The Discovery of Liturgy and the Longing for the Historic Church
I returned to campus in January 1990, intent on finishing my degree, but becoming more conflicted about my developing worldview understandings and the tenor of the intellectual climate at school. One of the classes I enrolled in was Professor J K Jones’ “Practical Ministry” class. As the name may lead one to believe, it was very much about the practical aspects of ministry: conducting weddings and funerals, administering baptisms, pastoral calling, taxes, personal finances, sermon preparation, time management, and, most important of all, the minister’s personal worship discipline. To facilitate that last, we were required to purchase Bob Benson’s and Michael W. Benson’s, Disciplines for the Inner Life, a devotional book that is very much modelled on the daily office. There was a weekly theme, with lectionary and readings. A structure including an invocation, a psalm and a benediction. It was liturgy—though I didn’t then know it.
Up to that time, my “quiet time” or “devos” amounted to daily reading a portion of Scripture (usually two to three pages), some brief reflection and some prayer. I also normally included some journalling. But with Disciplines, I found myself doing the unthinkable: praying the same prayers each day. And I found my response to be surprising as well: I began to grow in my worship practice.
It will only take brief moments to tell how from that one book, which I used everyday for a year, I was eventually led to a greater understanding of the historical development of the daily office, to various liturgies, and particularly to the Book of Common Prayer. I soon read Robert Webber’s Worship Old and New. I began to learn about the daily office in monastic practice. And through both of these I developed an increasing longing for a connection to the historic Church whose worship was liturgical from the very beginning.
The catalyst for my eventual leaving of the Cane Ridge trail was not some great doctrinal dissatisfaction. It was not the suffering of personal hurts at the hands of fellow Christians, though both of these things have some truth about them. Rather, what propelled me from Cane Ridge first to Canterbury and finally to Antioch was the discovery of the historical and liturgical worship of the Church.
Having begun using Disciplines, I soon found I could not return to my old worship practices. By August I had purchased my own copy of the Book of Common Prayer, and began immediately to use it for daily worship—a practice that would remain in place for a bit more than a decade. I soon grew tired of the orientation at my college, and in many of the churches I worshipped at and later served, toward “contemporary” pop-and-rock-driven music and spectacle. (Which does not mean that I did not go along with the wishes of my later parishioners who wanted these sorts of things. I did. But I wasn’t surprised when this didn’t last long—we just didn’t have the talent pool and the resources to carry it out.)
But most important of all, it was the liturgy that awakened me to the need for sacramental worship. When one approaches God from the standpoint of a liturgy which shapes reverence and seriousness of purpose, one cannot but help to wonder if this bread and wine one handles isn’t really something more, or whether this water in which one baptizes doesn’t hide the spiritual forces of the deep and the trailing glory of the footsteps of our Lord. If the public service is little more than hymn-singing and teaching, one may be forgiven for supposing that one should shape a service oriented toward the needs of the congregation. But if the public meeting is the work of the people who are there to honorably and reverently render God praise, then everything changes.
I continued to meet with Kyle’s group through the rest of that school year. In January I also began to serve a pair of yoked parishes in Mound City, Kansas, which would continue till just after graduation. But though outwardly many things were progressing forward along the Cane Ridge trail, inwardly many other things were happening. My mind was being changed on a number of important issues.