Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Hallows' Eve: What To Do With Halloween?

A number of years ago, during a time of family devotions, we were talking about the “PACT” form of prayer: Praise, Ask, Confess, and Thank. In the devotion we were reading, we were also asked to read the Lord’s Prayer, and then the lesson asked which part of the Lord’s Prayer fit each letter of PACT.

The very first one, of course was Praise, and my wife asked what part of the Lord’s Prayer was praise. Well, I immediately raised my hand and said, “I know, I know.” And so, my wife called on me. Do you know which part of the Lord’s Prayer is considered praise? - “Our Father, who art in heaven; Hallowed be thy Name.” You see, in that prayer we are saying, “May your Name be hallowed.”

Now, when I said that, one of our kids immediately asked, “What does hallowed mean? Is it like Halloween?” - What do you think? When we pray, “Hallowed be thy Name,” is it like Halloween?

I think that question goes to the question that is often asked in Christian circles, “What do we do with Halloween?” - You know, when I was a kid, our church used to have Halloween parties every year. We used to hold it out in the woods at the Optimist Club building. It was a great time. I remember going, and our family arrived early one year. It was the year that I was dressed up like the Incredible Hulk. I had a rubber Hulk mask and inflatable muscles. Anyway, because we arrived early, we split up and hid. I think I hid behind a tree in the surrounding woods. Then we would each one “arrive” at different times, so as to help disguise who we really were. One year I was Scooby Doo. (That was before I could do the Scooby Doo voice.) We had a really great time.

However, as time went by, I encountered Christians at other churches (even within the same denomination) who would never do such a thing. From their perspective, Halloween was an evil, even Satanic celebration. It was to be avoided completely.

Some suggested Christian alternatives, sometimes called Hallelujah Parties, instead of Halloween Parties. These ranged from events where you could dress up, so long as there were no monsters, or evil costumes, to events where you could only dress as Bible characters, to no costumes allowed whatsoever. - And I learned never to assume anything about people’s position with regard to Halloween.

So it leaves us with the question, since there are a range of opinions, what ought we, as Christians, do about Halloween?

Well, when the question was asked, “What does hallowed mean? Is it like Halloween?” I said, “Actually, it is like Halloween.” - You see, to hallow is to make or to declare something or someone to be holy. We are saying to God, “Your name is holy.” - And Halloween is a form of All Hallow’s Evening, or All Hallow’s Eve; Hallowe-‘en. In other words it is the evening before All Hallow’s Day, or All Holy One’s Day, which we know as . . . All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1st or the first Sunday, thereafter. - All Saints, by the way, was one of John Wesley’s favorite days.

Now, since that is the case, it should at least make Christians stop and consider a bit before we simply declare Halloween to be evil and Satanic. - But, of course there is more to the story. - So, how did Halloween come about with all of our costumes and customs?

Well, in Ireland, the ancient Druids, prior to the arrival of Christianity, marked the coming of the new year on November 1st. Like so many groups, their calendars were governed by the seasons of the year, especially the times of harvest. Around November the season would changed from the time of harvest to winter; that is, to the time when things died.

October 31st was called Samhain (often pronounced SOW-in), the Celtic word for the end of Summer. In their Pagan superstitions they believed that on October 31st, the end of the year and the beginning of the time of death, the curtain between the living and the dead became blurred. On this night, it was believed that the ghosts of the dead would return to this world.

This was their reasoning: When the dead are buried, they are buried under the ground. During the Summer months, the grass is green and alive, the flowers bloom, the trees are full of life, and they are, therefore, able to keep the dead buried. But when the trees and flowers all die, and the grass turns brown, what is there to keep the dead buried? They are, therefore, able to escape . . . at least for that one night.

Well, in addition to damaging crops, it was believed that these spirits made it easier for the Druid priests to see into the future so that they could determine whether the crops would survive the winter, etc. Therefore, they would have a ritual of sorts involving a large bonfire, burning crops and animal sacrifices while wearing disguises (like animal costumes), which would confuse and ward off any evil spirits.

Now, by the ninth-Century, as the Church spread throughout the land, the Church did what the Church has always done. It sought to appropriate and redeem, or transform and sanctify the secular or the Pagan. It sought to “redeem the time” or the day, as St. Paul says, and claim it for Christ. And here is how the Church went about it:

Early on, it was the custom of the Church to remember the Martyrs. - As early as the 4th century the Church in the East held a feast to honor all of the martyred saints, together. On May 13, 610, relics of martyrs were moved from some catacombs to the Pantheon, and the bishop of Rome, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the building with the title of the feast of All Martyrs and All Saints and Our Lady.

Now, fast forward to the ninth-Century, again, when the Church had spread throughout the Celtic land. It was in 835 that the new bishop of Rome, Pope Gregory III, designated November 1st as All Saints Day, many believe in an attempt to Christianize the Celtic holiday. Thus, Samhain became All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. - By the way, we also know that by A.D. 1000, there were parades and bonfires and people dressed in costumes of saints and angels, etc. in order to honor and celebrate those saints who had died in the faith.

Now, in America, the Puritan settlers didn’t want anything to do with those Pagan, and more importantly foreign customs. But, when Irish immigrants came over, in such a new setting, their customs began to take on new forms. So, any remaining Pagan elements of their customs quickly vanished. Bonfires were often replaced with candles in pumpkins. (I’ll not take time to go into the history of the Jack-O-lantern.) Animal disguises to ward off evil spirits became children’s costumes. And an American holiday was born.

So, those customs that the Church failed to transform the good ole’ American marketplace succeeded in secularizing. - Unfortunately, it has also had great success in secularizing such holy days as Christmas and Easter, as well. So much so that many Christians fail to observe the important season of Advent in preparation for Christmas, and then once Christmas Day arrives, they are ready to pack everything away; thus, failing to celebrate the twelve days of the Christmas season. Oh, how we have allowed the secular marketplace to de-Christianize us! But that’s another story for another time!

So with all of this in mind, what ought we to do with Halloween? First, respect the convictions of those around us. But, having said that, my opinion is, let the kids (and adults) have fun. And as a Church, use the opportunity to teach our children (and adults) about those who have gone before us in the faith.

Now, in our post-modern, post-Christian age, with the resurgence of various spiritualities such as Wicca and Paganism, the Pagan versions of Samhain is certainly experiencing a resurgence, at least in certain pockets of our population. Christians do need to be aware of this.  Nevertheless, I think that we who are in Christ ought to join with St. Paul and the saints throughout the ages by faithfully redeeming the time for the glory of God!
(The article, above, is a modified reprint of one of my previous articles.)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My "Authentic Christian Worship" Video

During the General Assembly of the international Church of the Nazarene held last June in Indianapolis, I had the opportunity to present a workshop on "Authentic Christian Worship Using John Wesley's Criteria."  -  I have to say, I had a great time, and I am thankful to have had this opportunity.  I am also thankful for all of the positive feedback I received from a number of those who attended the "packed-out" workshop.

The workshop, itself, led to the opportunity to participate in a video interview for Grace & Peace Magazine.  I have added a link to the video on my sidebar.  But, for those not wanting to take the time to click on the link . . . here is the video:

Todd Stepp - Authentic Christian Worship from John Wesley's Perspective from Church of the Nazarene on Vimeo.

Grace & Peace Magazine has provided a host of videos on the topic of worship (as well as other topics.)  Some of the videos fit better with a Wesleyan/Anglican understanding of liturgy & the sacraments than do other videos, but the page is definitely worth taking a look at, especially for those interested in the thoughts of folks in the Church of the Nazarene.  The video page can be viewed, here.

A special thanks goes out to Bryon McLaughlin & all the folks at Grace & Peace Magazine!

(Any district or local church that may be interested in my presenting a workshop along these lines can feel free to contact me!  If it works with my schedule, I would love to present on this topic!)

Common Prayer Texts Finally Available!

This past week the Anglican Church in North America finally made public their Texts for Common Prayer in downloadable format.  (I would have posted this earlier, but I am having some serious issues with my laptop!)  -  The texts include Morning and Evening Prayer, the Holy Eucharist, and the Ordinal. 

This is such exciting news for many of us who have been waiting for the ACNA to produce a Book of Common Prayer; something that is closer to the 1662 version (and, thus, closer to Wesley's version), but which is more "user friendly," i.e., in contemporary English.  It is hoped that it does include some of the good moves that the '79 Prayer Book made (e.g., the recovery of the Passing of the Peace), without making all of the theological shifts made there and without diverging so drastically from the common prayer tradition.

Also exciting is the statement made on the download site that says, "Although Texts for Common Prayer is copyrighted, many of the texts herein are in the public domain. Nothing in the copyright is designed to prohibit congregations from the free use of the texts in the form published."

It has been my hope that the ACNA would publish a form that could simply be taken over and utilized in a Wesleyan/Anglican worship setting.  With the downloadable option, it is likely that, if there are parts that stray from a Wesleyan understanding, they could be edited for use in a Wesleyan setting (though, I am hopeful that such will not be necessary!).

I should note (as does the article) that these are all still "working" texts.  That means that they are not necessarily in final form.  However, they are the approved texts for the Province.  It is hoped that a book form of these texts will be available by January 1, 2014. -  Until then, the texts, themselves, can be downloaded, here.  I have also included a link to them on my sidebar in the Books of Common Prayer section.

For more information about the liturgy project and the Texts for Common Prayer, click, here.

I look forward to praying these forms of the Daily Office, and I look forward to looking more closely at the service for Holy communion.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Praying the Litany

One of the spiritual disciplines that members of the Wesleyan-Anglican Society are encouraged to take on is the praying of the Litany each Wednesday and Friday.  -  The Litany is found in the Book of Common Prayer (in its various forms).  In the 1662 BCP of the Church of England, this "General Supplication" was said to be sung or said after Morning Prayer upon Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. 

John Wesley passed the Litany on to "the people called Methodists" in his conservative revision of the Prayer Book, which he titled, The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America.  The instruction that Wesley gives in The Sunday Service is that it should be prayed on Wednesdays and Fridays.

One of my colleagues and fellow WAS member, the Rev'd. Daniel McLain Hixon, has given a rendering of the Litany in modern language based on Wesley's version and compared with the 1662 & 1979 Books of Common Prayer.  He has posted this version on his blog, Gloria Deo.  -  I prayed this version, yesterday, and commend it for your consideration.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Change on the Journey

It has been a long time since I last posted!  -  I have simply been very busy.  Oh, I have had lots of ideas, but have not gotten around to posting them.  -  I hope to get back into a regular habit of posting.

Although this may not be the most positive post to make for my "come back," it seems that today is the most appropriate time to make it, because today is the celebration of the Feast of Saint Luke. 
As such, this is the day that all of the members of the Order of Saint Luke renew their vows and commitments to the Order.  However, for the first time in since 2000, I will not be making those vows.

It is not that I have changed my position concerning the content of the vows, themselves.  They are still very much a part of who I am.  I still "Affirm the Apostolic Hope; Live for the Church of Jesus Christ; Magnify the Sacraments; Seek the Sacramental Life; Promote the Corporate Worship of the Church; Accept the call to Service as put forth by the discipline of the Church and (much of) the Practice of the Order; and, by and large Abide by the Rules of the Order and Indicate that Commitment by Study, Service, Gifts and Practice."  Except, of course, for those things that are specific to membership in the Order, I hold all of these, still.

The problem that I have wrestled with over the years has been the tolerance for such theological and social liberalness (or whatever term you want to use).  It has amazed me, over the years, how many people who are so "conservative" liturgically are so "liberal" theologically, and how many who are so "conservative" theologically are so "liberal" liturgically.  (And, yes, I recognize that those labels are ambiguous and not tremendously helpful.)  Those are just general observations.  It is not to say that all in the OSL fit the former category.  Far from it.  But there is certainly an openness to those who do.

I have had debates with folks in the cyber-chapter of the OSL a number of times over the years.  Those debates were wearisome, and at times even became heated for some in the group.  (In at least one case, maybe a couple of cases, I don't recall, it led to person/s being removed, or their removing themselves.)  Yet, I stuck with the group, because those issues were not at the heart of what the group was supposed to be about.  And, also, because the group was officially tied to the United Methodist Church, and therefore, officially lived under the UMC's social standards.

Those ties are no longer there.  And, while the Order is not likely to actually take an official stand on various social issues, much of what held the Order in check, in this regard, (as I see it) has been removed.

I finally came to the place where I simply did not read the posts on the cyber-chapter, because they could become such an emotional drain for me and a distraction.  Now, that it is time to make my renewal of vows, I have decided not to do so.

Oh, there is still much value in the Order.  I am quite thankful for their publications.  I am sure I will continue to purchase interesting books from them.  And I am very thankful for the Order providing me an opportunity for a liturgical outlet, for conversations, opportunities for learning, a recognition that I am not "alone," and for an introduction to colleagues who have also walked on the "Canterbury Trail."  I thank God for the place that the Order has had in my journey, and for their continued work in worship renewal.  And I pray that God will guide them into the future.

Yet, for me, the newly formed/forming Wesleyan-Anglican Society has filled the void of the Order.  There are, of course, those who hold dual membership.  The Society is not quite the same thing as the Order, and it has not sought to duplicate it.  However, in some ways, it does correspond.  There is the same deep commitment to liturgical & sacramental worship and living.  One difference, however, is that the theological, liturgical, and sacramental emphasis in the Society is more specifically Wesleyan & Anglican, while the Order is much more broad in scope.  The Society seeks to remain consistent within the classical Wesleyan (and, thus, orthodox) theological camp.  Again, the Order is much more broad.  So, in this sense, the Society could be seen as a more conservatively Wesleyan, orthodox alternative to the Order.

The vision of the Wesleyan-Anglican Society is as follows: 
The Wesleyan-Anglican Society is an association of Methodist[1] Christians from various Wesleyan and Anglican denominations who understand themselves to be classically Wesleyan in theology and who embrace a classically Wesleyan-Anglican view of liturgy and the sacraments.
And the purpose of the Society is as follows:
The Wesleyan-Anglican Society seeks:
  1. To provide a means of support, encouragement, and fellowship for those who seek to live out a fully Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith, especially (but not exclusively) in connection with the liturgy of the Church of England as received by the various Wesleyan and Anglican denominations and the sacraments of the church catholic as understood by the same.
  2. To provide a means for Wesleyans and Anglicans all over the world to exchange ideas, experiences, and fellowship as it relates to the reclamation of a Wesleyan theological understanding of the Christian faith, a Wesleyan way of life, and a Wesleyan-Anglican expression of worship.
  3. To be a resource for the promotion of a more holistic Wesleyan understanding of the Christian faith for the churches and denominations within the Wesleyan-Anglican family; especially the promotion of a Wesleyan-Anglican expression of Christian worship.
While the website for the Society can be found, here, it is still in process of development.  The best way to connect with the Society is through the Wesleyan/Anglican Facebook page, here.  One can find access to the WAS constitution in the files section of the Facebook group.

[1] The term Methodist is not intended as a reference to the United Methodist Church or any other particular World Methodist Council denomination (e.g., AME, AMEZ, Church of the Nazarene, CME, Free Methodist Church, or The Wesleyan Church).  Rather, it is being used as a synonym for Wesleyan and refers to those who seek to be Wesleyan in theology as well as live according to the General Rules of Methodism as expressed in the various Wesleyan/Methodist denominations.  Thus, the term is inclusive of individuals across a range of Wesleyan and Anglican denominations as well as other denominations.  The term Methodist was chosen over Wesleyan in order to make the clear connection with those writings of John Wesley which refer to “the people called Methodists.”