Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The 8 O'Clockers Must Be Exterminated

Richard Giles+ former dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Philadelphia and a recent contributor to Pray Tell Blog got some interesting comments after his January 7th post "Institutionalizing Dissent." Here is a sample from Fr. Giles' post:

The attractions of the 8 o’clock are predictable. Its archaic language perpetuates the notion that God is one step removed from everyday life, kept safely in his antique Tudor box; you can sit where you like, at a guaranteed safe distance from your neighbour; you can kneel (or more accurately crouch) with no fear of being asked to stand to pray, or to form a circle; there is no danger of having to acknowledge the presence of other Christians, let alone touch them; there is a very good chance that you will avoid a homily (even though Cranmer mandated this); there is no requirement to sing or look cheerful; and there is no danger at all of being required to socialize after the service, or being asked to do anything – to sign up, to volunteer, to take part.

What a sweeping condemnation.
"The persistence of the phenomenon of the 8 o’clock is indicative of a mindset which has not just rejected modern liturgical language or form, but has decided to step aside from that journey. The love of archaic language is a small sign of a bigger picture – of an attitude of heart and mind that wants no truck with today, either in the Church or in the world. It seeks reassurance not adventure."

I wonder what he thinks about Eucharistic Prayer C?
Whatever our strategies for keeping on board, however loosely, those who stand aside from the mainstream, the question remains; do such measures represent a permissible freedom, a generous sign of comprehensiveness, or an avoidance of the holy task of wrestling with our differences and coming to a common mind? Is allowing two kinds of rite – one traditional one contemporary in language – to continue side by side in the same book, in the same parish, a justifiable and honourable path of unity-in-diversity, or a cop-out, an exercise in self indulgence?

Perhaps it is not too late for others to learn from our mistakes?

Should 8 o'clockers be insulted at being stereotyped in this way? As an occasional early bird, I am.

He followed up with a response to his critics on Jan 12th where he ends by writing,
I am sorry to sound such an old grouch about the 8 o’clock, and F.C.Bauershmidt is quite right to caution me about judging others’ souls, and yet ‘by their fruits you shall know them.’ Sadly, 44 years experience as a parish priest has left me with a consistent picture of the attitude of those who choose always an early Mass separate from the main body. Those who do so may claim that such a stance is about language, but it is in fact almost always and everywhere about taking part in worship one step removed from the life of the local faith community. This should not be so in theory, but invariably is, and a cause for deep sadness.

Among the 1979 BCP compromises were the various liturgical options. Is Fr. Giles saying that Rite I is "looking back," and keeping it in the BCP was a mistake, or does he have a problem with a church that has separate Rite I and Rite II services back to back? If I am reading both posts right, he has issues with both as sources of division, but the true source of his problem is a problem with people who differ from him. As Supreme Dalek, he could fix the problem of the 8 o'clockers with a blast from his ray gun.

So much for an inclusive church.

For more about Richard Giles+ and his career in radical church renovations read
"Re-pitching the Wrecking Ball: Feverish haste to remodel churches reflects radical renovation of theology"
by Matthew Grantham in the March 2002 Adoremus Bulletin. Here is a sample,

Giles complained that traditional Episcopalian churches "shout non-participation".

"They shout hierarchy. They shout division ... they shout passive audience", he said. Giles went on to compare traditional churches to his own plans for the renovation of the Philadelphia cathedral, a process which he called "taking a Victorian building with very ornate, rigid furniture. ... and embarking on a renovation which will honor the past, not simply for the last 300 years, but for the last 2,000 years. It will take us back to the first Christian experience of being a community of the baptized".

Next time we remodel, maybe we should put Davros in charge of church renovations.

Then all divisions will cease.


  1. [T]he holy task of wrestling with our differences and coming to a common mind . . .

    Thus is compromise, regardless of either the truth or relative merits of the various positions, elevated to a the category of Sacrament. Alas, as you point out, it seems that there is always only one side or position for whom compromise is required. Stated differently, compromise is not about meeting in the middle, but about you agreeing to accept my position in toto.


  2. I read the first quoted block with considerable interest. I am a 60-something cradle Episcopalian, now Anglican, who attends services other than 8 o'clock only when there is no option. Many of the points he makes I can node my head to, even though disagreeing with his interpretation. I smile with joy at those at the other services who enjoy the singing, peace passing, hand waving, etc.

    However, some of us come from a time when that was not necessary to have a relation to God and our Savior. For us, much of the kumbaya worship of contemporary services actually is a distraction from when I am there: worship, and instruction. I also find a small but relatively constant number of people in their 20s and 30s who also prefer a quieter, more reverential service.

  3. Kelso2:20 PM

    As I have said for 35 years, ever since the destruction of the most beautiful worship service in Christendom:

    "If you start 'passing the peace' sooner or later you'll be passing the rattlesnakes because the holy rollers will take over."

    I stand vindicated.

  4. @Kelso.


    I'm Baptist and we greet each other during the service which, I assume, is the equivalent to "passing the peace." Also, our services tend to be a tad more exuberant than other Protestant denominations.

    My daughter invited a friend from her (Lutheran) high school to attend our church recently. The friend commented, "it [the Baptist service] wasn't as wild as I thought it would be."

    I responded, "We only break out the snakes for the 10:45 service."


  5. Rite I was my favorite worship form. The most powerful worship service I ever attended in my life (so far) was a Second Sunday of Easter Rite I service at St. Michael's in Charleston, SC.

    Being presently associated with the AMiA, I miss it. A child of Pentecostals on my mother's side, I never saw rattlesnakes in worship, but wouldn't miss them if I had.

  6. Randall,

    You have also defined the "listening process." I will throw out a quick idea; in the end there are some things, such as absolute truth, for which there is no compromise position.


    I too recognize some of the standoffish personalities at different religious service, but these folks are still bringing themselves before the LORD.

    I get distracted by people walking around with microphones, soloists doing the same, and at those times I experience a feeling that the spotlight is on the person and not God. I admit that different worship styles are good to bring some to Christ, and who is to say that those same people who appear uninvolved might actually be extremely loving, tender, caring, and essential parts of the body of Christ? One of our members has appeared uninvolved, but gave over their home for a sick parishioner and their pet! There are some real gems in the 8 o'clock crowd.




    I recently experienced a similar amazing Rite I Morning Prayer at St. Phillips in Charleston. Leander Harding+ gave the homily, but it was when he read the lectionary readings that the sriptures opened up and I had one of those moments. It might have been something about Melchizedek...

  7. Good article but your commentary is better. St. Andrew's has 6 different Sunday services, each reflective of a distinctive worshiping community. And, while our more contemporary services draw more people and receive more attention I absolutely love our 7.45 am service. Quite honestly, next to our 10.45 contemporary service, it's my favorite service It's simple: spoken, no singing. It's sparse - 35 - 45 people. They are scattered throughout the historic church. We do preach 20-25 minutes. And it is a vibrant community. Each Sunday immediately after the service they gather in small groups to have coffee, discuss their application of the previous week's sermon and to pray for one another. Maybe if the author saw more possibility he might encourage more life

  8. Anonymous6:48 PM

    I recognize the pastoral observations of the former dean. However, if he were to attend our small parish 8am service, he would have to include us as an exception to his rule.

  9. As a fan of Doctor Who, I enjoyed the picture. I think sweeping generalizations are exactly what the are and do not describe everyone accurately. The 8 o'clockers in our parish are a lively bunch and Giles's description doesn't fit them at all. However, there are 8 o'clock worshippers that I have known over the past 35 years who seem to me- and I could be wrong - to be interested only in a private relationship with God and not in relationships with others in the Body of Christ. Was Giles being a bit judgmental? Yes, but that is a temptation that Christians across the spectrum of conservative to liberal have trouble resisting. I don't hold out much hope that his words will help move anyone from an overly privatized viewof the faith, but I can only pray that folks will discover that there is more to the faith than "Jesus and me."