Our national attention turns this weekend to the Fourth of July celebration, reminding us to be grateful for the many blessings we enjoy, the most glorious among them being the blessing of freedom. Freedoms of choice regarding religious expressions, of speech and press, freedom to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances…and that’s just the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
I attended two conferences for leaders in the Episcopal Church during the past two weeks, and I found myself thinking about our freedom to choose in two very different ways. The first conference was for Christian educators at Kanuga, in western North Carolina, and I was there to lead the music for their worship services and before the plenary sessions. I was also asked to address the group and talked ostensibly about the future of church music – but really I was talking about the future of church in general and the place that music and the arts have in building this future church. Someone asked how our programs – musical or otherwise – could grow in a time when children have so many options and are pulled in many directions by soccer, ballet, baseball, lacrosse, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera… Certainly all of my musical colleagues bemoan the ways that sports conflict with church – it’s all too common to hear that a sports team takes precedence over the team known as choir.
“They simply have to choose”, I heard myself saying. Parents have to make some decisions for their children and realize it’s just not possible to do everything, however worthwhile each of these activities is. Committing to a few things and doing those well seems like good advice for all of us. Of course we’re free to choose, but the fact remains that we must choose something. Surely there have been times for all of us when we’re incapacitated by too much choice.
And then the following week I was at the annual conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians. Two hundred and twenty Episcopal musicians gathered in Greenville, South Carolina for a week of study, singing, laughing and liturgy. The conference preacher this year was from Atlanta, the Rev. Michael Sullivan. He suggested that, for the first time since Constantine, people are free to choose whether or not to even attend church, and he hopes the church will celebrate the fact that people sitting in the pews today are there because they choose to be (though perhaps sleepy teenagers will disagree). I think that’s a remarkable idea. Does it mean our church, while leaner, is stronger and more ready for action?
Sullivan then brought my two separate conference experiences together when he urged the Episcopal Church to reclaim liturgy as the chief tool of formation. If worship is the heart of what we do as Christians, than the idea of crafting liturgies which form and inform us is an important one.
You’re free to choose, and it’s time to make a choice. Perhaps an old time Gospel hymn (written by a man from India!) might help… I have decided to follow Jesus.
As a sports fan, a choir member and a “liturgy geek” this Daily Cup spoke to me in it’s central facets. Using “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” is appropriate in the Post Pentecost season because those who came before us made some important decisions in forming this country. Some of them decided to become or remain Christians in this new nation without the state mandating the choice.