who are not involved.”
“I was tempted last Sunday evening to go to a church which held out as an attraction a whistling quartette. I am afraid I didn’t go to worship.”
“Such a perversion of worship is not worthy,” pronounced the Judge. “It may attract crowds, but it cheapens religion. The practice of religion ought to be simple, intelligible, and even popular, in the best sense of the word, but it does not consist of attracting crowds by a promise of novelty or entertainment.”
“But a stranger unfamiliar with your worship has no chance. He does not know what to do,” urged the Doctor.
“But he may learn,” replied the Rector. “It is not so difficult as you imagine. Every accomplishment is the result of practice. You could not play in an orchestra by merely owning a violin. Every art is a result of effort. Worship is a great art. One must become skilled in it. The first step is to know the methods and to become familiar with the Book of Common Prayer. This is quite easy. A very little attention and the instruction which every Church provides will do this.
“The next step is more difficult. It is to grasp what the worship is intended for, and how you may spiritually take part in it. That requires knowledge and experience. But it is supremely worth while.
“When one grasps only the idea that the people read a few pages from a book, then he charges the Church with formalism.”
“That’s what I did exactly,” admitted the Doctor. “It seemed a form.”
“That’s a very superficial judgment. The Episcopal Church cares nothing for forms as such. That which seems a form is merely a framework which supports the substance of worship. The worship is like a great oratorio, in which each attendant has a part. Each musician, however, in an orchestra has a score with notes upon it. If he recites the notes as do-re-me it would be formal, tiresome and without interest. But he plays them. That gives inspiring music. So the worshipper fills the forms with feeling, aspiration, hopes, prayer, and praise.”
“But does not that mean a height of worship in which the ordinary man cannot reach?”
“Not at all. Every man living may share to some extent in the oratorio of worship. He may not always analyze and dissect it, but the substance of it will inspire him. And what you call the forms merely direct, suggest, stimulate, and guide. We have no use for forms as such.”
“Then you believe in educating the people in appreciation of the substance of worship?”
“Why not? It is a most vital matter. We send our children to school, then to college, and often to universities, that they may enlarge their mental outlook. Is it not worth while to train the people to use their spiritual powers to the utmost?”
“Will the service of the Church do that?” asked the Doctor.
“No,” asserted the Rector, “no more than the text books will educate you. You must cooperate. The service is a means, not an end. It is a method, not a result. But every Sunday and every service is a step in the process. Our text book is the Book of Common Prayer.” [pp 28-30]
[The Episcopal Church: Its Message for Men of Today, George Parkin Atwater; New York: Morehourse-Gorham Co., 1950.]
One thing I like about the approach taken or demonstrated by the characters in this book, which reflects the times of course, is that they have no hesitancy for correction when one of them is mistaken. They are not cow-towed by demand of “feel-goodism.” If the Doctor is mistaken, they simply say so. The intent is to make sure the person understands, not to make the person feel good about himself. Of course, with understanding comes a better self-impression and confidence.
To “love my neighbor as myself” isn’t about me feeling all good about myself and proud of myself so that I am then able to be nice to other people, but about having a proper understanding of who and what I am in the scheme of things, before God, and in conjunction with everyone else in the light of God’s provision for us. And, I think common worship and prayer go a long way in helping us understand all that. IMHO, and of course I’m just thinking out loud.