Posts Tagged 'gordon atkinson'

real live preacher visits St. Anthony’s again

Gordon Atkinson went back to St. Anthony’s (although this time without his family). Once again, his thoughts speak for themselves, but I am most struck by this anonymous comment:

I wouldn’t hang out there at the Orthodox Church any more unless you’re planning on converting. Use your sabbattical (sic) to get as much variety as possible. Go to a Pentecostal or charismatic church. Try to find a black church. You will be richer for the experience and will become a better pastor to your congregation.

“I wouldn’t hang out there at the Orthodox Church any more unless you’re planning on converting.” That’s a loaded statement, to say the least. Depending on how it is motivated (and it’s anonymous, so we can only speculate), I could read wisdom or snark into it. Any thoughts?

real live preacher: “You have a hard time standing for 2 hours? Do some sit ups and get yourself into worship shape”

This is already making the rounds, but this is too good to not keep passing on. Gordon Atkinson, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio, TX, is on a thirteen week sabbatical and visiting various churches during that time. Here he recounts his recent visit to a Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony the Great Orthodox Church (OCA) during said sabbatical. His story really speaks for itself, but I’d like to excerpt this bit:

So what did I think about my experience at Saint Anthony the Great Orthodox Church?

I LOVED IT. Loved it loved it loved it loved it loved it.

In a day when user-friendly is the byword of everything from churches to software, here was worship that asked something of me. No, DEMANDED something of me.

“You don’t know what Theotokos means? Get a book and read about it. You have a hard time standing for 2 hours? Do some sit ups and get yourself into worship shape. It is the Lord our God we worship here, mortal. What made you think you could worship the Eternal One without pain?”

See, I get that. That makes sense to me. I had a hard time following the words of the chants and liturgy, but even my lack of understanding had something to teach me.

“There is so much for you to learn. There is more here than a person could master in a lifetime. THIS IS BIGGER THAN YOU ARE. Your understanding is not central here. These are ancient rites of the church. Stand with us, brother, and you will learn in time. Or go and find your way to an easier place if you must. God bless you on that journey. We understand, but this is the way we do church.”

I’m going back again on Sunday. I started to write, “I’m looking forward to it.” But that’s not right. I’m feeling right about it.

And feeling right is what I’m looking for.

I’ve been privy to a lot of discussions at various levels about wanting to water down or remove or totally rethink this, that, or the other element of Orthodox Christian liturgical practice, in the name of removing stumbling blocks for people who don’t know what’s going on (among other reasons). We need rows of seating instead of the normative open floor because people won’t want to stand. We need to do something other than Byzantine chant because people won’t want to hear music that’s ethnic-sounding (whatever that means). We need to cut out these parts of the services because people are watching the clock and don’t want to be at church that long. And so on and so forth.

Here’s a guy, a Protestant, a Baptist minister at that, who has absolutely no reason to be sympathetic to the peculiarities of Orthodox Christian worship. (Granted, if you poke around Covenant’s website, you’ll see that they are not exactly your average Baptist church, and they are Texas Baptist, which seems to be an altogether different beast than Southern Baptist. Nonetheless.) He has every reason to react badly to every single part of the Divine Liturgy to which he is not accustomed — no chairs, chanting he doesn’t understand, service length, and so on — and yet he instinctively gets it. Not only does he get that everything around him is done that way for a particular reason, but he gets that his discomfort has more to do with him than it does with the practices that make him uncomfortable. He realizes he doesn’t want the worship to condescend to him and his frailties.

The counterargument, of course, is that of the four Atkinsons who went that Sunday (him, his wife, and two daughters), only one remained by the end. I think the response to that, however, is that Atkinson demonstrates the flaw in the visitor assuming that they aren’t going to encounter anything which will challenge them, as well as the flaw in a parish assuming that visitors (and parishioners!) can’t/won’t deal with the traditional practice when confronted with it, and if they don’t deal with it the first time, they’ll never be able to adjust.

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